What is Google Analytics and How to Get Started

First things first: what is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a small piece of code that you add to a website that collects, measures, and analyzes all the qualitative and quantitative data. Google Analytics is part of the larger Google Marketing Platform. Also known as GMP, the Google Marketing Platform is the new one-stop location for all your advertising, data collection, and reporting needs. The GMP makes it very simple to link and then access Search Ad, Display and Video, Surveys, Optimize, Tag Manager, and of course Analytics.
Why is Google Analytics important to my business?
In essence, Google Analytics helps you grow your business. It helps you understand your customers so you create better experiences for them and find new customers based on your current ones.

But how much does Google Analytics cost?
It’s Free! If you are running your own site or are a small to medium-sized business that Free should be perfect for you.

If you are a large or global company you may want to consider Analytics 360. This paid version unlocks more features, such as unlimited data, 200 custom dimensions and metrics, more advanced reporting, and integrations with Salesforce.

How does Google Analytics work?
Google Analytics works by the inclusion of a block of JavaScript (a scripting language) code on pages in your website. When users on your website view a page, this JavaScript code references a JavaScript file back at Google. This file then does all the work for you. The bit of code will track the data on your page for you and send it back to Analytics to then be viewed in a consumable manner. (If you want to get into more of the technical details, see the developer guide for more information.)

Now, let’s get into the tool and how to get started. NO you do not need to be tech-savvy or a developer. Promise.

A. How to set up & install Google Analytics

1. You’ll need a Google Account. Click here to create one. If you already have an email or a work email you would like to use, that is A-OK. Just select to “Use my current email address instead.” Now for the good stuff.

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2. Go to https://marketingplatform.google.com/about/analytics/ and select “Start for free.”

3. You will create an Account, Property, and then a View. Analytics follows a hierarchy where the Account is at the top in the Free Version. If you have Analytics 360 then you’ll have an Organization.

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4. Account will be your point of entry to Analytics. This allows for one Account to many Properties, but most will just need one Account and one Property.

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For example, we have just 1 Search Discovery Account.
We recommend leaving all the Account Data Sharing Setting checked.

5. Now you’ll create the Property, this is what you are measuring. For this example, we’ll select “Web.”

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The last step is to fill in the Website Name, URL, Industry, and a Time Zone. We recommend the time zone be based on where the majority of your business is or where you are.

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6. Now you are ready to go! A code will be generated for you. Based on what you used to create your website, it will either have a built-in location where you can add in the Tracking ID or you can add the code directly into the site with the Global Site Tag (gtag.js). Both are great!

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7. Finally, you’ll want to set up the Views. Views allow you to look at a subset of your data. By default, the system will make the “All Website Data” view for you. This will remove bot traffic for you. At a minimum, we recommend creating 1 additional view where you unselect Bot Filtering. Name the view “Raw Data.” The reason for this is that if you ever do come under attack you can understand the extent of its impact.

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That’s it! Now you are ready to collect data and use it for the good of your business and customers!

If you have enjoyed doing this and would like to configure your tracking a bit more, we recommend using a Tag Manager such as Google Tag Manager. But that is a topic for another day.

B. What type of data will be available and what is the best way to view it?

  • Google Analytics aggregates the data collected from your website in multiple ways, primarily by four levels:
  • User level (related to actions by each user)
    Session level (each individual visit)
  • Pageview level (each individual page visited)
  • Event level (button clicks, video views, etc)

Those four levels can then be broken down further into Dimensions and Metrics. Dimensions are like categories of your data. They can then be broken down into the types in that category. The Metrics are the actual numbers, the quantitative measures.

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Google Analytics will organize their standard reports with Dimensions as the leading column to then be filled in with their corresponding metrics in the following columns:

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The most important data and the best reports
There are five groups of standard reports that Google has created for all uses. They are Realtime, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion. We’ll break down the top 13 reports for you.

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1. Home
The Google Analytics Home is an overall summary of top reports users will find in the tool. This is a good place to get an overview of audience, acquisition, behavior, and more, helping users find out where to start in data analysis.

2. Audience Reports
Overview (Audience>Overview): Google has an Audience Overview report that gives a summary view of the user profile. Here, you can learn about the total number of users, how many are new vs. returning, what is the average session duration, and how many pages they visit.

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Demographics* Overview (Audience>Demographics>Overview): Google has a standard demographics report, showing age and gender of users on the site. Click the chart titles to navigate to its respective report. Note the option to change the desired metric.

