Google Analytics is one of the best tools available for tracking the performance of your website and how visitors interact with it. Not only is it free but it also gives useful, meaty data that easily competes with many paid-for analytics programs.
Setting up Google Analytics
If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your website, then this is your first step. Essentially, you need to add a piece of code to the source code of your website that gives Google Analytics permission to track and capture data about your traffic.
Here are the steps:
First, you need to set up the website you want to track as a ‘property’ in Google Analytics:
- Your very first step, if you don’t already have one, is to create a Google account.
If you haven’t already got a Google account visit the Account Creation page – https://accounts.google.com/signup
Fill in the requested information and submit (see image below).
- Once you’re logged into Google, you can sign up to create a Google Analytics account. Hit ‘Start for Free’ to get going.
- Once you’re logged into Google Analytics, click the Admin option in the navigation menu to the bottom left of the page (see number 1 in the image below).
- In the Account column (see number 2 in the image below), select the account to which you want to add the property from the dropdown menu.
- In the dropdown menu in the Property column (see number 3 in the image below), click Create new property.
- Select whether it is a website or a mobile app.
- Enter the website or app name (you can track more than one website or app, so – if you are going to working with several different sites or apps – give each ‘property’ a descriptive, easily recognisable name).
- For websites only, enter the website URL – make sure you use the correct protocol, i.e. http:// or https:// and that you enter your web address without any extra characters, such as a forward slash, on the end. The correct format would be http://www.example.comrather than example.com/
- Select an Industry Category.
- Select the Reporting Time Zoneas this will help Google Analytics define when a day begins and ends for the purposes of reporting your data.
- Click Get Tracking ID– once you click on this, your property/website will be listed in Google Analytics but you won’t be able to collect any data until you’ve set up the tracking code.
Setting up your Google Analytics tracking code
To collect data from your website, you’ll need the web tracking code (we’ll tell you how to get that below) and access to the source code for your website or the help of a web developer who can add the code on your behalf.
- You can find the tracking code snippet for your website by clicking on Tracking info/Tracking codein column two on your Google Analytics admin screen (see number 4 in the image above).
- If you have a WordPress website, there are a number of plugins designed to make adding the Google Analytics tracking code to your website as simple as possible. You might like to try the Insert Headers and Footers or Google Analytics Dashboard for WordPress by MonsterInsights plugins, which are both user-friendly, even for non-techy people.
- Alternatively, if you have a WordPress site, you can add the code into the header.php or footer.php file for your website (you’ll find these files through your WordPress dashboard, under Appearance>Editor). If you’re adding the code into the header.php file, paste it before the bit of code that reads: </head>. If you’re adding the code into the footer.php file, paste it before the bit of code that reads: </body>
You can find a great YouTube tutorial on how to add this code here.
- If your website isn’t a WordPress site, you may need to paste your snippet into every web page you want to track. Paste it immediately before the closing </head>tag on each page. As it would be impossible for us to cover every option in this guide, it’s worth looking on YouTube for a tutorial. Google Analytics also has a fantastic help centre.
- Finally, you’ll need to check that your code has been set up correctly and that Google Analytics is now working. It can take 24 hours for the Google Analytics servers to update after you add the tracking code, so it will take at least that long before you see data appearing in your Google Analytics account. There are several ways to verify your tracking code is working – you can find your options in the Google Analytics help centre here.
Understanding Google Analytics
Now you have Google Analytics set up for your website, you can start to get to grips with the data and what it all means.
When you log in to Google Analytics, you’ll be presented with a screen that lists the various websites (‘properties’) you’ve set up under your account using the process outlined above. Click on ‘All website data’ under the applicable website.
From here, you will enter the main Reporting screen, which has a menu running down the left-hand side and brings you straight to an overview of your website’s audience for the last seven days. If you want to get an overview of your audience for a different time period, simply click on the drop-down arrow underneath the first section and select the date range you want to see.
This initial Google Analytics Home screen contains some at-a-glance data for the time period selected:
- The number of users – this is the number of unique users (both new visitors and returning) who have spent at least one session on your website.
- The number of sessions – a session is a period where a user engages with your website in some way. One user could account for several sessions if they’ve been back to your site a few times.
