Google Analytics is virtually synonymous with website analytics. It’s an immensely powerful (and free!) tool that gives you a comprehensive snapshot of your site’s performance. Unfortunately, it’s far from intuitive, and many website owners struggle to gain meaningful insights from it — if they can even manage to get it installed. What else can you learn from Google Analytics, besides the basic number of visitors? Let’s take a deep dive into this fascinating and highly valuable platform.
What does Google Analytics do?
Back in the early days of the World Wide Web, it was quite common and even stylish to display a hit counter on your site. Nowadays, that’s a little tacky, and savvy business owners have learned the hard way that the number of visitors doesn’t tell you much. Where did those users come from? Where are they in the world? What pages on your site do they spend the most time on? Google Analytics answers all these questions and more, simply by running a tracking script on your site.
Indeed, Google Analytics does much more than count people. You can map out your site’s funnels, track user flows through your site, analyze the keywords that brought people to each page, and measure user engagement across your various platforms. If you click through every page of Google Analytics’ extensive dashboard, you’ll get more data than you know what to do with. That’s why it’s helpful to set clear marketing goals and identify your Key Performance Indicators before you start pulling reports.
Installing and Configuring Google Analytics
Before we get to all that, let’s go through how Google Analytics actually works. As we mentioned, it gets its data via tracking scripts, but as with most digital things, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
When you open your Google Analytics account — which is just linked to your main Google account — you’ll be asked to enter information about yourself and your company. Users can be linked together in an organization so that you can share data. Each account is capable of creating up to 50 properties, and you can adjust user permissions for each property. How you configure the accounts and access depends on your organizational needs. For now, it suffices to say that an account needs to have at least one property.
A property is either a website or an app. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on websites. You generally have a property for the entire domain, but you can set up a different property for each subdomain as well (which may make sense if your website has an e-commerce store you’d like to track separately).
Finally, each property has at least two views. One is an unconfigured view of your raw data; the other uses filters, such as excluding your company’s IP address. This way, you’re not throwing off your numbers when you visit your own site.
After you’ve created a property, you’ll need to install the tracking script. Each property has a unique identifier that governs all traffic on the property. Google Analytics will generate a code for you that pairs this code with a site tag. Keep in mind that you’ll need to correctly identify your type of site (static or dynamic) in order for the tag to work. The script is added to the HEAD tag so that it will operate on every page of your site. If you’re using WordPress, there is a convenient plugin to help you install the code.
Understanding Your Dashboard
Once you’ve correctly installed the tracking script and Google Analytics is receiving data from your site, it’s time to dig into your dashboard. This is where many people become immediately overwhelmed. It’s helpful to divide what you see into two categories: dimensions and metrics.
Dimensions are the categories that describe where and how people access your site, e.g. their device, their geographic location, what browser they’re using. If you’re interested in marketing to people with a particular smartphone or in a certain country, look for data in rows: that’s how the dimensions are displayed in Google Analytics.
Metrics are, of course, numbers. Common metrics include the number of sessions (a defined period of time spent on your site), page views, conversions (how many people clicked a link on a given page), and bounce rate (how many people arrived on the page and immediately left). The metrics appear in columns so that you can see the relevant numbers for a given metric.
So, let’s say you’re tracking a landing page. You want to know how many people viewed the page (a metric) and where they are in the world (a dimension). You also want to see the conversion rate (a metric) and where they came from (a dimension). If you integrate your CRM into Google Analytics, you can get more advanced insights, such as how many of your social media followers took action on the landing page. As you see, all these numbers work together to form a picture of each page’s success — if you know where to look.
If you’re using Google Analytics to power up your marketing, as you should, you’ll need to check out your audiences too. The good news is that Google Analytics breaks down your visitors’ data for you. Perhaps you thought that your target audience was Californian millennials, but the bulk of your users are actually Gen X in Oregon! It might be time to tweak your messaging. Of course, if you’d like to track a custom audience, Google Analytics permits that as well.
Here’s where Google Analytics really puts those early-years hit counters to shame. It can identify and track unique visitors to your site and record their return visits. This is invaluable for assessing how your leads and customers are behaving on your site. If you’re tracking their activity on revenue-generating pages, you can even use Google Analytics to assess the lifetime value of a customer. Plus, the platform gives you detailed insights into each session, whether it’s a quick visit or an in-depth shopping experience. (Tip: You can track what people search for on your site as well.)
Setting Goals and Viewing Reports in Google Analytics
Of course, there’s no point in tracking anything without having goals to meet — or exceed! One neat feature of Google Analytics is that you can define your goals within the platform and easily access reports. Let’s get back to that hypothetical landing page. If you’d like to achieve, say, 50 conversions per month on that page, simply set a Goal to track how many people clicked the CTA, then set the thank you page as the Destination. You can even assign a dollar value to the actions to get a quick snapshot of how much revenue a page is generating.
You can create up to 20 goals for each property, so decide which actions you want to track. Google Analytics provides some pre-built goal options, such as detecting when people view your product pages or watch a video on your site. Draw upon these insights to learn more about how each page is supporting your marketing goals.
Google Analytics also provides plenty of options for generating reports. You can pull data for a given time frame, geographic location, etc, or browse by traffic that came in from social networks vs. direct links. If you link Google Analytics to Google AdWords, you can track your PPC campaigns as well. You should also connect Google Webmaster Tools and Search Console to analyze which search terms led organic traffic to your site. (Tip: Use Cohort Analysis to track the success of a time-limited campaign.)
All these tools enable you to measure your site’s performance. More importantly, they show you which parts are not supporting your business goals. Are users abandoning the funnel on a certain page? Does your offer page have a high bounce rate? Is there one source of traffic, e.g. social, that’s leading to more conversions than others? By getting the full portrait of your audience’s behavior, you can refine your marketing strategy. (Tip: Add your favorite reports to your Shortcuts.)
Google Analytics is an immensely powerful tool, but it’s important to overcome any feelings of intimidation and start getting actionable data for your business. With a complete, accurate portrait of how people arrive at, interact with, and leave your site, you can avoid wasting money on strategies and resources that don’t get results and instead optimize your digital marketing strategies. Plus, who doesn’t like seeing that number of monthly visitors go up and up?
This guide will be here when you need it to help you through your initial understanding of cost per acquisition. Take it slow, and you’ll be an expert in no time. Happy Advertising! ☺
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