Updated: May 5, 2022
Many excellent tutorials show you how to use Google analytics, none less than the Google Academy itself.
So, rather than rehash the existing material and bore you to death in the process, in this Google analytics introduction, I'm going to give you a brief overview of what it is, how it works and why you should be using it.
What Is Digital Analytics?
Digital analytics uses tracking software to analyse how users interact with your site. For example, you can measure how long they spend browsing your website (session time), how many visits they make (sessions), where they come from (acquisition), what browser and device they use, what country they are from and much more besides.
You can use this data to increase your sales and make your marketing more efficient by:
Discovering the most profitable pages of your site
Analysing where users come from
Dissecting individual campaign information such as pay per click (PPC)
Optimising shopping cart abandonment rates
Connect Google Analytics with your Google Webmaster Console, and Adwords account for optimum results.
Monitoring the traffic from different platforms like PPC, social media, and organic search makes it easy to compare them against each other and figure out what provides the best conversion rates. Using analytics software is like plugging a data analyser into a motor vehicle to see the faults and how to make it run more smoothly.
What Is Website Tracking And Analysis?
Have you ever had the feeling that you are being followed? Have you noticed that every time you visit another website, the adverts are targetting you specifically with offers for purchases you've recently made or items that you have been diligently researching?
Of course, it's not by chance. Every website you visit uses "cookies", and you are continually being asked if it is OK to accept them. A cookie is a small text file dropped into your browser cache which might contain any or all of the following:
The amount of time you spend on a website
The links you click while using the website
The options, preferences or settings you choose
Accounts you log into
Recording which pages you've visited in the past
Items in a shopping basket
Cookies are a powerful data collection tool for internet marketers. Under May 2018 EU law, companies need your explicit consent to collect and store your information which is why everyone these days asks you for "cookie consent".
Incidentally, you can simulate a cookie free browser session by starting an incognito or private browser session. This is useful for logging into multiple emails or social media accounts simultaneously or browsing websites without alerting family members to that surprise holiday you have been planning.
Analytics Software Works By Using Cookies
Cookies are browser-specific, which means that Internet Explorer can not read Google chromes cookies and vice versa. So if a user elects to use two different browsers, you won't be able to reconcile them as the same user in analytics.
Cookies are not shared across devices, and they are not passed between logged in and synchronised browsing sessions, which leaves a big data hole. For example, someone could browse your website in their lunch break at work and when they make the purchase on their tablet at home in the evening, and you wouldn't know it was the same user.
It is possible for the user to clear their cookie browser cache and destroy all cookies manually! Any subsequent cookie creation will give the user a new client ID.
However, the amount of information you can gain by using website analytics far outweighs the above, so how do you collect the data and put it to use?
Website Analytics Software
Whenever a discussion about website analytics comes up, it's most likely to revolve around Google analytics because it is free, easy to implement, simple to use and hence the most well known. There are alternatives, but you would need a specific reason to use them first, and you can only establish that by doing some analysis. So Google Analytics is the place to start.
Google Analytics works by inserting a small piece of code that runs one every page of your site. In Wordpress or Joomla, for example, you put the code in the footer or use an analytics plugin. In Wix or Weebly, you have a custom code option, and all eCommerce software has a setting for you to place your Google analytics account number found in your admin dashboard.
Why You Should Use Google Analytics
1. It is a free enterprise-class analytics software. Google can see your data if you are wondering what they get out of it.
2. All data is collected automatically. You don't need to do anything once it is set up and as soon as data starts to be collected it can be reported on, even if you don't plan to do any analysis yourself.
3. It integrates with Google Adwords so you can analyse and perfect your paid-for campaigns.
4. Quickly see which pages have a high bounce rate. "Bounce" is the metric used for visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page or less. if you can fix the reason people find your page(s) unappealing you can reduce bounce rate.
5. See which locations your visitors are coming from, what language they use, and what devices are most prevalent.
6. Find the top-performing pages on your website so that you can write more useful content for your readers.
7. Set different goals to be achieved and monitor them. For example, you might like to know how many people fill in a subscribe to a newsletter or lead generation form.