- Your website’s bounce rate – this is the percentage of single-page visits to your site, where a visitor comes in and leaves on the same page without going anywhere else on the site.
- As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent. 41 to 55 percent is roughly average. 56 to 70 percent is higher than average, but may not be cause for alarm depending on the website. Anything over 70 percent is disappointing for everything outside of blogs, news, events, etc.A high bounce rate might suggest that you need to look at ways to make your main landing pages, including the Home page, more engaging to your target customers. If your website is new, you can probably expect to see your high bounce rate come down over the next few weeks but keep an eye on this figure in case it doesn’t improve.
- The average session duration– i.e. how long each session lasts on average. The longer your session average, the more likely Google is to view your site as ‘sticky’, attracting visitors who want to read what you have to offer. This stat is sometimes referred to as ‘dwell time’.
Further down the Analytics Home screen there are sections that cover how the site acquires users, and more information on the sites’ users, including the times of day they visit, which countries they are visiting from, the device they are using to access your website and which pages they visit. We’ll go into more detail on this.
Customisation in Google Analytics
Google Analytics provides some fantastic information in its standard format but the Customisation tools allow you build and customise your own reports from scratch.
This can take a bit of practice so you might want to experiment with the Customisation options once you’ve got to grips with the rest of the data outlined in this guide.
Essentially, the Customisation tools allow you to customise your dashboard, reports and alerts so that you can prioritise what data you view for each web property.
There are so many customisation options within this feature that it would be impossible to cover them all here. Once you feel more confident about the data that’s available through Google Analytics, I would recommend tinkering with different customised views and reports.
If you’re not sure where to start, you might want to check out the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery where Analytics gurus can upload templates for dashboards, custom reports and segments that other users might find helpful.
I found an excellent blog article from Neil Patel about his favourite custom reports that you might want to dive into when you’re ready.
I’d also recommend Econsultancy’s guide to setting up custom reports.
Real-time data in Google Analytics
As the name would suggest, the Real Time option in the main left-hand navigation menu of Google Analytics lets you see what’s happening live on your site at any given moment. The Overview screen (see the picture above) shows at a glance how many visitors are currently on the site, the top active pages – i.e. what pages visitors are currently viewing, how long they’ve been on the site, the number of pages they’ve viewed, where they’re located, how they found your site (e.g. social media, search engine), and the keywords used to find the site.
This is a really useful tool if you’re running a specific campaign or you’ve published a new blog and have promoted it on several platforms, as you can see which platform is driving traffic to your site most effectively.
Under the Overview option, you can also click on Locations, Traffic sources, Content, Events and Conversions for more in-depth real-time data about who’s visiting your website and where they come from.
Audience data in Google Analytics
There are a number of menus and sub-menus under the Audience heading.
- The Demographics and Interests data is there to help you better understand your website visitors – how old they are, their gender and their interests. This is all information that you can use to begin creating or refining your profile for your target customer.
You may need to make a slight change to your tracking code to support Display Advertising, which enables you to access this demographic data.
- Under the Geo heading, you can click on Language or Location to find out more about where your customers are based. You can view the Location by Continent, Subcontinent, Country/Territory or City. This is a helpful tool if you’re trying to attract local business.For example, I’ve known clients who run hotels and restaurants make good use of this data as it’s shown them that a lot of their website traffic comes from people in London who are looking for weekend breaks to the countryside, enabling them to tweak their on-page copy to make it more appealing to these potential customers.
- The Behaviour report lets you look at data around your new and returning customers. You can see, for example, whether you get a higher bounce rate from new visitors or from returning visitors. A high bounce rate for new visitors might suggest that your website isn’t making what you offer clear, whereas you might experience a higher bounce rate for returning visitors because they are literally popping on to your site to read a specific blog article or to check something they’ve already seen on the site, then leaving because they’ve already read much of your content.
- The Behaviour>Frequency & Recency data shows you how many times returning customers tend to come back and the average number of days between sessions.
- The Behaviour>Engagement report lets you drill down more into how long people are spending on your site and how many pages they’re reading. Are people spending just 0-10 seconds on your site or spending minutes or even hours reading your content? You may spot some trends here.
