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A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics

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Google Analytics is arguably one of the most powerful analytics software on the planet. Not to mention that it’s completely free to use.

Bloggers, marketers, and webmasters can use Google Analytics to gain actionable insights on how their website is performing, what’s working, what’s not, and how to optimize both their site and content for their audience.

The only trouble is that to a complete beginner, the Google Analytics interface and the jargon built in and around it can seem a bit overwhelming. With this in mind, we put together this introductory guide that’ll help you setup your Analytics account and get a hang of its features.

This guide is written with the absolute beginner in mind, so if you’re more of an advanced user, it might make sense to jump straight to the “Resources” section at the end for recommended reading and advanced Analytics tools.

Setting Up Your Account

Setting up Google Analytics for your website is a simple two-step process.

First, sign up by entering basic information for your account such as the name of your organization, the website you wish to track, and its URL.

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Post sign up, Google Analytics will give you a tracking code for your website, which is a snippet of JavaScript used for account verification and the collection of user browsing data. This is what your tracking code will look like:

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Second, either insert this code manually into your website or use a plugin if you’re on WordPress. And that’s it, you’ve just set up your Analytics account!

Some Key Metrics

Now, let’s try to understand the meaning of some key metrics that you’ll need to be familiar with in order to make sense of all the data in your dashboard.

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» Sessions

A session is a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame. For instance, a single session can consist of multiple page views, events, social interactions, or e-commerce transactions. By default, the session duration is set to 30 minutes, which means that if a user returns to the website after 30 minutes of inactivity, it’s counted as a new session.

» Users

The Users metric indicates the total number of unique visitors who have viewed or interacted with your website or application within a given period of time. This data is assigned and stored through cookies managed by a browser.

» Pageviews

A page view is simply defined as a view of a page on your site that is being tracked by the Analytics tracking code. If a user clicks reload after reaching the page, this is counted as an additional pageview. If a user navigates to a different page and then returns to the original page, a second pageview is recorded as well.

» Pages / Session

This is the number of pages that your users are visiting on average per session. For instance, if one user visits three pages in a session and a second user visits two pages in a session, the Pages / Session count would be 3+2 / 2 = 2.5

» Avg. Session Duration

Average session duration is calculated as the total duration of all sessions (in seconds) / number of sessions. One important thing to note here is that this data is more indicative than precise, this is because of the way session duration is calculated. Session duration is calculated by subtracting the timestamp on the last user engagement on the website with that of the first engagement, which means that the time on exit pages is never counted. So a user could land on a particular page, read it for 10 minutes, then close it or hit the back button, and the session duration for this would be 0 seconds.

» Bounce Rate

When a user lands on a page of your website and then leaves it without browsing any further, the user is said to have “bounced”. Bounce rate is the percentage of users who bounce from your website. For instance, if for 100 users, 70 immediately close the page or hit the back button, your bounce rate is 70%. A very high bounce rate is an indication that something about your website is turning users away — maybe the navigation needs to be improved or perhaps the average page load time is too high.

» % New Sessions

Percent of new sessions is just the percentage of sessions generated by new visitors on your website. This number usually hovers around 80% for most websites since it’s been widely observed by many that the standard ratio of new vs. returning users is around 80:20.

Homepage

The homepage of Google Analytics provides an overview of your account. In the top navigation bar, there are three tabs i.e. Reporting, Customization, and Admin. We’ll be discussing them in more detail later.

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Also on the homepage is a list of all the websites being tracked by Google Analytics. You can track up to a 100 websites using just one Analytics account! Clicking on the name of the website will take you to its reporting page where you can view the data related to that particular website in much more detail.

Analytics Reporting

Reporting is the raison d’être of Google Analytics; consequently, this is the section where you will possibly be spending most of your time tracking and analyzing incoming data and using it to optimize your website. Let’s look at the various components of the reporting panel.

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» Dashboards

Dashboards are a collection of widgets that give you an overview of the reports and metrics you care about most. Dashboards let you monitor many metrics at once, so you can quickly check the health of your accounts or see correlations between reports. Dashboards are easy to create, customize and share.

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You can also import premade templates from the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery that are designed for specific purposes like analyzing the performance of content, social media activity, site engagement, and much more.

» Shortcuts

Shortcuts remember your settings so you don’t have to reconfigure a report each time you open it. For instance, here we’ve created a shortcut for a report benchmarking Sessions against Avg. Session Duration.

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Any setting you apply to a report, like adding an advanced segment or a new metric, stays applied in a shortcut until you manually change the settings. The settings are saved even if you sign out and sign back into your account.

All report customizations and settings are saved in a shortcut except the date range. Check the dates each time you use a shortcut to make sure the time period you need is applied.

» Intelligence Events

Intelligence monitors your website’s traffic to detect significant statistical variations and generates alerts when those variations occur.

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There are 3 types of alerts: Automatic web alerts, for when Google Analytics detects any significant change in usage or traffic stats; Automatic AdWords alerts, for when Google Analytics detects a significant change in traffic from AdWords; and Custom alerts, for when traffic reaches a custom threshold specified by you.

