If it’s fundamental to have a website in this day and age, then it goes without saying that being able to track, analyze, and interpret that web traffic is also of huge importance to your success.
This is where Google Analytics comes in.
By setting up a Google Analytics account, you’ll be able to see a complete overview of different segments of your audience and their buyer journey. This can be demographic information, a list of your most frequently visited pages, and where your traffic comes from in the first place.
This is important because you need to be able to determine where and how you spend your marketing budget most effectively – and that goes doubly so for startups.
Using Google Analytics will help you make decisions like which websites you should partner with, who your target demographic is, and most importantly, who’s becoming a lead and making a purchase.
Now that we’ve explained what Google Analytics is and why it’s important, we’ll get into the first step – creating your Google Analytics account!
Setting Up Your Google Analytics Account
The first thing you’ll need to do is to head on over to Google Analytics and sign in with your Google account. Then you’ll want to click on the ‘set up for free’ button to get started.
On the following page, we need to enter our account name and select the data sharing settings. All of these are recommended to explore all the options Google Analytics has to offer.
The next step is for us to select what we’d like to measure. You have three choices for what you’d like to track here:
Web – Use this if you only have a website (most common option). Apps – Use this if you only have an app for iOS or Android. Apps and Web – Use this if you have an app as well as a website.
For the purpose of this guide, we’ll be using the website option.
After that is the property setup option. Just enter the URL of your website, the name of the site, and the industry. Lastly, enter your reporting time zone and click create.
The very last step is to accept Google’s Terms of Service and Data Protection Terms.
After you’ve accepted the terms and conditions, your Google Analytics account has been created. Don’t get too comfortable, however – this is the easy part!
Next, we’ll need to connect our website to Google Analytics – and we’ll do so through the Google Analytics Tag.
Installing Your Google Analytics Tag
Just setting up your Google Analytics account won’t give you all the data you need to analyze your website. In order for Google to be able to properly track actions people take on your site, you need to install Google’s tracking code too.
After you set up your account, you’ll automatically be redirected to a page that contains your tracking ID as well as the code needed to install on your website.
If you have a developer on your team (or are one yourself) you can install it by adding the snippet of code as the first line into the <head> of every page you want to track.
Unfortunately, most of us marketers aren’t developers and the above instructions could have been written in another language for all we know.
There are a few other options for those of us who are less tech-literate or have special website setups.
Google Tag Installation for WordPress and Shopify Websites
If you have a WordPress website, an easy way to install the Google Tag is to use a plugin. Using a plugin will allow you to simply add in your tracking ID, while the plugin does all the work of adding the code to your website for you.
There are a few free choices out there, but the most popular are MonsterInsights and Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. They’re also the first two that appear when you search for Google Analytics inside the plugins section of your WordPress dashboard.
Both of these have paid and free options, so you can choose which you prefer – however, we’ll be using MonsterInsights for this tutorial.
All you need to do now is to select Install Now. After a few seconds, you can select Activate which will turn on the plugin. From there, you can select “Launch the wizard” and the on-screen guide will lead you through the rest.
For those of you who have a Shopify website, the process is even easier. After you’ve created your account, you just need to head over to your Shopify admin > Online Store > Preferences.
Under the Google Analytics section, you can paste your code from Google and Shopify will do the hard work for you.
To turn on eCommerce tracking or for any other questions, check out Shopify’s help article here.
Creating Goals in Google Analytics
The very last part of our setup today will be to create Goals. Goals are important because we want to be able to track specific actions users take on our website (such as becoming a lead or making a purchase) in order to create our own internal benchmarks and meet our marketing goals.
In order to create your Goal, head over to the Admin section of Google Analytics and click Goals, which can be found under the last column to the right.
Depending on which industry you chose upon setup, there will be a few templated options for you. These are really templates in name, and you’ll still have to do the manual work on the next page.
In our case, or example (became a lead) is not on the list, therefore we’ll select the custom option.
On the following page, we’ll need to set up what triggers our goal. There are 4 main options available for those who have new sites.
Destination – Visits on a specific page on your website
Duration – Amount of time spent on your website
Pages/Screens per session – Number of pages visited during a session (30 minutes by default)
Since all of our download pages lead back to a thank you page, we’re going to use the destination option.
Inside the destination box, we can input the URL that we’d like to have trigger our goal.
