Google Analytics (or GA) is a software tool that tracks, measures and records visitor activity for websites. Visitor statistics are presented in reports you can view online and download.
These website statistics are the key to understanding exactly how well your content is received on the web.
GA records what visitors do on your site, which pages they read and for how long. What they do after they visit a page, if they go to another page on your site or leave. You get information on the visitor, what city they are in, language they use, even the type of device they used when visiting. You can find out if they’ve been to your site before, or if it’s their first time.
The tool tracks where your visitors came from before they landed on your site. Which search engine they used to find your site, or if they typed the site URL in their web browser. Maybe some visitors clicked a link on another website that brought them to yours. With GA you can see how your visitors found you.
This is a wealth of intelligence you have at your fingertips. If you think it’s creepy to track your visitors like this, keep in mind that all this data is anonymous. You may have personal information on your visitors but you still don’t know who they are. You don’t know their age, their sex, income level and so on. Even with the limited demographics, the data is still invaluable to the success of your site.
The data GA provides can be used in several ways to improve your site and online business.
You’ll see which of your pages are more popular than others, which may indicate the topics your visitors are most interested in. This insight can guide you in developing content your visitors want.
If you use social media, you can gauge which of your accounts is sending traffic and which aren’t. You can also measure the sites you posted links to your articles from. You can focus your attention on the traffic sources that are sending visitors and spend less time on sources that are less effective. This is immediate action you can take that will make you much more efficient in the time you spend working on your site.
Important to many website owners, you can see how well your site is doing in Google. If most of your traffic comes from sources other than Google, it could mean your site is not ranking well in the search engine. You may want to take a close look at the reasons behind your lack of Google search traffic and explore what can be done about it.
If your site is designed for visitors to make a purchase, or to capture leads, you can measure how effective your site is in leading visitors to the desired call-to-action.
Advanced features allow you to use tracking codes on links that can be used to track email traffic, offline visitors or specific ad campaigns.
All these features and more are accessible via the Google Analytics online dashboard. There is no software to install on your computer, but there is a small piece of tracking code that needs to go on each website you want to track. I’ll get into the details how to set up your account and website later.
This valuable software is offered by Google at no cost, with upgrades available for a price. You can have tracking set up for up to 25 domains. The free version provides enough detailed information for most website managers to improve and grow their audience.
It may seem amazing that Google is giving away such a beneficial tool, but don’t think for a moment it’s out of the kindness of their collective hearts. The data Google collects from sites using this software is priceless; it’s a win-win for both parties, with the scale tilted toward Google’s end.
If Google having access to data about your site’s traffic bothers you, there are alternatives but you’re likely to pay for them. Some site tracking services have free plans, but they may be limited in the level of reporting or how many visitors the plan allows.
Most web hosting companies have web server log reports and statistic packages that you may have installed at no cost. I like to use these to compare stats with GA reports. Often, these stat packages lack reporting features, such as custom date ranges, data comparisons, real-time information and others. Look in your web hosting account’s admin control panel to see if you have this option available.
I should also mention that many experts believe GA’s traffic statics are not 100% accurate. I also feel this way, however, I still use GA to discover site trends and get updates on daily performance.
Another reason to use GA even if the numbers are not precise is that some advertisers and vendors may want to see your analytics reports before doing business with you. Google Analytics has become an authority in web analytics and many businesses only trust their reports.
Setting Up Google Analytics on Your Website
Setting up your Google Analytics account is a straightforward process can be completed in minutes.
The most important part of this process is being able to add the tracking code to every page on your website you want to track.
If you use something like WordPress, you can use a plugin or your theme may have a box you can paste the code into that will automatically place it on all your site pages
If you have a static HTML site, you may need to paste the code on each of your pages and upload them to your web server. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, it’s an easy job for anyone who knows a little about HTML. Find a friend to help you out or hire someone from Fiverr.com for only $5 to do it.
You need a general Google account or Gmail account. If you don’t have a Google account then your first step is to create one.
Once you have a Google account and are signed in, visit the Google Analytics page: http://www.google.com/analytics, click Create an account then the Sign up button on the following page.
On the next page some options are preselected for you. That’s fine, go with the defaults.
Lower on the page is where you need to enter some information.
Website Name is just a label that you’ll see in the list of sites you have in GA. You can enter the domain name you’re setting up.
Web Site URL must be the domain name of the site you are setting up analytics for.
Industry Category is optional.
Select your time zone. This defines the 24 hour period for reporting, so you probably want to use the time zone you’re in.
Account Name is another label. This can be the name of your business or other label that represents the all sites you will add to this account.
Data Sharing, I recommend leaving the first option on. It’s very useful to integrate your site’s analytics with other Google services you may use, like AdWords and AdSense. The others are optional, you can turn them off now and turn them on later if you change your mind.
Click Get Tracking ID then accept the terms of service on the popup.
On the next page page you’re presented with the actual tracking code that goes on your site.
Copy this code and paste it in the appropriate location on your site administration panel or directly in your web page HTML code, before </head> tag.
After the code is on your site, refresh the code page in Google Analytics or click Tracking Info in the left menu. You should have a status next to your Tracking ID:
If the status says Tracking Not Installed it probably hasn’t been picked up by Google yet. Give it an hour and check again. If after a few hours the status has not changed to Receiving Data you may have a problem. The code may not have been installed correctly or something is blocking it from appearing on your site. You may need to have an expert double-check your site.
