Google Analytics: Nothing to Fear and Everything to Gain
Written by Kyle McCarthy
Google Analytics is an online tool that helps web property owners understand their digital traffic. If you aren’t already using Google Analytics, you’re missing out on invaluable information, which in turn makes it impossible to properly interpret your results and optimize your web properties.
The Google Analytics platform allows you to see where your users are coming from, gather information about their demographics, find out which of your webpages are the most popular and successful, and much more.
We created this quick but thorough primer to help you better understand and use Google Analytics. Once you get comfortable with the platform, you’ll be able to collect and interpret the resulting data to make changes to your web properties. By doing so, you’ll increase traffic and conversions, which should result in more and better leads, clients, and customers.
Installing and Setting Up Google Analytics
After you’ve finished creating your website, landing page, or other digital property, you should install Google Analytics before going live.
Since Analytics is a Google property, all users are required to have a Google account. If you have multiple Google accounts, you should use the one most closely associated with your daily professional duties. You should plan on this being a lifetime account. If you don’t have an account or aren’t comfortable using a current account, you’ll need to create one here.
Do not let a co-worker or separate webmaster create the account. Employees and webmasters come and go, and you want to maintain full and sole control of the account at all times. You can always add others to the Google Analytics account later, but for now, create it for yourself using the Google account you’re most comfortable with.
Once you’ve created a new account or chosen to move forward with an existing one, visit Google Analytics and follow the basic “sign up” prompts. If you have one website, you only need one account. But if you have several digital properties, you should create separate accounts for each one and make sure you can easily identify which is which. Analytics does not allow you to move properties between accounts, so organize your account properly from the start to avoid losing data down the road.
After the initial sign up is complete, Google will provide you with a tracking ID to place on your website(s), which you’ll need to install on every page of the site. Tracking ID placement will vary depending on the type of web property you want to track and how that web property is built. Here’s a comprehensive instructional video to help you install the ID properly using Google Tag Manager — our preferred installation method.
The next phase of the initial setup is to set your Goals. This is a simple but very important part of the process that will let Google Analytics alert you whenever a user has performed a desirable action on the site, such as generating a conversion by completing an online form.
To create a goal, just visit the admin section of your Analytics account. Under the View column, select Goals and follow the prompts.
Finally, if your website has search functionality, you will want to set up Site Search, which allows Analytics to track searches on your site. You can use Site Search to figure out what topics your users are interested in. Then, you can reconfigure your site’s design to push traffic toward relevant pages. You can also upgrade the content on those pages (copy, callouts, graphics, videos, etc.) to create a better user experience.
To set up Site Search, run a search on your site and copy the query parameter from the URL bar in your browser. (This will usually be an “s” or a “q.”) Then return to the Analytics Admin page. Click on “view setting” under the View column and scroll down to turn on Site Search settings. Paste the query parameter, click “save,” and you’re good to go! You should start seeing data from your web properties within 24 hours.
Understand the Terminology
Before assessing the data at your fingertips, you need to understand some of the basic terminology involved. Some of these terms and phrases might sound complicated, but once you have a fundamental understanding of what each of them means, you’ll be that much closer to putting the pieces together and mastering the Google Analytics platform.
Below, we’ve provided simple definitions to some of the most common terms you’ll see in Google Analytics.
- Attribution is how Google credits conversions within relevant marketing channels. Analytics users can control attribution by exploring the different models within the platform.
- Bounce rate is the percentage of users who leave your site after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate often indicates poor content or misleading navigation.
- Conversions are actions users take that satisfy a specific goal or objective. For example, completing a form fill on a website is a commonly tracked conversion.
- CPC is an initialism that stands for cost-per-click, which is a term most commonly used in the paid digital advertising arena. CPC denotes the average cost you pay each time a user clicks on your advertisement.
- Dimensions are data attributes that provide information about how a user arrived at your site. These dimensions are laid out in rows in Analytics.There are four main dimensions:
- Source: The point of origin that brought the user to your site (i.e., a search engine like Google or the URL of a referring site)
- Medium: The general category of the source (i.e., organic search, paid search, email)
- Campaign: The name of the referring paid advertising campaign, when applicable
- Channel: Customizable categories you can use to segment inbound traffic
- Filters allow you to view, exclude, or transform defined subsets of data within the reporting tools of Analytics. For example, if you want to exclude views of your site that originate from your office, you can do this by adjusting filters.
- Keywords are the terms and phrases that search engine users type in to try and find what they’re looking for. Knowing which keywords bring users to your site — and which ones you’d like to target — is an important part of getting results from your website. Google Analytics allows you to view organic and paid keyword reports, which can help refine SEO strategy and paid digital advertising campaigns.
- Landing Pages, sometimes referred to as entrance pages, are the pages that each user starts on when they begin a session on your website. Landing pages can be either organic (pages that users can find through search engines or through the navigation on your website) or dedicated (separate pages designed and optimized specifically for conversions, usually accessible only by clicking an advertisement).