Special attention needs to be paid to the logic, however. If you’re using Equals to as the modifier, the exact URL will be the only thing matched. If you’re using a URL that has any string that is randomized, it’s best to use the Begins with option.
We could cover several chapters with what sorts of goals you should create, but creating one for leads is a great start. Here are a few other goals you should consider creating in addition to the above:
eCommerce goals (Add to cart, added payment info, purchases, etc)
Engaged users (for example, those who have visited at least 4 pages of your website)
Scheduled appointments or bookings
Contact form submissions
Tracking social media shares (Instagram Giveaways can help drive web traffic too! Check out our guide here).
You can rest easy as now the setup is done. We can now move onto the fun part – using our Google Analytics dashboards to analyze our website traffic!
Understanding the Google Analytics Interface
In this section of the basic guide to Google Analytics, we’ll cover the different components of the Google Analytics interface and how to navigate around the platform.
The Basic Guide to Google Analytics Navigation
When you log into your Google Analytics account for the first time you’ll see the name of your Google Analytics account that you’re viewing the data for at the very top. If you run several other accounts or properties, you can switch to them at any time by using the arrow and selecting it from the popup menu.
At the top right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a few other important icons. The bell icon will notify you of any alerts from Google Analytics, the four boxes will display quick links to other Google Marketing platforms (Data Studio and Tag Manager), and the question mark will contain help resources should you need them at any time.
The next important part of this dashboard is going to be the navigation pane on the left-hand side of the page. This will be where you switch views to analyze your different metrics and gain a clearer insight into your website performance.
The order of these sections is not accidental – Google Analytics helps you out by ordering these as you would likely want to analyze them. An overview of your audience, how you acquired them, how they behaved on your website, and finally breaking down your website conversions. (We’ll be covering all of these options in the next chapter.)
At the end of this column are a few more options – Attribution, Discover, and Admin.
The main part we want to call out here is going to be Admin. As you may have guessed from the name, the Admin portion of the platform gives you the ability to manage the administrative parts of Google Analytics, like your settings, user management options, and properties.
While we already worked within this section during setup in chapter 1, you might need to be redirected to this section in the future in order to make changes and enable advanced settings.
As for the other options, Attribution is a topic that’s often discussed by advanced marketers, but in our humble opinion, it doesn’t belong anywhere near a beginner’s guide. If you’re curious about the topic, you can read a guide from Google itself here.
A useful tool for beginners will be the Discover tab. Inside this tab, you’ll find a vast array of marketing resources for both Google Analytics and other Google marketing tools.
Before we go any further into this guide, it’s going to become increasingly more important that you clearly understand Google’s terminology. After all, if you’re not quite sure what your metrics mean, analyzing them won’t make a lick of difference.
While there are volumes of terms used on Google, the most common you need to know are the following:
Users – Google uses a tracking cookie to determine the traffic that belongs to a single person – i.e, a user.
Bounce rate – The percent of people who visit your site and exit without engaging at all.
Pageviews – When a page is loaded (or reloaded) in a browser.
Unique pageviews – This is an aggregate number of pageviews during the same session. For example, if someone refreshes the same page of your website 3 times during the same session, you would have 3 pageviews but only 1 unique pageview.
Session – Session is used to describe the activities your user takes on your site within a certain time frame. A session times out after 30 minutes of inactivity and further activity is attributed to a new session.
These won’t be the only terms we learn in this guide, but this will be enough to get you through the last part of this chapter – the reports found on your Google Analytics Dashboard.
Google Analytics Reporting and Dashboards
The last step of this guide is to introduce you to your Google Analytics dashboard. Here, Google will display pre-configured reports that allow you to get a bird’s eye view of how your website is performing. Even if you’ve never used Google Analytics before, these give you a solid baseline for many frequently asked questions.
The results you see here are displayed using a timeframe of the past 7 days, but you can change the time range by selecting the dropdown next to the date at the bottom of each chart. The chart at the top gives you a general overview of the users, sessions, bounce rate, and session duration of your site.
If your site is new (like our example above) it’s common to see low numbers. However, if you see no data at all after several days, make sure to double-check your Tag installation using Google’s Tag Assistant extension and reading over our setup section in the introduction.
If you scroll down on your dashboard, you’ll find a few more interesting reports that give you information about the demographics and source of your traffic.
