An Introduction to Google Analytics
It did not take long for Google Analytics to become the de-facto standard web analytics service for webmasters after its initial release in late 2005. The service allows you to track a wide range of statistics about your visitors including location, browser, demographics and more. The service is free to use, however there is a premium version available if you have $150,000 lying around the house :)
Today, I would like to walk you through of the most interesting features that Google Analytics offers. The service has become much more advanced than it was when it launched eight years ago; therefore it is impossible for me to cover everything in one article. I have, however, tried to cover the features that you will use most often and explain what other interesting features are available.
Installing Google Analytics on Your Website
Google Analytics is located at www.google.com/analytics/. You can login to the service via the “Access Google Analytics” button at the top right hand side of the page. Apologies to those who do not like the Google ecosystem: A Google account is necessary to use Google Analytics.
The main dashboard of Google Analytics lists all of the websites you are tracking. To add a new property, click on the admin link at the top right hand side of the page.
The central column of the administration screen has a drop down for all of your properties (websites). Scroll down to the bottom of the list and click on the “Create new property” link.
The next page asks if you want to track a website or a mobile app. If you are adding a website (which I assume the majority of you reading this are), simply scroll down to the bottom to the “Setting up your property” section.
You need to enter your website name, URL, category and time zone. Note that it does not matter what you name your website as it only for your reference.
The next page gives you the Google Analytics tracking code that has to be added to your website. This should be added to the head of your website design so that all pages can be tracked accurately. Alternatively, the code can be added to a PHP file named analyticstracking.php and then called after the opening body tag using <?php include_once(“analyticstracking.php”) ?>.
The tracking area also has other configuration options:
- Session Settings allows you to define how long a session lasts when you are logged in.
- Organic Search Sources allows you to add more search engines to reports.
- Referral Exclusion List lets you remove specific URL’s from referral traffic.
- Search Term Exclusion List
One other section you will find useful in the administration section is User Management. That allows you to grant permissions to other users to view reports for your website. Users can be given access to view reports and edit them if necessary.
Whilst Google Analytics is an easy service to use, it offers a lot of advanced features and customisation options. You can set goals, create segments, create custom alerts, write annotations and much more. You can even integrate your Analytics account with your Google Adsense and Google AdWords account.
I will touch upon some of these advanced features in this article, however the reality is that if I had to walk you through every feature and customisation option that Google Analytics offers, this article would be over ten thousand words long. The heart of Google Analytics is reporting. Therefore, that is what I will be focusing on.
Once you have added your website to Google Analytics, you will see a Reporting tab in the main menu. This is where all reports are located. The service offers real-time analytics though I recommend waiting at least several hours before checking website stats so that you have sufficient data to analyse your website in multiple reports.
Clicking on the reporting tab will take you to the Audience Overview for your website. This highlights the traffic you have received over the previous month including visits, unique visits, page views and more. The overview graph can be changed from daily to hourly, weekly or monthly.
The date range for stats can be changed by clicking on the date box at the top right hand side of the page. Preset date ranges include today, yesterday, last week and last month. Choosing custom allows you to specify the exact start date and end date. Stats can also be compared to the same period. Traffic stats can also be compared with previous time periods through this box.
In the bottom half of the Overview page (aka Main Dashboard) is a summary of other information such as demographics, system, mobile and screen resolution.
At the top of every page on Google Analytics you will find tabs under the main header. Different tabs are displayed in some areas of Google Analytics, though most pages with data contain the same four tabs. The export tab allows you to download the data you are viewing via a number of formats such as CSV, TSV and PDF. All of these reports can be emailed directly via the email tab too.
The other two tabs are Add to Dashboard and Shortcut. Dashboards are a fantastic feature that allow you to build pages that list all the information that you need (using widgets). For example, a PPC marketer may focus on clicks and impressions and not worry as much about other stats. Using a dashboard, they could build a page that only displays the information they need.
There is no limit to the number of dashboards you can create. This allows you to create as many unique dashboards as you would like. Companies will benefit from this. A company could create one dashboard for marketing, another for social media managers and another for the web development team.
