It constantly baffles me the number of people who either don’t use Google Analytics on their websites or who do but don’t even look at it. The latter most likely fall into the category of simply not understanding what this amazing free tool can tell you.
What I have noticed recently is that there aren’t any updated beginner guides to using Google Analytics (GA) around. Google likes to update the look & feel of its products quite regularly so this post is focusing on the current look as of August 2017. So here is what you need to know in 2017 and & beyond with GA.
What is Google Analytics?
First things first, why do you need Google Analytics? Simply put, it’s a way to measure who visits your website, where they come from and how they’re interacting with your website.
That’s obviously the very basics of GA. For those online analytical geeks like myself, you can also view what country your website visitors are in, what browser they use, what device (i.e. mobile, tablet or desktop) they’re using and which pages are the most popular. To name just a few of the awesome perks!
How to Add Google Analytics to Your Website:
If you’re not at all tech savvy, this is where I would suggest getting your web developer and/or your SEO advisor to help.
The best and most advanced way to add the Google Analytics tracking code to your website is through Google Tag Manager (GTM). GTM is another free tool from Google, that will provide you with a lot of flexibility in terms of adding tracking codes and event tracking to your website (i.e. tracking clicks on buttons, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.). You can even add structured data through GTM!
HOT TIP: For those of you who are asking someone else to set this up for you, ensure they set up your GA and GTM accounts under your Google login so that if you wish to move from that provider at any point in time, you can without the hassle of the account being attached to them. It should be 100% owned by you and with you for life!
HOT TIP: You can use the Tag Assistant by Google chrome plugin to ensure all tags/tracking codes have been put in the recommended spot by Google. If they aren’t in the right spot, this can skew or cause issues with your data.
Google Analytics Admin
Once you have your account, you want to ensure everything is configured correctly in the settings to make sure you always have the most accurate data possible. But don’t fret! A lot of the settings are fine to leave as the default.
I’d recommend reviewing the following settings:
- View Settings
- Property Settings
If you don’t understand what they are asking from you, you can simply click on the little help icon:
Of course, there are many more settings you can configure however we’d always recommend seeking a professional to help prior to changing too many settings.
If you do feel semi-confident and want a safety net, you can create a new view and test out changes in this view. It’s always best practice for anyone with a GA account to create an ‘Unfiltered’ view so you always have access to your raw data. You can set up new GA views like this.
How to Understand Google Analytics Data
Now, this is where we get into the juicy part. What do you need to look at in the dashboard and what is it trying to tell you?
The first screen you’ll typically land on is the brand spanking new Google Analytics Home. This new look for GA only started rolling out to all accounts in April 2017 and it’s a fantastic way to grab a birds-eye view of your stats.
What you’ll see here:
- Last 7 days vs. 7 days prior in terms of traffic, bounce rate and session duration (scroll to bottom of post for definitions)
- Most popular days and times
- Real-time view (who’s on your site right now)
- Traffic channels (i.e. do they come from Google ‘organic’, social, direct, etc.)
- Which country they are in and more!
The home screen is a great overview if you want some quick answers and to check everything is going well. For nearly all the stat boxes you can filter the date ranges too. By default, they’ll be set to 7 days.
This is where the GA-obsessed live. Being a website owner myself, I admit to being a real-time addict. Between you and me, it makes for great wine-drinking entertainment when you have just shared a link on social media.
Now before we go any further. Remember that you can change the date range for the data you are viewing in the top-right-hand corner. If you’re analysing and making assumptions, it’s easier to look at a longer than shorter period so you have more data to work with.
Under this section you can learn things like:
- What countries/cities your website visitors are in
- Are they new visitors or have they been to your website before aka returning visitors
- What browser and network they are using
- If they are on a mobile device, tablet or desktop
To name a few! I’d highly recommend spending a couple of hours to go through each section and using the help icons to work out what may be useful to your business.
Being an SEO agency, this is where us Account Managers spend a lot of the time. It allows us to see how organic traffic is performing against all the other types of traffic. Personally, I love this section.
Under the All Traffic > Overview section you can see the data for each channel. If you want to dig further you can look under Referrals to see which other websites are sending people to your website. If you’re doing content marketing like guest posting, this is a great spot to keep an eye on.
Under acquisition, you can also assess how your Google AdWords campaigns are doing if you are utilising this form of online advertising. Plus, there are a few other sections which you may want to delve into if you want to dig deeper into social media traffic and such.
This section is all about what people are looking at on your website and how they are interacting with it. From finding out the most viewed pages and landing pages to how fast pages’ load – it’s all about the behaviour of your users.
Your SEO Account Manager will ensure you have goal tracking set up in the admin section so you can track conversions on your website. These are key interactions with your website, such as submitting a contact form, clicking on your phone number or email address or perhaps downloading a PDF.
Conversions are a key metric to track when it comes to assessing how well your website is performing and should always be a metric you keep your eye on. Gone are the days where keyword rankings were the best reporting stat. Keywords are of course an important part of an SEO Strategy but being a business owner you should focus on an integrated SEO strategy. Leave the keywords up to your SEO manager to worry about.
Some of the most popular GA words and their meanings:
You may find some of the words a bit strange in Google Analytics and even the explanation within the tool may not make a whole lot of sense, therefore here are some easy to digest definitions for those of us who like layman’s terms:
Sessions: Basically a website visit (geek tip: up until a couple of years ago they were called ‘visits’ in GA)– these are not unique, so the same user can visit your website multiple times a day and each time it’s counted as a new session
Users: A unique visitor and like the above they were actually called ‘unique visitors’ up until mid-2014.
Bounce Rate: This is a percentage and is calculated based on the number of users who hit the site and then ‘bounce’ or leave from that page without visiting another page. So basically, the percentage of users who view only one page. A word of warning – this is a metric to take with a grain of salt and in context of other factors.
Average Session Duration: The amount of time a visitor spends during their session roughly. By default, the max can only be 30 minutes unless you alter this in the settings of GA. I must also mention that GA will only track a session duration up until the last interaction with the website. Therefore, if a user arrives on a page, spends 1 minutes reading it and then bounces off, it will be recorded as 0 seconds. However, if they read the page for 1 minute and then download a PDF at the bottom which you have event tracking on, then it will be recoded as a 1-minute session duration. Here's an interesting and digestible article on jimmydata.com to explain it further.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for all website owners and to be highly competitive in your market it is essential to utilise this tool and use the information to further improve your online marketing strategy.
If you want a pro to help you interpret your Google Analytics data, make sure to get in touch with White Chalk Road. Our team are highly qualified when it comes to GA stats alongside being certified by Google.
By Casey Bryan.