- Measurement protocol allows you to send raw data directly to Analytics without having to use Tag Manager or a tracking code. It’s especially helpful when attempting to combine online and offline data into one set.
- Metrics are the quantitative measurements of your site’s data. For example, the number of sessions and the number of pages per session are metrics. Google Analytics lays out these metrics in columns within the platform.
- Referrals are user visits from third-party sites. Reports in Analytics allow you to see which sites your visitors are coming from.
- Segments are another way of filtering the data in your reports. There are default segments already in place, but you can also create custom segments that better fit your tracking needs.
- Sessions are visits to your website. A session could involve a single user visiting any number of different pages. Sessions don’t necessarily have a time limit, but if the user remains inactive for 30 minutes, the session will time out. If the user performs a new action after this, it will register as a new session.
As you become more familiar with Google Analytics, you’re going to be seeing these terms regularly. Begin to understand them now, and you’ll be better equipped to gather insights from Analytics and apply what you’re learning.
Analyze the Data
It’s not enough to just collect data through Google Analytics; you need to analyze it and act on it. When you first created your site, you and other key stakeholders involved in the process should have established key goals and objectives you wanted to accomplish. Now, you can view the data to determine whether those goals and objectives are being met. If they’re not, you can make the necessary adjustments. If they are, you might consider updating your expectations gradually and optimizing the site to continue meeting and even exceeding those expectations.
Each time you log into your account and visit a specific web property, Google Analytics will greet you with an Audience Overview report stocked full of sub-sections. The initial landing page offers a helpful summary of your web traffic. The information is not in real-time, but it does provide useful information regarding users, sessions, and page views, among several other key performance indicators (KPIs). Click the drop-down calendar to adjust the period you want to review. You can view the metrics by week, month, year, or any custom period you choose.
When you scroll down below these primary metrics, you can view additional information about your website visitors such as their languages, countries, browsers, and operating systems, among several other options. You can either view the full report or click on each link to learn more about that specific metric.
Once you get past the Overview section, you’ll find numerous metrics that you should look at regularly. Here are four that every Google Analytics user needs to review daily.
- Visitors: To create the best possible digital experience for your users, you must understand how they’re behaving on your web properties. This includes total visits, unique sessions, pages per session, average time on site, and bounce rate.Each industry, business, and site are different, so the numbers themselves will vary. Instead of obsessing over the specific figures, keep an eye out for major increases and decreases. Note how or why they might be occurring as well as the effect they may have on your bottom line.
- Conversions: Several metrics act as indicators of overall success, but none more than conversions. When measuring conversions, you should look past the raw total number to understand what’s working and what’s not. This includes examining the cost per conversion, which attribution model you’re using to track conversions, the most common conversion paths on the site, the demographics of users who convert, and which inbound links are generating conversions.
- Sources: Traffic sources are important because they indicate how well your link-building strategies are working and how familiar the public is with your site or business. Traffic sources are divided into three main categories:
- Search: Visits to the site that result from users typing search terms into Google
- Referral: Visits to the site that don’t originate from a web search (links are the most common form of referral traffic)
- Direct: Visits to the site that begin with a user typing the specific URL into their browser or choosing the site from a list of bookmarks
- Landing pages: Since most of your conversions will likely come from visitors to your landing pages, these pages are extremely important to monitor. If they are receiving plenty of visits but no conversions, that’s a good sign you need to optimize them, especially if you are using paid digital advertising to direct the traffic. Landing page best practices include adding relevant keywords, writing headlines that align with your most effective keywords and key phrases, creating actionable CTAs, and inserting high-quality videos.
Listen to Our Podcast: All Analytics Talk (Rise of the Machines!)
LaFleur Uses Google Analytics to Guide Our Strategies
At LaFleur, everything we do is based on collecting and interpreting data, and we know that the best way to do both for digital marketing purposes is usually through Google Analytics. That’s why several of our team members have earned Google Analytics certifications and why we link all AdWords activity to Analytics.
If you would like to learn more about our approach to using Google Analytics or how we can help kickstart or improve other facets of your company’s digital marketing initiatives, we would love to speak with you. Please call (888) 222-1512 or complete our brief online contact form today to learn more about us and receive a free site audit.
Hines, K. (2015, June 24). The absolute beginner’s guide to Google Analytics. Moz. Retrieved from https://moz.com/blog/absolute-beginners-guide-to-google-analytics
Mangold, B. (n.d.). The ultimate Google Analytics glossary. Loves Data. Retrieved from https://www.lovesdata.com/blog/google-analytics-glossary
Sentance, R. (2018, May 10). A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Audience reports. Search Engine Watch. Retrieved from https://searchenginewatch.com/2018/03/29/a-guide-to-the-standard-reports-in-google-analytics-audience-reports/
Email: Google Analytics is a powerful tool that can help marketers of all skill and experience levels better understand their users. Click here to learn about some of the common terminology, how to create your account, and some of the key metrics you should be tracking.