By now, you’re probably aware that Google Analytics is the most robust, user friendly, accessible website traffic analysis tool available on the web—and it’s completely free to use. If you didn’t know that until just now, you’ve at least heard of Google Analytics and you understand why it exists. That’s no coincidence. Analytics has earned its reputation as well as its popularity.
Unfortunately, the descriptor of it being “user friendly” isn’t entirely accurate. To the seasoned Analytics user, it’s a platform that’s easy to navigate and interpret, but there are two main situations that prohibit its effective use:
This guide aims to make sense of Google Analytics from a beginner’s perspective.
Before you can do anything, you have to set up an account. To do so, you can use an existing Gmail account or set up an entirely new one. Either way, head over to Google Analytics itself, and complete the remaining steps of the Analytics portion of the account activation. I promise, this part is easy.
Next, you’ll need to use an Analytics tracking code to ensure that Google can “see” the traffic on your site. Head to “Admin” and on the left-hand side, select the drop-down menu and select “Create new account.” This will prompt you for a few fields of information, such as the name of your site, the URL, and your time zone.
Once complete, you can click “Get tracking ID,” and you’ll be presented with a short snippet of code you’ll need to paste on every page of your website. If you have an SEO plugin, this should be easy. If not, you may need to request assistance from your web developers.
The “Reporting” tab is where you’ll spend most of your time. You can get here from the home screen, by clicking on your website (if you have multiple websites to track, you’ll have to click on one at a time).
On the left-hand side, you’ll see a collapsed menu of different items, which we’ll be exploring one by one. Consider this your home base:
If you’re just getting started, you can ignore “dashboards” altogether. With this section, you can create customized interfaces to display only the most relevant data for your particular site, or multiple dashboards for multiple respective purposes.
Shortcuts, similar to dashboards, exist to make your life easier as you use Analytics more regularly. For now, ignore this section, but remember it’s here when you start making the same types of reports over and over again.
This section exists to alert you of various happenings on your website, broken down into daily, weekly, and monthly events. For example, you might receive an alert that your “pageviews” increased by 100 percent over the course of a week. You can also set up custom alerts for specific events on your site.
Real-Time offers, as you might imagine, a real-time snapshot of who is visiting your website. Among other data, you’ll see where they’re browsing, what pages they’re visiting, and whether or not they’re converting.
The Audience section is one of the most useful in the platform. Here, you’ll be able to see exactly what type of users visit your website. You’ll be able to analyze them based on demographics like age and gender, their geographic location, and even the types of devices they’ve used to access your site. By studying this information, you’ll get a better idea of who is using your site, as well as whether or not they were satisfied with the experience (by segmenting portions of your audience and viewing metrics like bounce rates).
The Acquisition section is the most important one for inbound marketers. Here, you’ll be able to see a breakdown of all your main sources of traffic, and how those sources compare against each other and evolve over time. Generally, you’ll want to pay attention to the big four sources: direct visits (which involve typing in your URL directly), organic visits (which are increased as you increase in search rank and visibility), social visits (which measure people visiting your site from a social media platform), and referral visits (which involve people clicking external links to get to your site). You’ll also be able to view detailed visit information based on these individual sources, such as average session duration and pages per session.
Your Behavior report is most useful for analyzing the effectiveness of your website overall. Here, you’ll be able to analyze your total pageviews, determining where your traffic usually lands, and what actions they take from there. The Behavior Flow chart, available in the submenu, is a great way to visualize the average path a user takes through your site. With this report, you’ll be able to determine which areas of your site are most and least effective.
Last but not least, you’ll be able to measure the conversions you get onsite. Obviously, the more conversions you can get, the better—so if you notice this number growing, you know you’re doing something right. Before you can dig deep into the metrics, however, you’ll have to set up some initial Goals. You can do this by selecting Admin, and then selecting Goals on the right-hand side. It’s a relatively straightforward process.
You aren’t limited only to what we covered in this guide, of course. There are many other features, customizations, and tricks to learn as you become more adept at using Google Analytics. This is just an introductory guide, to help you get started and make sense of your data. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, Google offers a fairly robust training guide. Of course, you can always contact us for more tips and training.