- The Technology data enables you to see what browsers and operating systems people are using to view your website. It’s a good idea to check that visitors are able to see your website properly in any browser. You can do this using a tool like Browser Shots or BrowserStack.
- The Mobile data will show you how many people are viewing your website from desktops, mobile phones or tablets. Click on Devices and you can even see which mobiles and tablets people are using.
These days, it’s important to have a responsive website. A responsive site is one that will adapt to fit the device on which it’s being viewed. If you don’t have a responsive or mobile version of your site, you may find you lose visitors who are on mobile devices because they may have to scroll horizontally as well as vertically to view your pages, the text may also be difficult to read, and buttons and pull-down menus wrongly sized.
- Benchmarking data is great for contextualising the performance of your website against trends in your industry as it compares your site’s performance to data averaged from thousands of other sites in the same sector. This valuable context can help you to set meaningful targets, gain insight into trends occurring across your industry, and find out how you are doing compared to your competition.The data in the six columns breaks things down by the default ‘Channel’ grouping, i.e. where the traffic came from, but you can also view the data by location or device. Positive percentages (indicated by green arrows and boxes) show where your website is performing higher than the benchmark, whereas negative numbers show where the site is performing lower than the benchmark. The only exception to this is in the Bounce Rate column where negative percentages mean your bounce rate is lower than the industry benchmark.
- The Users Flow data enables you to see how visitors move through your website – e.g. what pages they land on, which pages they visit next and where they leave the site.You can sort this data in a multitude of ways; for example, where does traffic from Google bring people into the site? If they arrive on your Home page, where do they go next? If people are coming into your site because of blog links on social media, which blogs are attracting the most traffic? Do people just read the blog and leave or do they stay on the site? What calls to action could you add at the end of your blog articles to keep people reading? Do people on mobile devices flow through the site differently to desktop users? All of this information is available here.
Acquisitions data in Google Analytics
The Acquisitions information available in Google Analytics is where things get really meaty in terms of reviewing your SEO efforts. This is the section to review regularly if you want to know where your traffic is coming from and whether your various campaigns are working.
As in the other sections, the Overview screen gives you an immediate snapshot of how your website is ‘acquiring’ visitors. This data can be sorted by Channel – e.g. organic traffic, social media, referrals, direct traffic, emails and other – or by Source and/or Medium. If you’ve recently written a guest blog for another site or you’re using a WordPress plugin to retweet old blogs, for example, this is the place to see whether they’ve generated any traffic.
- The All Traffic data will let you take a deeper look at how your visitors behaved from all channels, mediums and sources. You may see that organic searches through Google account for the biggest percentage or that when people click through from Facebook, they are less likely to bounce away from your site.
- Under the Referrals category, you can see where visitors have found you through backlinks on other sites, guest blogs, links in your newsletter or directory sites, as just a few examples. If you’re attracting a lot of traffic from a particular source, you might think about how you can nurture this relationship or promote this source more frequently.
- If you send out a regular newsletter using a mailing service like Mailchimp or Mad Mimi, you can connect it to Google Analytics and review the traffic resulting from the campaign under the Campaigns Which campaigns generated the most traffic, sessions or new users? Did you do anything differently in that campaign? Could you produce another newsletter on a related topic?
- The Campaigns>Organic Keywords data is the one that people are often interested in but Google doesn’t tell us as much as it once did here. I personally prefer the data you find under Search Console>Queries (see below). I also find that Google Search Console provides more comprehensive keyword data.Google has reduced the amount of keyword data available in Google Analytics as a reminder that keywords are just a small part of successful SEO and shouldn’t be our primary focus. It’s worth checking out the data here for some information about keywords used to find your site in organic searches. If you use paid-for Google AdWords campaigns, you can also review the keyword performance here.
- The Campaigns>Cost Analysis data is in BETA testing and will let you see visit, cost and revenue performance data for your paid marketing channels, such as Google AdWords.
- If you run a Google AdWords campaign, you can link it to your Google Analytics account for a comprehensive breakdown of each campaign’s performance. You will find various options under the Google Ads heading and subheadings.
