Google Analytics: a beginner’s guide

Written by Cristina Muñoz on 9th September 2021

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Google Analytics is a free tool that gives website owners invaluable information about website performance. It offers information about the number of users your website has, where they come from, what actions they take on your website, where they go next and how many of them converted. Today, if your business has a website, Google Analytics can tell you not only how your website is doing, but it can also be a pretty accurate representation of how your business is doing. Anyone that owns or manages a website would benefit from looking at and understanding their analytics reports.

In this post we will go back to the basics and give you an overview of what Google Analytics is, what the different reports look like, and how you might want to use it to add value to your business. 

What can Google Analytics tell you about your website?

  • How many visitors you have
  • Where your visitors live
  • Where your visitors come from, be it organic (search engine) traffic, social platforms, or referrals from other websites
  • How many users are converting into leads
  • Which content on your site is the most popular and engaging
  • Which content is not performing so well

Google Analytics is a great tool to identify trends and how, on average, your website is performing. But there are some things that Google Analytics can’t tell you.

  • Identifiable data on individual visitors
  • Granular data (but there are ways to quickly get particular bits of information if you want to - by using custom dashboards - more about this below)

Google Analytics can look daunting. How can I see important GA data at a glance?

GA is a vast tool - there are over 50 reports and it can be difficult to navigate around it. To make the most of it, it’s best to find out what it is you want to track by identifying your KPIs and tailoring the report to your needs. Once you are clear on what your business objectives are and what your website’s success might look like, you can set up more granular ways to measure it, for example goals or segments, or even use a custom dashboard, to get the information that is most important to you at a glance. 

Goals tell you when users have completed an activity (a conversion) and taken an action or reached a page you want them to reach. For example, a thank you page after submitting a form, completing a purchase or downloading a PDF.

Segments tell you how a subset of your users is interacting with the site, for example, users from a particular country, or users visiting from desktop or mobile only.

Custom dashboards: these are a collection of widgets that you can pre-set in your report to see the information that matters the most. These dashboards allow you to monitor multiple metrics and will help you visualise data in a more simple way. They are a helpful, time-saving option if you want to monitor things like which channels drive traffic to a particular page, or how much time on average has been spent on a blog post. If you want to see specific metrics at a glance, then setting up custom dashboards will save you time in the long run. 

Google Analytics Overview

In this section, you will find an overview of the different reports in Google Analytics.

When you log in to GA, you will see a chart with analytics on Users, Sessions, Bounce rate and session duration over the last week. 

google analytics audience overview report

On the left hand side, you will find the Real Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour and Conversions reports. When you navigate through the reports on the left hand side, you will see Real Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour and Conversions. If you click on any of these reports, you will be able to select the time frame on the top right.
 

A few of the key metrics you will see across many of the reports are:

  • Users: visitors who have initiated at least one session during the date range. A user is a unique combination of a browser and a device. If someone visits a website and then comes back to it using a different device or browser, they will count as a new user.
  • New users: The number of first-time users during the selected date range.
  • Sessions: A session is the period of time a particular user is actively engaged with your website. Google uses 30 min as the standard timeframe to count sessions.
  • Page views: Pageviews is the total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted. When a visitor hits the back button, a new pageview is recorded. When a visitor hits refresh, a new pageview is recorded.
  • Pages/session: the average number of pages per session
  • Bounce rate: The percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page. Note that high bounce rate is not always a negative sign.

These metrics are shown throughout GA on many of the standard reports, like the Acquisition and Behaviour reports, which helps to put the numbers into context. Read on for more about data context.

Standard reports

Audience reports

These reports tell you information about visitors to your website. In them, you will find detailed reports for your visitors' age and gender (Demographics), what their general interests are based on browsing behaviour (Interests), where they come from (Geo > Location) and their language (Geo > Language [this refers to browser language]), how often they visit your website (Behavior), and the devices they use to view your website (Technology and Mobile). With the User flow report, you can see a visual representation of where groups of users have gone on to step by step. 

google analytics audience report

Acquisition reports

These reports will tell you information about what drove visitors to your website. 

The All traffic report will give you an overview of where your visitors have come from, including referrals (other websites).

If you use Google Ads or Google Search Console, you can link these to your GA account, so that you can combine data and see how users have interacted with your site after clicking on an ad or a Google search result.

If you have a strong social media presence, you will want to use the Social reports. Here you will find which social networks are driving most traffic and which landing pages are performing best.

‘Campaigns’ is where you see your campaign URLs, if you had added tracking parameters to the URL. For example, if you place a digital ad in an online publication, it’s good practice to add a tracking ID to the URL, so that you can see the return on investment in your Campaigns report. (Pro tip: you can use Google URL Builder to create campaign URLs).

Behaviour reports

These reports will tell you information on how your content is performing. These are really useful if you want to see the top viewed pages on your website (Site Content > All Pages), which pages have users landed on the most (Site Content > Landing Pages), and on which pages your users have left the site (Site Content > Exit Pages).

Here you can also see Site Search, which tells you what people have entered in the site search and on which pages the search has started (note that you need to manually activate site search reports in analytics beforehand).

Conversions

If you set up Goals within your Google Analytics, you can see how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview) and what URLs they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). You can also see the path that visitors took to complete the conversion (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).

Context is everything

You will find a lot of stats in GA, but if they are not considered within context, they most likely won’t mean much to your business. For example, looking at the number of times the homepage has been viewed in a given month won’t give you an insightful idea of how the homepage is performing. Instead, you want to be looking at things like:

  • Comparison with other date ranges, for example the previous month or the same month last year.
  • Engagement metrics like time spent on page, pages per session, split between new and returning visitors.
  • Bounce rate: a high bounce rate can seem scary, but this metric doesn’t mean much without context. It’s important to consider which page you are analysing when looking at bounce rate. If you are looking at the contact page of your site and it has a high bounce rate, this probably means that the page is doing its job - people looking for contact details have found them successfully and then left the site. 

Numbers are important, but more so is the context of these numbers in relation to your business and your audience. It’s crucial to provide human input to interpret analytics before presenting them to stakeholders or clients.

If you need a hand setting up your Google Analytics account or understanding your stats, we can help you. Get in touch for an initial consultation.

This article was posted in Client Guides by Cristina Muñoz

  • Cristina Muñoz

    Cristina Muñoz

    Cristina, our Digital Account Manager, has interests that read like a lonely hearts column - she likes walks along the beach, enjoys drawing and has a GSOH. She’s obsessive when it comes to analytics and is filled to the brim with ideas for our clients.

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