Here, we can track the channels that gave us the most traffic, where our users are, and when they visit the site. This is all great information to know when you’re creating your buyer persona or if you’re trying to figure out which location is giving you the best results.
Now that we’ve learned how to navigate around the Google Analytics interface, deciphered a few key terms, and discovered how to use our dashboard, we’re ready to dive into the next part: discovering the Aquisition, Audience, Behavior, and Conversion reports.
Analyzing Your Google Analytics Data
In this section of the Google Analytics for Beginners guide, we’ll discover how to analyze the Realtime, Acquisition, Audience, Behavior, and Conversion reports. We’ll also learn how you can use these reports to do things like create a buyer persona, see which page of your website has the most traffic, and how to analyze and improve your site speed for better SEO rankings.
Let’s dive in!
As you might have guessed from the name, the purpose of the realtime report is to give you an overview of what’s happening on your website at any given moment. Click on the Realtime label in the reports column on the left-hand side of the page, and then navigate to overview.
From this page, you can see key information like:
How many visitors are on your site right now
What device they’re on (mobile vs. desktop)
Pageviews per minute
Top active pages (and the percent of active users on those pages)
Top referrals/keywords/social traffic
While we’re going to be focusing more on reports using specific timeframes, realtime data does have a few great uses for those with enough traffic to generate a good report. For example, maybe a recent trend in the news has triggered users to visit a certain blog post more than usual – you can take this as a sign to capitalize on those trends and create new and relevant content to attract more visits to your site.
As you might have guessed, if your website is new and you don’t have a lot of traffic, this spot can seem pretty scarce. In the next section, we’re going to cover how you can look at different traffic segments using a specific timeframe which can give you better insight into your website statistics.
Next up is the Audience reports. This section Google Analytics can have a huge impact on your marketing strategy as it can show the demographic information of those coming to your website. This, in turn, can help you craft buyer personas, and thus, be able to create content and market to your ideal customer more efficiently than you may be doing now.
In this section, you’ll find quite a few options, but the key ones we’ll tackle today are:
Overview— A bird’s-eye glance at top demographic information
Demographics—An in-depth breakdown of your visitor’s age range and gender
Interests— Data pertaining to interests and shopping habits tracked by Google
Geo – Information about the location and languages of your visitors.
The first thing we’re going to look at will be the overview page, which you can find by going to Audience>Overview
From the overview page, you can see some basic demographic information configured in a similar way to what we saw on the Google Analytics dashboard. Here you can determine which language your visitors speak (which can be useful in assessing whether or not you should translate your content), where they’re from, and their device.
One of the best sources of information you can get from the Audience section will take an additional bit of setup – and that will be the Interests and demographics sections.
This portion of Google Analytics is incredibly powerful, as Google will allow you to view the interests your visitors have (which Google picks up from their tracked browsing and purchase habits) as well as things like e. While we can all agree basic demographics are necessary, this additional layer of data can help to create hyper-tailored buyer personas and give you focus for web content.
In order to enable this feature, head over to Admin>Property Settings.
Under the Advertising Features title, toggle the Enable Demographics and Interests Reports button to on.
and there you have it! In about 24 hours you’ll start to see the data for these sections populate. In the meantime, let’s skip ahead to what you’ll see after that time has passed.
Under the Demographics label, you can find a breakdown of age ranges and gender, like so:
But the juiciest of all has to be the Interests section.
This section has 3 distinct parts – Affinity Category, In-Market Segment, and Other Category – and all 3 can be used to help you get into the mind of your ideal customer.
Affinity Category– These are the interests of the users who are coming into your site at the top of the funnel stage (aka not ready to convert yet). You can use this to determine who you should market your cold traffic campaigns to.
In-Market Segment – This segment contains interests about users who are further down your marketing funnel, and are more ready to convert.
Other Category – This section contains other relevant interests of your site visitors that don’t fit into the two main points of the funnel mentioned above.
Used in combination with the basic demographics options we’ve already seen, this is more than enough to create the profile of your ideal customer and help you to define who you should be expanding to – but we have one more trick up our sleeve: the Geo section.
Under the Geo section, you’ll get two pieces of information: language and location. While it may be obvious that your website is visited by users in a certain location and who speak a certain language, there’s a hidden opportunity here: expansion.
