How to use Google Analytics: A beginner's guide to Google's service for website-traffic analytics

Justin Sullivan/GettyGoogle Analytics can help you analyse and improve traffic to your website.
  • The standard version of Google Analytics is a free online tool that Google provides to help you understand, analyse, and improve your website traffic.
  • It’s easy to create a Google Analytics account and start tracking your site performance, as long as you can edit your site’s HTML <HEAD> tag.
  • There are a lot of reports available which let you see real-time performance, how pages perform over time, your conversion rate for e-commerce campaigns, and more.
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Just the name is intimidating to some people: Google Analytics. It might help to know that analytics is the name for the branch of mathematics dedicated to analysing data, and is generally used to tease out meaningful patterns that can be used to generate statistics and make predictions about future trends.

That said, you don’t need to know or perform any maths to use Google Analytics – all of that is done in the background for you.

What you can do with Google Analytics

Google Analytics – commonly abbreviated as GA – is a free tool that Google provides to help you understand, analyse, and improve your website traffic. It provides graphs and data that you can use to understand information about your site. Here are just a few examples of the kind of information you can learn using GA:

  • How many unique visitors click on the site and specific pages within it.
  • How many overall page views go to specific pages (and the site in general). Pageviews are different from unique visitors, since the same person might click on a page more than once.
  • How long visitors are spending on each page during their visit.
  • What your “bounce” rate is – in other words, what percentage of your visitors are leaving the site after looking at only a single page, rather than following links to other pages.
  • Information about your visitors’ demographics, including where they are from, and what kind of browser or mobile device they’re using to visit.

It’s important to note that only the site’s owners and managers can see GA data, so strangers, visitors, and competitors cannot, for example, access your Google Analytics page (at least not without your permission or login information).

How to create a Google Analytics account

To get started, you need to create a Google Analytics account for each website you own or manage.

1. Go to the Google Analytics homepage and sign into your Google account if needed.

2. If you don’t already have a GA account, click “Sign Up.”

3. Follow the setup instructions by entering the name and URL of your web site, along with other details, and click “Get Tracking ID.”

Ga 1Dave Johnson/Business InsiderTo get a Google Analytics account for your website, fill out the simple one-page form.

4. On the next page, you’ll be given a tracking code that you need to add to the <HEAD> tag on each page of your website that you want to be able to monitor in GA. You can add that tag manually in an HTML editor (following the directions provided by Google) or, if you use a web service like Wix or Squarespace, the webpage editor can do this automatically for you.

Ga 2Dave Johnson/Business InsiderYou’ll need to update your web site with this tracking ID.

After creating your account, you can enable other people to see your GA page:

1. On your Google Analytics page, click the Gear icon in the lower left corner to open the Admin page.

2. Click “User Management.” You should see your own login information.

3. Click the blue plus sign in the upper right corner of the screen.

4. Click “Add users,” and enter the email address for each person you want to add to the GA account. They will each get an email inviting them to GA with their own unique password. You can always return here to revoke their permission.

A quick tour of Google Analytics

Once you have a working GA account, you can log in at any time and get a snapshot of your site’s performance. Here are some key places to start:

  • The Home tab displays a brief dashboard of your site’s performance, including traffic, how many users are on the site at this very moment, and where your traffic is coming from.
Ga 3Dave Johnson/Business InsiderThe Home page of your Google Analytics report summarises the overall health of your site.
  • The Real-Time tab is rich with valuable information, especially if your site is news-focused or publishes timely information. It will show you who is on your site minute-by-minute along with which pages on the site are currently trending, and where that traffic is coming from.
Ga 4Dave Johnson/Business InsiderThis is an exciting page to leave open in the background if you want to monitor your site’s traffic hour-by-hour.
  • The Behaviour tab is critical for understanding what pages are performing well (and which ones are doing poorly). The Site Content section of the Behaviour tab is a favourite for site editors and content managers, because it shows the traffic for every page on the site for any timeframe you might want to see.
Ga 5Dave Johnson/Business InsiderThe Behaviour tab tells you what your most valuable pages are.
  • The Conversions tab is where you can find how ecommerce campaigns are performing. Here you can establish goals and see whether traffic is translating into actual revenue.

Learn more from Google

Google has a wealth of online instruction and tutorials for Google Analytics. If you want to learn how to use this tool, you should start with Google Analytics Academy, which is a collection of videos and articles that introduce you to every aspect of the site.

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