An alternative to dashboards are shortcuts. The dashboard option allows you to build a unique page that displays specific data through a widget. Shortcuts are simpler. When you add a shortcut, you simply add a shortcut to that page from the main menu.
If you find yourself constantly checking the same reports through Google Analytics, you should consider adding some shortcuts to those reports so that they are added to the main Google Analytics menu.
Another feature that comes under the “My Stuff” part of the Google Analytics menu is Intelligence Events. This feature allows you to receive alerts whenever a metric deviates from the expected range. It is used by marketers to track how campaigns are performing through Google Adwords.
Automatic alerts are displayed in this area, however you can create custom alerts for almost anything on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
The Standard Reports are the main reports that you will be checking every day. There are five types of reports in total: Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour and Conversions. Let’s look at each of these sections in more detail.
As the name suggests, Real-Time reporting shows you exactly who is browsing your website right now. The overview page shows a number of interesting stats including pageviews (per minute and per second), active pages, referrals and location. There are dedicated pages for locations, traffic sources and content (i.e. the pages being viewed). Events and conversions can also be seen in real-time.
The Audience section gives you information about the people who have visited your website over a given date range. You should be familiar with the Audience Overview already as that is displayed when you initially click on the reporting tab for your website.
There are also reports for demographics, interests, language and location. I have always found the behaviour reports interesting as they distinguish between new and returning visitors. It also highlights how long visitors have been viewing your pages.
The technology reports show the browser and operating system that visitors are using. It also highlights the ISP they use to connect to the internet. The mobile reports show the number of visitors who browse your website using desktops, tables and mobiles. Google goes even further and advises you of the exact device they are using e.g. iPad or Google Nexus 7.
Custom Variables are another great feature. They allow you to track traffic from anywhere on your website. For example, I use the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin on my blog to distinguish traffic between blog posts and pages.
Visitors Flow shows you how visitors are navigating through your website and how they interact with your content. I have used this feature in the past to restructure where content was displayed on my website.
The Acquisition section is one of the most important areas of Google Analytics as it details where your visitors are coming from. The overview page splits visitors into organic search, referrals, social media, direct and email.
The All Traffic report displays your biggest traffic sources in order; whether it is search engine traffic, referral traffic, social media etc. The All Referrals report is similar except it only lists traffic from referring websites. There are paid and organic traffic reports too.
A total of eight reports are available for Google Adwords users to help them optimise their campaigns. There is also eight reports for social media traffic including network referrals, landing pages and conversions. There is also a social media visitor visitors flow chart that shows how visitors interact with your website once they arrive.
Whereas Acquisition deals with how people found their way to your website, the Behaviour reports show you what they did once they arrived. It shows the most viewed pages, landing pages, exit pages and more.
Google also monitors the time it takes users to load pages. The speed section also links directly to Google PageSpeed Insights to give you suggestions as to how speed can be improved.
By far my favourite feature in the Behaviour section is In-Page Analytics. It gives similar information to a heat map, illustrating exactly where users are clicking on your page.
The last standard report section is Conversions. This area focuses on goals, eCommerce tracking and funnels.
Goals can be defined as when a visitor:
- Visits a particular page.
- Remains on your website for a specified amount of time.
- Views a defined number of pages.
- Performs some action such as watching a video.
Defining a goal only takes a minute. All you have to do is specify the type of goal it is and then configure one or two options.
A monetary value can be applied to destination goals, if required. You can also define a path that visitors should follow. A useful option is the ability to verify your goal using traffic from the previous week.
I do not personally have any experience with eCommerce tracking, however it does look relatively simple to set up. Reports include product performance, sales performance, transactions and time to purchase.
The Customisation tab in the top menu allows you to create your own unique reports from scratch. You can choose your own metrics and change the way data is displayed.
For the purpose of this article, I created a few custom reports to see how it works. I found this necessary as the custom report page is not self-explanatory. It will probably take you several attempts before you build the type of report you want as the custom report is unfortunately not user-friendly.
I have only scratched the surface with what you can do with Google Analytics. The service is very simple to use, however the number of advanced features means that marketers, online shop owners and app developers can get more from Google Analytics if they configure their websites appropriately. General users, such as myself, will be more than happy with the standard reports that Google Analytics provides.