- The Search Console section of Google Analytics is where you will find the most helpful data about the keywords people are using to find your website. Click on Queries and you’ll be able to see a breakdown of the keywords used to find you during the given time period, the number of impressions for each keyword (i.e. how many times your website was seen in search engine results pages (SERPs)), the number of clicks through to your site from that keyword search, your average position for the keyword in search engine rankings, and your clickthrough rate (i.e. the percentage of impressions that resulted in clicks). A high clickthrough rate typically means that you are attracting targeted traffic, so you may not be getting a massive number of impressions but those that find your site are interested in visiting it.
Which are your best ranking keywords? Are they attracting much traffic? Which keywords attract the most impressions? Which keywords give you the best clickthrough rates? The answers to these questions can help you decide whether you need to tweak your content or write blogs around specific topics, for example.
Note: Your Google Search Console and Google Analytics need to be connected to see this data. You can find instructions to link both platforms in our Google Search Console Guide.
- The Search Console>Landing pages data lets you see which pages most often show up in SERPs as well as the impressions, clicks, average ranking and clickthrough rate. The Countries summary shows you where in the world the daily impressions are being seen.
- If you’re using social media to promote your business, then the Social information in Google Analytics will let you track which platforms are bringing traffic to your site. Are most of your visitors finding you through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or somewhere else altogether? Which URLs from your website are people sharing and talking about on social media? This is the place to look.
Understanding how visitors behave on your website
The Behaviour data in Google Analytics is really valuable in terms of understanding which pages on your website attract lots of visitors, where people come in, where they go and where they leave.
You can sort the Overview data by Page Views, Exit %, Average time on site, and more. This overview screen, which defaults to Page Views, will show you at a glance which were your ten most viewed pages during the selected time period. It would be sensible to check that the most viewed pages on the site contain information that is up-to-date and relevant.
- The Site Content sections let you get up close and personal with how the different pages on your website are performing. Which get seen the most? Which have the highest bounce rates? Which bring the most traffic into your site? Which keep people reading? Which tend to be the exit pages? This information can all be found within the subheadings of this section of Google Analytics.
- The page speeds of your website are important to the user experience. If certain pages, or your site as a whole, have a slow load time, you may find that visitors navigate away from the site to look for one that’s faster. The Site Speed reports will let you explore how your website is performing in terms of load speed. Click on Speed Suggestions to view the PageSpeed Insights from Google, what could do with fixing and how.
- The Site Search report shows you how many people are using the search bar on your website to find content and what keywords they’re using to search.
- The Events reports show you how people use the interactive elements on your website, such as video players, games and other interactive experiences. When a player watches a video, for example, no page view is generated, so the Events data means this interaction still gets captured. Google provides an Events Tracking Guide to help you make the most of this feature
Tracking and measuring conversions in Google Analytics
So now we move to the final section of reports available in Google Analytics: the Conversions menu
Essentially, a conversion is the completion of an activity on your site; this might be signing up to your ebook, downloading information, registering for a programme or filling out your contact form. You need to set up a Goal for each conversion you want to measure on your site. Google Analytics publishes a tutorial to walk you through the process of setting up goals.
The data under Goals lets you track how your goals are performing.
- If you sell products or services online, then you can add a snippet of tracking code to track data such as product sales, purchase amounts and billing locations. The various reports in the E-commerce section enable you to segment and analyse your data, and discover relationships between your marketing campaigns, user engagement and transactions.
- As Google Analytics explains, customers will typically visit your website multiple times before they actually buy from you, sign up or register. A potential customer may find your brand in an ad, on social media or through word of mouth referrals, visit your site to find out more, then finally return to buy from you. In fact, it’s estimated that people require between 7 and 27 touchpoints with a brand before they become customers.
- The data in the Multi-Channel Funnels section lets you analyse your customers’ conversions paths – in other words, the sequence of interactions that led to the goal conversions. This can help you make decisions about your advertising and marketing strategy.
Wrapping it all up
Google Analytics is a highly valuable tool for any business as it gives you tangible data that you can apply to grow your business and I hope that this guide has provided a good overview of Google Analytics, and how it can be used.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
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