When building your website or ready to go "live" on your domain name, don't procrastinate and put off installing Google analytics.
The first reason is that delaying the setup means that any data capture is deferred. You can't go back and capture data that you haven't been tracking.
The second reason is that it is so simple to install that it would be criminal. Collecting complete and accurate statistical data is at the heart of any winning marketing campaign.
In this post, I will show you how to accurately set up your Google Analytics configuration at the Account, Property and View levels.
Organise Accounts, Properties And Views
You will probably only have one or two website accounts to set up in Google Analytics in your lifetime. But it is helpful to understand how the hierarchical setup works to know the design interface. I've marked each identifier with a red underline in the image below.
You may have more than one Google account, or you may be managing an account for someone else. These accounts show up in the left column.
Each property (website) then has a unique identifier (UA-3071727-30), for example, and the view column shows which reports are available for that property.
In this way, understand that a single Google user can have multiple Google Analytics accounts, and each account can contain up to fifty properties. Each property can then support a maximum of twenty-five "views" or reports.
Views are where you create your reports. Within each report View, you have varied options to set rules that affect how the data is displayed.
Each report can have settings for eCommerce data collection, Site Search, Goals, Filters, Segments, Annotations, Channel Groupings, Custom Reports, Content Grouping, and User access.
Creating several Views rather than using the single default View gives you a greater insight through different Goals, Filters, and settings on each View. Still, in the beginning, it is sufficient to set up the default View and begin collecting data.
Each report or View collects data from the account creation day, so if you make your Google Analytics account on the 1st of January but don't create any Views, you won't see any data until you do. The minimum requirement is to make your Google Analytics account, add your website property, and create a view to collect data.
Integrating With Other Google Products
There are three other significant google products that you need to connect your Google Analytics account to:
1. Google Search Console monitors your organic search engine performance on Google.
Go to your Google Analytics account.
Go to Acquisition (left sidebar) > Search Console.
Click the Set up Search Console data sharing button.
Choose your Search Console account.
2. Google Adsense for monitoring your performance on the paid-for Ad network.
Sign in to your Google Analytics account.
Click the Admin tab at the top of the page.
In the "Account" column, select the Analytics account that contains the property you want to link with your AdSense account.
In the "Property" column, select the Analytics property you want to link and click AdSense Linking.
3. Google Adwords for monitoring performance on the pay per click network.
Open Google Analytics.
Click Admin and choose which account and property you'd like to manage.
Under property, click AdWords linking.
Click + New Link Group.
Select the accounts you want to link.
Enter your Link Group Title.
Switch on all sites where you wish AdWords data.
Click link accounts.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow your website designer or SEO professional to create a Google Analytics account on your behalf.
If you do, because you are too lazy to develop it yourself under your own Google account, then when you part ways with them, they will take your analytics data along with them because it belongs to their Google account and not yours. You'll have to start again.
It may sound silly, but this also goes for domain names, any software you purchase and hosting space. Make sure it is all purchased and registered in your company name, or you might lose it all.
View Your Google Analytics Data
After a week or so of collecting data, you will be able to view a report and begin to understand how to analyse your data.
Using the date dropdown in the top right, you can select the date range to report on and compare date ranges (for example, this month to last month) to view your data.
Default View Reports
Audience reports give you information on your visitors, where they came from, what language they speak, and how often they visit your website.
Acquisition Reports will give you a detailed breakdown of what channels and sources your website traffic came from.
Behaviour Reports will tell you the most visited pages on your site, how long people spend on those pages and the top exit pages.
You can also learn how fast your website loads and specific suggestions from Google on how to make your website faster.
Google Analytics Summary
Analytics is a crucial part of building your online business, and without it, you are working in the dark. The critical step is to get your analytics ID installed on your website as soon as possible because data can be analysed retrospectively.
Using analytics, you can identify the source of your website traffic and compare them to discover the best performing channels. Use analytics in conjunction with a paid Adwords campaign to provide conversion tracking analysis.