* Analytics gets this data from Advertising Reporting Features such as DoubleClick and Advertising IDs

Interests* Overview (Audience>Interests>Overview): Google has a standard interests report, showing affinity categories and in-market segments of users on the site. Click the chart titles to navigate to its respective report. Note the option to change the desired metric.

Device Type Report (Audience>Mobile>Overview): Google has a Device Type-focused report that allows users to tie any metrics back to the Device Type (Mobile, Desktop, Tablet) on which that action was taken.

3. Acquisition Reports
Overview (Acquisition>Overview): Google has a report that allows users to see a summary of how visitors are coming to the site, along with behavior metrics for an overview of channel performance.

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Channels Overview (Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels): Google has a Last Touch Marketing Channel report that allows users to tie any metrics and success events to the Last Channel a user came to the site from.

Google Ads Campaigns (Acquisition>Google Ads>Campaigns): View top Google Ads Campaigns as they relate to onsite behavior. Note that sites without Google Ads integration will show zeroes for Ads metrics such as Clicks.

Please note, you’ll need to link your Google Ad account to your Analytics account to populate this report.

Campaign Tracking (Acquisition>Campaigns>All Campaigns): Google has a combined Campaigns report, where users can see any search, display, social, etc. campaign driving traffic to the site in a single view.

4. Behavior Reports
All Pages Report (Behavior>Site Content>All Pages): Google has a Pages-focused report that allows users to tie all metrics back to the URL for which that action was taken. Note that metrics that do not have functionality on the site will appear as zeroes, and parameter strings are present.

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Events Report (Behavior>Events>Top Events): Google has a custom Trended Report for viewing the total number of events over time. Click row links for more details.

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Event Pages Report (Behavior>Events>Pages): View which pages users are engaging with events, by using the Event Pages report. Clicking on the row link opens new detail into the category of the top events. Easily switch to Action or Label from the new page.

Exit Pages Report (Behavior>Site Content>Exit Pages): Google has a standard Exit Page-focused report that allows users to learn where people leave the site. Note that metrics that do not have functionality on the site will appear as zeroes.

How to customize your Google Analytics set up

When a user does something on your site–clicks their mouse or presses “enter”–that is considered an Event. You can measure all those actions to understand what users are actually doing on your site. The basics Analytics tag you already add to the site will capture basic events for you. But, if you are interested in more detail, consider using Google Tag Manager.

Then there are Goals. A Goal is a specific conversion that you define to help you measure the success of your site. There are 4 types of Goals:

  1. Destination: this goal is completed when a user reaches a specific page, like a landing page or thank you page
  2. Event: this goal is completed when a predefined event fires (you can set up — think completing a form or watching a video)
  3. Duration: this goal is completed when a user’s session lasts longer than a pre-set time
  4. Pages/screens per session: this goal is completed when a user views a specific number of pages (or screens for an app) per session

Track your site’s searches
If you have a site search feature you will for sure want to understand what your users are searching for. To set that up, go to your site and search for something. Take note of what is used in the URL to define the search term. This is called a query parameter. Example: https://www.searchdiscovery.com/?s=google. In our example, ours is an ‘s’.

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Now, navigate to your View Settings. Admin > View Settings. Turn on the “Site search Tracking” and add in the query parameter.

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You are now a lean mean Google Analytics-using machine and you are ready to collect great data! But this is only the beginning. As you start to use the tool more, there is more to learn.

How to learn & understand Google Analytics
Google has done an amazing job creating course syllabus for all levels.

If you are brand new, welcome to family! In the Beginners Course you will learn the basics, learn how to navigate Google Analytics itself, common report, and the almighty campaigns and conversions (user engagements).

After that, there is an Advanced Course to help you expand your skill and really start to unleash the power of Analytics and start to make better decisions with data.

Finally, there is a Power Users Course that will start to ask you best practices questions about your site and audience and how to optimize them based on the data.

How do I get Google Certified & how long does it take?

The Google Analytics certification is called Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ). We recommend that you are proficient in the topics covered in both the Beginners Course and Advanced Course before attempting this exam.

The test itself should take about an hour to complete. Once passed, the qualification will be valid for 12 months.

Enjoy your new Google Analytics account! Stay tuned for more great Google Analytics topics. 

If you would like help ensuring a best in class Google Analytics set up or would like to discuss if Google Analytics 360 is the right fit for your organization, please fill out this contact form.

We would love to help you use data to gain a competitive advantage for your business.

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