If your status is Receiving Data that means GA is collecting statistics from your site. Wait a day and sign in to see full days’ worth of visitor stats.
Using Google Analytics
GA has numerous types of reports you may run using various parameters. The types of reports you can generate and display for you will depend on your preferences and what you want to measure.
Reports are organized into four main categories on the left menu:
- Traffic Sources
Within Audience you can run reports that will give you a sense of who your site visitors are. Important metrics in this section are:
- Location: Reports where your are visitors coming from and if they represent your target audience. Important in knowing if you’re hitting your target market or not.
- Behavior: Indicates if visitors are returning to your site, or if most people come one time. Shows how long to they stay on your site. This data can reveal weak content if visitors only stay for a few seconds and never return.
- Technology and Mobile: Shows the type of browser or type of devices visitors use when using your site. These two reports can help discover any rendering problems with your pages. For example, if visitors using Android devices only stay on the site for a few seconds, yet iPad users stay on the site 10 times longer, then perhaps your site has a problem with smaller screens. This information is helpful in targeting users of a particular device. You may place an ad on your site or write an article that relates to Android if you find you have a high percentage of visitors using that type of device.
Traffic Sources shows where your visitors come from: search engines, websites, emails, social media, etc. This section provides insight into how well your site is ranked in search engines, which social media activities are benefiting your site and which websites are “talking” about your site. It’s critical information that can guide you in growing your audience and traffic.
Under the Search Engine Optimization section of Traffic Sources you have the option of linking Google Webmaster Tools to your GA account. I highly recommend this so you can view search queries. You’ll see examples of what people are typing in Google Search to reach your site.
For instance, if you’re site is about caring for pet cats, you may see queries like this:
“how to make two cats get along in the same house”
This is valuable in understanding what people are looking for on the web and how your site relates to search. If you may see repeated questions or topics you can develop content for that addresses these trends.
Unfortunately, you need to link your Webmaster Tools account before you can view this data. If you don’t have an account sign up for one, then follow the instructions in GA to link it. I’d explain more about using Webmaster Tools, but it’s a topic that deserves its own article. If you need help browse the Google support for Webmaster Tools.
In Traffic Sources you can drill down into any of the sources to get detailed visitor or content data on that source. There is also a Social section that groups traffic from various social sites and lets you drill into each one. This is handy because the Sources report shows traffic by referring URL. The report may show visitors from three sources: facebook.com, fb.me, and m.facebook.com when they are all really the same source.
The Content section shows which pages visitors are spending time on and which parts of your site are not being explored. These reports show the pages that are attracting the most visits and may guide you in developing future content.
The Content section has a few other interesting subsections:
- Landing Pages: These are the pages that brought people to your site.
- Exit Pages: Pages that people are leaving the site from. Trends in this section may lead to improvements that can keep people on the site longer.
- Site Speed: I mention this subsection only because it’s not very helpful. It’s better to use tools such as PageSpeed or Pingdom to measure page speed.
- AdSense: This subsection shows which pages are generating AdSense revenue. The data is not completely accurate, I think because AdSense makes subsequent adjustments that aren’t reflected in GA. But the information still tells you which are your most valuable pages, and perhaps which pages you should be promoting. This section requires linking to your AdSense account before it reports any data.
The last section, Conversions, is a little advanced and requires some set up to use. Basically, this section can measure lead generation and ecommerce effectiveness. You can specify action goals that GA will track and report conversion rates. Ecommerce tracking can collect data on specific products, providing insight into which activities and products perform better than others.
Since Conversions requires a little work to set up, if you’re interested in using this feature you should read more about it.
Getting the Most from Google Analytics
GA’s My Dashboard offers a good at-a-glance view of your site’s activity. However, you may want to pay close attention to specific objectives that aren’t displayed by the default widgets. With the custom and advanced options, you can create reports that meet your personal and business preferences.
The dashboard “widgets” can each be reordered, removed or replaced by other report widgets. Click Customize Dashboard on the right to change the number of columns you want. Click +Add Widget to display different widgets on your dashboard. Advanced Segments can filter all your dashboard widgets, providing a quick drill down.
Perhaps you find having to sign in to GA each day time consuming. There are a number of convenient alternatives available:
- You can have a daily report emailed to you or have one sent less frequently. Click Email on the dashboard tool bar to set up automatic email reports.
- If you use WordPress, you can install a plugin that will display GA data within the admin panel of your site.
- There are GA apps available for Android and iOS devices. Some are from Google and some from 3rd party developers.
Keep in mind some of these options provide basic reports and may not allow you to drill down into data or compare date ranges. Still, for quick glance information these are real time savers.
After you’ve become comfortable with GA, have figured out how to customize your dashboard and set up your phone to display site reports, it’s time to get clear on your objectives and define the parameters.
GA provides lots of data, but some types of information may have priority over others with regard to your goals.
For instance, you may need to track web form conversions, the specific keywords that are generating the most traffic, which pages are earning more than $5 a day in AdSense revenue. These specifics can be tracked independently with custom reports.
As mentioned earlier, you can set up an email reports that send your quick-glance dashboard information. Well, you can also set up email reports on any other custom view, so you can pay close attention to the areas of your site that directly relate to your objectives.
GA provides a wealth of valuable website information, but the real benefit comes from knowing what to look for and how to use the data. This article gave you a quick start into getting set up and using GA. Now you need to think about the most important goals for your website and what data you need to help you reach those goals. With GA setup for your sites you can now find that data and ensure it’s always up to date and within quick reach.