If you haven’t installed Google Analytics (GA) on your website and aren’t using it to track who visits your web pages and where they came from — then this Google Analytics 101 guide is for you! This starter guide covers everything a beginner needs to know to use GA to drive critical insights for SEO, content, conversions, and more.
What is Google Analytics Used For?
Google Analytics is a free online application for analyzing your website traffic from all sources, devices, and operating systems.
With Google Analytics, you can get a clear picture of:
- How visitors find your website;
- How long visitors stay on your website;
- What pages people visit;
- Which devices people use to visit your website;
- Audience insights, like geolocation and demographics;
- And much more
You can use GA to analyze traffic data over any period of time you choose. Integrating Google Analytics into your reporting process helps you build a complete picture of your overall marketing and advertising efforts.
Why Should You Bother Learning How to Use Google Analytics?
Understanding how people find and interact with your website is the first step toward understanding the impact of your SEO strategy and continuously improving your website. Until you know who’s visiting your website and how they’re getting there, you can’t evaluate the impact of your marketing efforts and improve on them.
Google Analytics is the ultimate tool for tracking website metrics because it’s free, relatively easy to learn, and loaded with powerful insights.
You can use Google Analytics to:
- Inform decisions about where to allocate your resources.
- Identify where traffic drops to optimize your website for a better user experience.
- Spot inefficiencies between visitor entry and conversion to streamline your marketing funnel.
- Learn who your audience is, where they’re from, and what kind of content they engage with.
- Track the impact of your SEO activities.
In a world where data drives decisions, learning Google Analytics and understanding how to use it are critical skills for every marketer.
Who Should Use Google Analytics?
Anyone who runs a website and cares about improving their traffic or sales should learn how to use Google Analytics. Whether you’re new to digital marketing or you’ve been doing online marketing for years, Google Analytics is a vital tool in every marketer’s toolkit.
Google Analytics is particularly useful for:
- Business owners: Google Analytics can offer a high-level understanding of who visits your website and access to granular information that helps you allocate your marketing budget to the marketing strategies that yield the greatest results.
- Webmasters: Use Google Analytics to map the overall user experience so you can improve weak points and play into your strengths.
- Content marketers: Monitor how visitors find your content, what topics garner engagement, research content opportunities, and keep on top of search visibility.
- Sales departments: Observe high-level patterns in the customer path to purchase — from the first point of contact through conversion (or exit) – and dive into granular data to understand who buys, who doesn’t, and why.
- Marketing managers: Learn which sources of traffic drive revenue and go deep into what keywords you’re ranking for to formulate a plan to improve your SEO strategy.
How to Set Up Google Analytics
Setting up Google Analytics isn’t difficult, but there are a few steps involved, so set aside some time to work through the process without interruption.
First, you’ll want to create an account for Google Analytics. You can start a GA account with an existing Gmail address or create a new one specifically to attach to Google Analytics. Once your account is set up, you can generate a tracking code that you’ll place on your website, which allows GA to pull site data into your dashboard.
Inside the Google Analytics dashboard, click the “Admin” tab from the menu on the left-hand side of the page:
The admin dashboard has a section called Tracking Info where you’ll get your code to link your website so click on that in the middle of the screen:
Next, Tracking Info will expand into its own menu, so you can click on Tracking Code:
Once you’re on the Tracking Code screen, you’ll see a Tracking ID number and HTML code. Keep the HTML code handy either in Notepad or on the Google Analytics tab, since many content management systems (CMS) will ask for that when you implement GA on your site.
Adding Google Analytics to Your Website
The next steps for setting up Google Analytics will be different depending on which CMS you have and which method you prefer to use to enable GA on your website.
Here are some resources you can use:
After adding GA to your site, go back to the Google Analytics tab and click on “Send test traffic” to make sure everything works properly.
How to Use the Google Analytics Dashboard
Even before you explore the menus, the Google Analytics main dashboard provides instant access to valuable data and insights. Each widget on the main dashboard offers a snapshot of data from an underlying analytics report, so you can decide what’s worth exploring.
Even before you explore the menus, the Google Analytics dashboard puts plenty of valuable insights at your fingertips.
Adjust the dates in each widget to see your traffic over any period of time or, click the buttons in the bottom-right corner of each panel to dive deeper into the specific data.
From the main dashboard, you’ll see general data on your website traffic: users, sessions, bounce rate, duration, and real-time active users:
The next widget covers traffic sources. The bar chart displays different shades of blue for each source: direct traffic, organic search, paid advertising, social media, referrals, and email newsletters, and more.
The main Google Analytics dashboard also offers visualizations that show your active users over time in a handy line graph along with retention rates for cohort analysis:
The next widgets tell you when, where, and how visitors access your website. You can analyze your audience based on their country of origin associated with their IP address, along with their preferred times for visiting your website and which devices they use.
Keep in mind that the menus along the left-hand side of the dashboard and the buttons in the bottom-right corner of each widget offer further details on each topic.
