Getting Started with Google Analytics
Is Google Analytics, with its charts and numbers, giving you a massive headache? Do you get tempted every now and then to open this powerful tool only to be freaked out by the sheer enormity of its insights? We get you. It is an impressive piece of software, and to an inexperienced eye it can often appear like too much to handle. But don’t worry – it’s not that hard, we promise. Stick with us as we help you get started with Google Analytics.
If you already have a Google Analytics account but you’ve never really used it, you can skip to where we share the insights and metrics you should first get familiar with. Those of you who own a WordPress website but don’t get the whole “You have to use Google Analytics!” thing at all, we advise you to go through this whole article, top to bottom. Here’s what we’ll cover:
If you’re running a WordPress website, you’ve probably installed Google Analytics because you’ve heard people praise its extraordinary features and benefits. Unless you have a knack for numbers, chances are this tool confused you with its many charts, labels and complicated metrics. Today, we’re going to get you back on the right track and help you understand the Analytics tool better, so you can use it to grow your site and your business.
Any business that has something to sell, whether it’s a product or a service, has one goal in mind – to sell more. And to sell more, you need to get more people into your shop, restaurant, studio, salon, spa or bar. To get more people, you have to offer them something they need, and, obviously, you have to know what it is that they need. A business needs to have a deep understanding of its customers – who they are, where they’re coming from, what they want and need and what their preferences are. In business and marketing, it’s called demographics and it represents the base from which you draw essential insights that improve your business.
For example, you can’t use the same marketing tactics to target baby boomers and millennials. These two generational groups have quite different shopping habits. A new-age organic food store will probably do best to focus on millennials, who are more willing to spend solid cash on palo santo sticks and ethically harvested organic cocoa beans, than on someone born in 1952. The language you use to address these groups will also differ, and so will your primary channel (digital for millennials, traditional for baby boomers).
The example may be a bit banal, but you get the picture. Ethnics, age groups, economic, social and cultural backgrounds also matter.
Now, if you’re a traditional business with a brick-and-mortar establishment, getting the essential demographic info on your customers can be tricky. Unless you’re passing out surveys at the door or harassing people with questions, you can’t really learn who they are and what they’re all about. Well, you can, but it takes a lot of time, effort and investment.
Websites are a whole different ball game. You want to do the same thing – get to know who your visitors are so that you can make them do what you need them to do (which is what we call conversions). But there’s one big difference. With websites, you have an amazing tool that gathers all this vital information by itself, in the background, while you lean back and flip through the results.
That tool is called Google Analytics and its sole purpose is to help you improve your rank, your traffic, your sales, and, ultimately, your business.
The best thing about it is that it works with all sorts of visitor information, reaching far beyond demographics. For instance, you can learn how many people come to your site from paid ads, which helps you determine whether your paid campaigns are even paying off. It can tell you what time of the day people are most likely to respond to your CTAs, so you can time them better. It can tell you from which web location your customers are coming from the most, how long they are staying on each of your pages, how much they interact with your site and much, much more.
Now that you understand the power that this tool packs, let’s see how it’s used.
Google Analytics is a free, web-based tool developed by Google. So, naturally, the first thing to do is to go to Google Analytics and set up an account. For this, you will need an active Google account. You don’t have to create a separate account for this purpose – you can use your personal one and then give other users permissions to access the Analytics.
When setting up a new account, you will be prompted to enter the account name. After setting some data sharing options, you will next specify whether you want to track a website, an app or, as of recently – both.
You will then be asked to set up your property, which basically means to enter your website name. In the following field, enter your website URL, specify your industry and your reporting time zone.
After that, you’ll need to set some data sharing options and click on Get Tracking ID.
The tracking ID is what connects your website with Google Analytics. It is a unique piece of code that the tool automatically generates and that you need to add to your website.
This code needs to be added to every page you want to track. Depending on the type of site you have, this can mean either adding it manually to each page or adding it inside atag that appears on every page on your site. If you’re a WordPress user, there are several ways to add your Google Analytics code to your site. You can add the code into your header.php file, into your functions.php file, or via a plugin. If you choose to add the code into the header or functions file of your theme, we suggest creating a child theme, so the files don’t get overwritten each time you update your theme.
Now that you’re all set up, let’s see what you can actually use Google Analytics for.
Once you access the Google Analytics dashboard, you’ll find yourself face to face with a lot of metrics and results. And we mean, a lot. It can be hard to establish which metrics you need to focus on, which reports to view and what parameters to set.
Let’s assume you’re running a small or medium business website, as most WordPress admins do. You have set up a website, added your products (if you’re running an online shop), but you have no idea how many people, if any, are coming to your site and what they’re doing once they’re there. Are they clicking through all your pages or just some of them? Are they leaving right away? Do they like the site? Are they having an easy time navigating it?
Google Analytics has the answers to all these questions, and to many, many others.
The first things you see when you open your Google Analytics dashboard are the things you’re interested in the most. We immediately notice the statistics regarding the number of users – both overall for a given period, and those who are active right now. That’s pretty great, right? But it gets better. Right below, you get to see where they’re coming from, geographically and in terms of the origin of their visit.
Before diving deeper into all the charts, pies and bars, let’s take a quick look at the Reports menu at the left hand side of the Dashboard, more specifically, the Audience tab. The first section here, the Overview, is also the most useful one. It provides data on some extremely important metrics: Users, Pageviews and Bounce Rate.