There are 4 views: Overview, daily, weekly, and monthly.

» Real-Time

As the name suggests, Real-Time reports the activity happening on your website right now. The overview tab page displays how many users are active on your site in real-time, where they’re from, and which pages they are browsing, among other things.

The other tabs in Real-Time i.e., Locations, Traffic Sources, Content, Events, and Conversions present the corresponding data about active users.

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» Audience

The Audience report in Google Analytics gives you a detailed analysis of the users visiting your website. The Overview tab gives you an overall picture of your website’s audience and their activity; here, you can also benchmark one metric against another and select a custom time duration to generate a report.

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Here are the other reports under Audience:

  • Demographic tab shows you the age and gender of your audience.
  • Interests tab shows you the dominant interests of the majority of your users such as technology, TV, movies, photography, news, and more. It also shows you their in-market behavior and purchase intent segregated by categories such as consumer electronics, dating services, travel, and more.
  • Geo tab shows you the language and location of the users.
  • Behavior tab shows you the behavior of your audience based on their interaction with you site such as New vs. Returning Users, Engagement, and more.
  • Technology tab shows you the browser, OS, and network that your users are using to access your website.
  • User Flow tab visually displays where users come from and how and to what extent they interact with your website.

» Acquisition

The Acquisitions report gives you a detailed overview of where your traffic is originating from such as organic search, direct, social, referral, or email. Using the tabs inside the Acquisition report, you can dig deeper into the individual traffic sources and view them by channel, source/medium, and more.

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The Search Engine Optimization tab shows the keywords that users searched for to land on your web pages. The Social tab displays the traffic coming in via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and others.

If you run AdWords campaigns, you can link your AdWords account to Google Analytics from the Admin panel and monitor all the activity from within the Acquisition report.

» Behavior

The Behavior report captures and displays what visitors do on your website, the pages they visit, and what actions they take while on those pages. The Overview shows you how many Pageviews your site received in the selected time range along with some other metrics.

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Here are the other reports under Behavior:

  • Behavior Flow shows the paths users commonly take while navigating your site, from the first page they land on, to the page they exit from.
  • Site Content shows you the top performing content on your site, a folder view of the content categorized by pageviews, and the top landing pages and exit pages.
  • Site Speed displays crucial reports that may help you identify any specific pages that are slowing down your site or other bottlenecks you may be unaware of.
  • Site Search displays the overall metrics for visitors who use the search box on your website, but you need to configure it once.
  • Events allow you to track specific actions that users perform on your website, such as clicking on an external link or downloading a file or adding a product to cart.
  • Publisher shows your AdSense publisher data right within Analytics, although you do need to connect your AdSense account to your Analytics account once.
  • Experiments help you to conduct A/B testing to see which landing page variations perform best at meeting your conversion goals.
  • In-page analytics lets you bring page stats to the front end of the website and even overlay data on individual links, you need to install a Chrome plugin for this.

» Conversions

In analytics, conversions simply mean a certain action taken by the user that’s important to your business; for instance, the completion of a purchase.

Conversions are further divided into two types: Micro and macro. Macro conversions are the primary goals of your business such as product sign-ups, purchase completions, or new leads. Micro conversions, on the other hand, are smaller engagements such as newsletter sign up or adding products to cart.

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Here are the other reports under Conversions:

  • Goals help you create and track micro and macro conversions.
  • Ecommerce is a report that helps you analyze the purchase activity on your site or app. You can see product and transaction information, average order value, ecommerce conversion rate, time to purchase, and other data.
  • Multi-Channel Funnels shows how your marketing channels (i.e., sources of traffic to your website) work together to create sales and conversions.
  • Attribution allows you to assign credit for sales or conversions to touchpoints in coversion paths.

Analytics Customization

In addition to all the Reporting panel, Analytics also has a Customization Panel which allows you to create custom reports according to your specific needs.

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All the custom reports that you create or import from the Solutions Gallery are saved in once place for quick and convenient access.

To create your own report, you pick a dimensions (City and Browser, for example) and a metric (Sessions, Pageviews, and Bounce Rate, for example) and decide how they should be displayed. You must specify at least one dimension and one metric.

Analytics Admin

Finally, the Admin tab in your Analytics interface gives you control over all the options related to your account and the websites linked to those accounts.

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Using the admin interface, you can add or remove websites and manage users and define the level of access they have. This is also where you find your tracking code in case you need to re-configure it, and link other accounts such as AdWords, AdSense, Ad Exchange, and others to your Analytics account.

Besides account management, you can also define user segments, set up custom alerts, define attribution models, and schedule email reports.

More Resources

What we’ve explored so far in this article would count as a very broad overview of Google Analytics for someone who knows little to nothing about analytics.

After you’ve gained that level of understanding, our advice would be to just jump in and start fiddling around with things, as this is something that’s best learnt experientially.

That said, here are some resources from all over the internet that we think should help you gain an ever deeper understanding of this powerful tool and make the most if it.

Feature image courtesy  via Creative Commons license on Flickr.