Google Analytics also offers actionable insights along the right-hand side of the dashboard screen. Google’s Analytics Intelligence will inform you of specific patterns, tips for improving, areas of weaknesses, and more – all based on your personalized website data.
Once you have a fundamental understanding of your traffic from the dashboard, you can jump over to the main menu on the left to build reports or explore insights in greater detail.
The first menu item covers real-time visitor traffic. You can find out who is currently on your website, where they’re visiting from, what pages they’re viewing, and more.
The next menu item covers your audience makeup. Google has expanded this detailed section over the years. You can use these insights to understand who visits your website and the overall value you derive from each customer.
The Acquisition reports explain how visitors find your website. The overview covers traffic sources like organic search, social media, and direct traffic. Dive deeper to see granular data on individual visits or analyze trends over time.
The Behavior reports show how people interact with your website once they arrive. Find out what pages people land on, how long they stay on each page, as well as your entire site, and pinpoint opportunities to clean up your site speed or user experience.
Last but not least, the Conversions section breaks down the most important actions that occur on your site, including eCommerce purchases, email signups, form completions, file downloads, and phone calls. Use this section to track your conversion rates so you can focus your effort on areas that drive meaningful engagement like:
- Traffic sources
- Types of content
- Social media channels
How to Use Google Analytics Reports
There are dozens of different reports in Google Analytics, each of which can be sorted and filtered based on your specific needs. The possibilities are almost endless.
However, it’s wise to keep your reports grouped by three main purposes:
- Audience reports
- Acquisition reports
- Behavior reports
These groupings will keep your data focused on specific goals so you can prioritize which insights you want to act on.
Google Analytics Audience Reports
Your audience analytics reports help you get to know the real people visiting your website. From the left-hand menu, click on Audience and then Overview, and you’ll see a visualization of your general traffic makeup.
In the left-hand corner of the Audience Overview screen, you’ll also see a widget with options to explore which operating systems your visitors use and which countries, cities, devices they’re visiting from. You can even view basic demographic information.
Going back to the left-hand menu under Audience insights, click on Interests, and Google Analytics will reveal topics your audience cares about and what percentage of your audience belongs to each segment:
The Audience tab has tons of other data to explore, so experiment with building custom reports or get creative with the other audience insights.
Google Analytics Acquisition Reports
Acquisition reports are vital because they tell you how people find your website. You can’t drive more traffic to your website if you don’t know where people discover you.
To evaluate which traffic sources produce the highest quality visits — like longer session durations, better conversion rates, or a high level of engagement — compare the results of your acquisition reports in the context of your behavioral data.
Compare the results of your acquisition reports in the context of your behavioral data to see which sources are bringing in the most qualified traffic.
Download a report from the main acquisition dashboard to see where your visitors come from or customize your own reports.
Your Google Analytics acquisition data also includes insightful reports like Social Relationship data for tracking how visitors find your website from social media and how they behave once they’re on your page:
Google Analytics Behavior Reports
The final type of report you’ll want to explore covers data about how people interact with your website. Here, you can unlock vital insights about things like session duration, bounce rate, where people exit your site, and more.
Other tabs on the Behavior menu cover granular data on users’ specific journeys through the content on your website — from the first touchpoint to conversion or exit.
How to Use Google Analytics: 5 Tips & Strategies
Even with everything we’ve covered in this guide, we’ve only brushed the surface of what Google Analytics has to offer. But, get started with these six tips, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to mastering advanced data analysis with GA.
- Stay Focused on Your Goals
Google Analytics can get overwhelming. So always open the platform with a specific goal in mind to avoid getting distracted and wandering down a rabbit hole. (Although sometimes you learn interesting things in rabbit holes!)
- Check Your Internal Search Terms
In the Behavior section of the Google Analytics menu, the Site Search reports will reveal awesome info on what people type into your website’s internal search bar. Use this data to identify content gaps, expand on content, and improve your site’s navigation.
- Integrate with Other Analytics Tools
Google Analytics is incredible on its own, but you can double the benefit when you integrate it with other tools. For example, email marketing, social media, CRMs, and other marketing tools can integrate seamlessly with Google Analytics to bring together data from other sources.
- Track Customer Journeys
In the Behavior menu tab, click on Behavior Flow, and Google Analytics will reveal a play-by-play of each website session. This comes in handy for tracking patterns on customer path-to-purchase, identifying gaps where potential customers drop off, and strengthening the overall user experience on your website.
- Analyze Website Speed
Your site speed impacts SEO and on-site behavior. That’s why Google Analytics has evolved to include several sections devoted solely to improving your website speed.
Google Analytics will break down individual page load times for your top pages over a given period and even provide personalized suggestions to improve load time if needed.
The Rest Is Up to You
Google Analytics provides vital data about your website traffic sources, audience demographics, and user behavior. Every marketer should know how to use GA to draw actionable insights and put their data to work for them. I hope this Google Analytics starter guide encourages you to dig deeper and learn more about the numbers behind your digital marketing efforts.
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