In the example above, we can see that the predominant languages are English (UK and US), the third language here at nearly 3.25% is French. Given our website is not translated into French and the percentage is already significant, translating our blog content (as well as our ad campaigns) into French may prove lucrative in the long run.
If you’re looking for more information on how to craft a buyer persona from this section, you can check out our article here.
The next report down the line will be acquisition which represents the very top of your Google Analytics funnel – the point at which your user visits your website (and how they got there in the first place). In this section, you can find answers to questions like:
Where your site visitors are coming from
Which marketing campaign is driving the most conversions
Which social media page is giving you the most conversions
Which websites you should be partnering with
…and these are just a few to start off with! At this stage, we’re going to need to explain a few more definitions in order to get started. Those will be:
Source – Where your traffic comes from
Medium – How exactly the user got to your site. It can be one of Google’s standard options as we’ll cover below) or a custom one of your choosing.
Now, we’re going to start off again by heading to Aquisition>Overview.
From this page, we’re able to see a breakdown of which channels are giving us the most conversions right off the bat in the pie chart at the top of the page, as well as the table below.
These are mostly direct terms, but here’s a list of quick definitions in order to make sure everything is crystal clear:
Organic Search—These are users who come to your site from a Google search (and not a paid ad)
Paid Search— These are users who come to your website as a direct result of a click on a Google or other search ad
Direct— These are users who come to your site directly – using a bookmark or typing your website into their browser
Referral— These are users who visit your site by clicking a link on another website
Social— Users originating from a social media site (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)
Other— If you are currently using UTM parameters (which we’ll cover soon!) you’ll see them lumped into the other category.
A lot of great info can be found at this level, but as always, getting into the technical details will give you a better picture.
For example, if you want to see which if your social media pages are driving the most conversions, click on the Social link found on this page (or head to All traffic> Channels> Social).
At this stage, we’re able to pinpoint exactly which pages gave us the best result. You can also choose to look at this data split by All Goals, or filter for a specific one that you have set up allowing you to focus on revenue-generating events like purchases.
Another interesting but rarely used view will be the Referrals section.
The data you find here could be surprising to you – for example, if you find a significant chunk of purchases are originating from a fellow business owner, you could reach out to them and partner up for cross-promotional opportunities if your buyer personas and company cultures align. This can be yet another way to find additional ways to increase brand awareness with the added benefit of helping others, too.
A Note On Tracking
As a beginner, you might not understand why someone would use custom link tracking when all of the categories above seem to encompass most if not all situations. Doesn’t adding extra details just make everything more complicated?
The answer is yes and no.
While indeed making sure everyone in your organization is aligned on proper UTM tagging procedures can be difficult at the best of times, the reality is that in the long run, using UTM parameters will be one of the most beneficial things you can do in terms of website analytics strategies.
We saw above that we had a paid and organic search channel listed, which is very useful for us – but we also only saw one Social channel. Wouldn’t we also want to segment paid social advertising from our organic? The best way to do this is to use custom tracking.
While we wouldn’t call this a beginner concept, we highly recommend that you read Google’s knowledgebase article and use its Campaign URL Builder to more precisely track your website traffic. This will allow you to drill-down your traffic and funnel more efficiently than the standard options.
The next step is the Behavior report – and this will encompass what the user actually does when they visit your website.
As important as it is to know who your visitors are and where they come from, it’s even more important to assess their behavior on your site. This will allow you to see which pages are performing better, how to analyze the types of content that are driving the most conversions, and give you insight into your site speed (which is a big factor in your site rankings).
There’s more than enough analytics tokeep even the most advanced marketer busy for days, but were going to focus on a few main parts here:
Site Content (Content Drilldown and Site Speed)
We’ll get started (as always) by going to Behavior>Overview.
At this stage, we’re able to view the most frequently viewed pages in our given timeframe. While the homepage is probably the most common one on everyone’s list, you might see certain pages – for example, blog posts) on the list. It would be a safe bet to ensure you’re optimizing your most viewed pages for lead generation or purchase events (depending on the page of course).
Next on this list will be Behavior Flow. This is a particularly useful view as it allows us to see where our visitors enter, and ultimately where they exit as well.
While all interactions here are important, one of the ones you want to pay the closes attention to is the exit page. If this is something like a checkout page and has a high drop off, you may want to analyze your page across all devices to ensure there’s nothing on a technical level that’s preventing a user from purchasing. Likewise, if you have high exits for a landing page, try to test different page design formats and lead generation strategies to reduce friction at this stage of the funnel.
