Even the world’s biggest, most successful brands need to track and analyse their digital performance. Whether you’re a one-man-band with a small blog, or a rapidly growing business with massive reach, you should be working to understand your site activities. Enter Google Analytics – a useful tool for exploring site visitors and behaviour. 

In this post, we’ll explore what Google Analytics is, how to use Google Analytics, and some of its key functionalities. Let’s dive in…

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a digital analysis tool owned by Google, and used by millions of business owners around the world. It’s essentially a platform that offers invaluable insights into your app or website traffic. Namely, where it’s coming from, who your audience is, and how they’re behaving on your site. Armed with this knowledge, you’re much better equipped to make informed decisions about your strategies. The best thing about using Google Analytics? It’s completely free.

How does Google Analytics work?

Google Analytics works by collecting and reviewing data from your site visitors. It does this by using what’s known as a JavaScript code – commonly referred to as a tracking code. When you set up Google Analytics, you’re given this code to add to each page of your site, enabling cookies. These cookies are then connected to the user’s browser, and the information is sent back to Google Analytics.

To collect the relevant data, Google Analytics tracks what are known as ‘hits’. Hits are basically user interactions, which trigger the tracking code. The code then sends the information back to Google Analytics. There are three different kinds of hits: 

Pageview hit

This hit is sent every time a user visits one of your pages, and will hold info such as which pages they visited, and what device and browser they were using.

Event hit

This hit is sent every time a user does something on your site. For instance, clicks on a video, clicks on a link, or registers their email address. 

Transaction hit

This hit is sent when a user buys something, and will send information about what they bought, how much they spent, and how they navigated the site before converting.

Once the hits trigger the tracking code, the information is sent back, processed and Google Analytics generates visual reports to show you what’s been happening. Clever stuff, right?

Is Google Analytics right for my business?

If you have a blog, a website or an app and you want to maximise its performance (duh!), then you absolutely need to know how to use Google Analytics. For the purpose of this article, we’ll assume you have a website. As an example, here are just a handful of the questions you could answer about your website via Google Analytics:

  • How many people are visiting my site?
  • Where are these people coming to my site from? E.g. via a search engine or a social media platform?
  • What are people doing while they’re on the site? How are they navigating through it?
  • What are my users doing once they’ve landed on a page?
  • Where do my site visitors live? 
  • What gender are my users? 
  • What age are the people visiting my site?
  • Is my website optimised for mobile?
  • Are my social media campaigns driving traffic to my site?
  • Which page(s) on my site are popular? Which ones aren’t?
  • How many of my users went on to buy something on my site?
  • Is my website slow to load?
  • Which part of the website did the user leave on? 

How to set up Google Analytics

Some people find the set-up of Google Analytics tricky, but there are lots of Google Analytics training guides out there if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here’s how to do it step by step. Before you start, you’ll need to set up a Google email account, if you haven’t already. 

1. Sign up for Google Analytics

First of all, you need to sign up for Google Analytics, where you’ll register your website, submit your time-zone, click on an industry category and accept the terms and conditions. This then generates your tracking code, which we spoke about earlier. 

2. Add your tracking code

Next, you need to add the tracking code to every page of your site. If you’ve built your site using HTML files, you’ll need to add the tracking code after the < head > tag of your header file. If you’re using a CMS, such as WordPress, then you can install Google Analytics via a plugin. Simply search for the Google Analytics plugin, and then follow the instructions given. 

3. Set up Site Search Tracking

Site Search Tracking tells you how your users are searching for things on your site. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up, and will tell you things like what users are searching for, which pages they’re landing on, and how long it takes for a user to leave the site after searching. Check out the short video below to find out how to approach this:

4. Set up your Goals in Google Analytics

Goals is a big part of using Google Analytics. With Goals, you’re basically telling the programme what you want your KPIs to be, and these are different for every website. For instance, do you want your users to buy a product? To set up Goals, go to Admin in the left-hand corner of the dashboard, and then click Goals. Here, you can select the goals you want Google Analytics to measure – e.g. Duration, if you want a user to spend a certain amount of time on your site. You can also create custom goals. 

And you’re done! Once you’re all set-up, you can start analysing your site performance. Just bear in mind you’ll need to wait around 24 hours before Google Analytics can start retrieving data.

Google Analytics: understanding key functions

Google Analytics generates 50 different reports for you to read and learn from, which are presented to you in a dashboard format. The reports fall into three categories, which we’ll look at below…

Audience reports

Audience reports do what it says on the tin. They’ll tell you all you need to know about your website audience, or your website visitors. Here are some of the areas within audience reports…

  • Demographics – find out your visitors’ ages and genders
  • Interests – their general interests
  • Geo > Location – where they are in the world
  • Geo > Language – which language they speak
  • Behaviour – how often they visit the site, and what they do there
  • Technology & Mobile – are they visiting your site on a mobile or desktop?

Acquisition reports

These reports will school you in what’s driving visitors to your website. The All Traffic report is broken down into channels and sources, to help you understand where your users are coming from. For example, you’ll be able to see which visitors came from a PPC campaign, a social media platform, or via organic search (through a search engine).

Behaviour reports

Behaviour reports are a great way of understanding what your users are doing on your website. For instance, the pages they’re landing on first, the pages they’re exiting on, what they’re putting into the search field (this only works if you have Site Search on), and how long they’re waiting for a page to load.

While you won’t use – or need – all 50 reports on Google Analytics, we’d suggest playing around with all of them and getting familiar. Once you’ve identified the reports you’ll be visiting time and time again, you can create a shortcut, or have them emailed to you and the rest of your team. 

Summary

Hopefully that’s given you a good introduction to how to use Google Analytics – what it is, how it works, and some of its key functions. Our advice? Play around. Explore. Ask questions. Be curious. The more you use it, the less of a minefield it will seem. 

Want more help tracking and boosting website performance? Get in touch with our expert team.

Elle Hammond, Senior Copywriter
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