First, you can specify a time range for which you need the data. You do this by choosing a beginning and ending date in the top right corner of your screen. You will then get the exact number of Users who have initiated at least one session on your site, as well as the number of New Users during the given period. Speaking of Sessions, these are defined as “…the period time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc.”
It’s clear why this is so useful – you get to know exactly how many people are visiting and interacting with your website, and you also get an idea of the visitor growth dynamics thanks to the New User metrics. The results can be encouraging or negative, but either way they help you set a solid base for planning your future steps.
In addition to these basic metrics, you can also learn about Pageviews. This important metric represents the total number of pages viewed on your website, also counting repeated views of individual pages. While having a high pageviews count is certainly preferable, it’s important to understand that the number of pageviews doesn’t necessarily imply your content provides your visitors with real value. It can also mean they’re having a hard time finding what they need on your pages or even that your pages don’t render properly. For this, and for any other metric in Google Analytics for that matter, it is best to refer to other metrics to get a clearer picture.
Pages/Session is another important metric – also known as Page Depth. This metric represents the average number of pages viewed per session. The higher the number here, the more likely it is that your visitors are following your intended path to conversion.
Finally, you also have Bounce Rate, one of the crucial metrics for any sort of website, regardless of its scope and niche. It represents the percentage of single-page sessions, in which the user left the website without navigating to any of its other pages and had no interaction with the page he or she landed on. Clearly, it’s a metric you can learn a lot from, as you definitely want your visitors to stick around, rather than leave.
Google Analytics offers an excellent help article on its Overview of Audience Reports, which includes in-depth explanations of other metrics and reports found under this tab, so make sure to check it out.
Other Useful Insights
Now, back to our charts. As we said, these are the first thing you see when you log in and they are there to offer you a quick look into how your website is doing, visitors-wise.
Traffic sources are particularly important. Why? Well, let’s say you’ve worked hard on your referrals, focusing more on that source than on others, including Google searches. But the data shows that your referral traffic is not as high as it should be. You have a couple of choices here. You can look for better, more authoritative referrals and grow your network, or you can set this traffic source aside for now and focus on other channels. Either way, it’s important to know where you stand in this department.
Similarly, the data regarding organic search traffic is important for establishing whether your SEO strategy is paying off. Google Analytics can tell you which keywords your visitors used to get to your website, and can therefore tell you a lot about the effects of your keyword strategy.
We should mention here that it is very important you connect your Analytics account with your Google Search Console account (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools). This way, you will get much more precise, detailed and realistic data on what terms your visitors are using to get to your website and how you rank in Google search results for specific keywords.
Demographic insights are the next thing you should be looking into. This data tells you whether you’re reaching your previously established target group. Remember what we said earlier about tailoring marketing efforts according to your specific target group? Well, metrics found in the Audience > Demographics reports can tell you if you’re doing it right. And if you’re targeting people from specific geographic locations, you can check that performance under Audience > Geo.
User behavior, especially the general Overview, provides an excellent look into what visitors are actually doing on your website. You may be getting some great traffic, but if the majority of those visitors leave after viewing just one page (and sometimes not even one entire page), all that traffic is basically worthless and you have to do something to make them stay. Also, some of your pages are definitely working better than the others in terms of engagement, and Google Analytics can show you that, too.
Understanding Events and Goals
Events and Goals represent data types that are extremely important but often confusing for new users, so let’s break them down.
Events, which are tracked through Behavior reports, as well as Realtime ones, represent user interactions with your website. You set the events you want to track based on what sort of insight you need into what people are doing on your website. Logically, you will be measuring things that are important for your business, in order to determine whether the traffic you’re getting is actually useful or not. You can have loads of traffic but if it is not congruent with your goals, it doesn’t matter much.
With Events, in addition to measuring them, it’s equally (or even more) important how you analyze them. Here’s a simple example: let’s say that one of your events is a click on a Download e-Book button. By analyzing the event, you can find out which referral brought to this click, or which Google search query led the visitor to your website and then to your e-book. When you get this sort of specific insight, you can plan your steps further – for instance you can invest into bringing more people from that particular channel, or boost your SERP position for the keyword that was used.
Or, if you’re investing a lot in Facebook ads and you’re getting a lot of traffic through that channel, but that traffic doesn’t lead to the event completion, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the investment and direct your resources elsewhere. Conversely, if Pinterest is bringing a modest amount of traffic but the majority of those visitors are performing your desired events, it’s a sign you should invest more in that particular channel.
Goals, on the other hand, are more related to your conversions (and are, in fact, tracked through Conversion reports). Goals are, well, pretty self-explanatory. They represent your aims, targets, objectives. It’s what you want to accomplish and what you want your visitors to do. You can set basically any event as your goal, and track it to find out whether you’re on the right path towards your objectives.
A goal can be anything – it can be any form of user behavior that matters to you. For instance, you may be interested in understanding how many people click on Add to Cart from a referral and not from direct search. No problem, you can set that as your goal. You can even track the sequence in which a visitor is clicking through your pages.
The rest of Google Analytics is pretty self-explanatory. The dashboard looks confusing, but that’s just the first impression. As soon as you start clicking through various reports and settings, you’ll realize that everything is actually pretty simple, and if there’s something you can’t wrap your head around, Google Analytics has an excellent help center with everything explained in detailed step-by-step tutorials, from setting up to advanced reporting.
The value of Google Analytics is, hopefully, just as clear. In short, without the insights you get from this tool, you can’t possibly improve the performance of your website or move towards your business bottom line.