Heading onwards, we’re on our way to the Site Content > All Pages section which will give us a more in-depth list of all of the most frequently visited pages of our site.
While this page lists all of the pages our visitors go to (including checkout and add to cart pages) there may be times when we want to focus solely on the content of our blog in order to more efficiently see which topics are giving us the best bang for our buck.
To do this, we want to head to Site Content>Content Drilldown.
On this page, you can see a set of folders pertaining to different sections of your site. If your blog is set up with a URL that looks similar to www.123mycompany.com/blog/blog-topic, you can click the /blog/ link to drill down the top-performing pages in that bucket.
Use this information to curate more topics on those you find most popular on your site. You may find that you have a very popular article about a topic that is infrequently blogged about – giving you room to expand and rank for additional related keywords.
Last but certainly not least in this section is Site Speed. In this post-dialup age, nobody wants to wait 3 minutes for a website to load. Retailer Nordstrom even reported that their online sales fell 11% when their website speed slowed down by just half a second – which meant losing tens of millions of dollars in the process.
While you might not be at Nordstrom’s level of sales, having high page load times can also wreak havoc on your search ranking (in addition to being plain old annoying to your visitors.)
Our old friend the Overview page will give us some overall information about the average page load time, and site speed by browser.
As we can see from the example above, the load time for Safari is incredibly high – something we out to fix as soon as possible as it’s one of the major browsers. Luckily Google has our back yet again and is going to help us out!
If you navigate to the Speed Suggestions section, Google will display a list of your pages that need improvement:
and clicking on the link under PageSpeed Suggestions will bring up the PageSpeed Insights tool which will tell you which underlying issues you should work on.
TIP: Don’t worry if these notifications don’t make a lick of sense to you – this is where you would involve your website development team to help address the issues listed.
Last but most certainly not least, we come to our trusty friend the Conversions report. This is the end of the line as the saying goes – the point at which users complete your goals (like becoming leads or making purchases).
By now, it must be pretty clear why we took care of Goals in the first chapter. Nearly every part of Google Analytics is improved by adding Goals, no more so than the Conversion reports.
To start off, we want to head over to Goals>Overview.
Here we can see a complete overview of all our goals – including how many were completed and our goal conversion rate. We can also see the Goal Completion Locations at the bottom right-hand side of the page.
More interesting still will be the Goal Flow section.
As you can see, this page will actually break down your goals into a specific behavioral flow – showing you the drop off at every step. In the above example, we can see where users came into the add to cart flow, how many continued through to adding their payment info and reviewing the order, and then finally purchasing one of our products.
Use this information to see where you can optimize the user experience (or insert additional incentives like free or reduced shipping) to increase total sales and revenue.
The last section that we’ll cover today is the most important for every online retailer, and that will be the eCommerce section.
A word of caution here: setting up your Google Analytics account to import the prices and additional information about your products will require a bit more technical setup. As this is definitely an advanced topic (and one better suited for developers) you can read (or forward, hint hint) Google’s e-commerce documentation on how to set this up here.
After that’s been done you can continue onto the fun part – analyzing the data!
On the Overview page, once again Google provides a top-tier overview of what’s going on inside your online store. We can see the total amount of revenue for the given time frame, our eCommerce conversion rate, transactions, and average order value.
On the bottom right-hand side of the page, you’ll even get a glance at the products that have received the most revenue, and even the percentage of your total revenue that product represents!
Navigating over to the Product Performance tab will give you insight into all your products in one place.
Using this page, you can use the columns to sort by quantity sold, unique purchases, or product revenue. You can then use this information to see what products did the best (or worst) and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
While there’s thousands of other views, terms, analytics, data, and hidden easter eggs in Google Analytics, by now your head is probably spinning with all the new ideas and insights you’ve learned along the way.
In this guide, you’ve learned how to:
Create your Google Analytics account
Set up your Tag and create Goals
Navigate your Google Analytics Dashboard
Understand the difference and uses of the Realtime, Audience, Aquisition, Behavior, and Conversion reports
Take the time to write down a list of questions you have about your website traffic (or even buyer persona) and use the strategies we’ve covered today to answer your own burning questions about your audience.