Google Analytics is one of the most powerful free tools available to any business owner with a website. Experienced analysts admire this tool’s simplicity, but it can be intimidating to the rest of us. If you have little to no experience in the field, the Google Analytics dashboard might seem like the panel of a Boeing 747. But fear not; it’s not nearly as complicated as you think.
This article won’t make you an expert. It’s just a basic introduction. But if this is the first you’ve heard of Google Analytics or you’ve been on the fence about trying it, consider this your gentle push in the right direction.
If you don’t have a Google account, set one up at www.google.com/analytics. Otherwise, log in to your existing account. Don’t create different Google accounts for different products and services like Gmail and Google+ and Analytics. Multiple Google accounts only lead to headaches.
Google walks you through the account setup. When you get to a part called “Tracking Code,” Google instructs you to copy and paste code into the back end of your website. For those of you with WordPress sites, there’s a setting that allows you to do this yourself. If you don’t have a content management system (get one!), contact your web developer.
Within 24 hours of applying the code, Google starts tracking your website traffic.
As an important side note, many marketing companies enter their own code and track your stats under their own Google Analytics account. This gives them sole access to and ownership of your site’s data, which may come back to bite you if you stop working with them. You can lose historical records, plus they continue to have access to your metrics until you remove their code.
We recommend you set up your own Google Analytics account. Under the Admin section and User Management, you can grant others with Google Analytics accounts access to your data. This lets you get the help you need while ensuring your ownership of the data.
Now, for the fun stuff: Here are some simplified definitions to help you understand Google Analytics and what it can do for you.
The time someone spends on your website visiting multiple pages and performing various tasks (hopefully).
If someone lands on one of your site’s pages, does nothing, then leaves quickly, this is a bounce. The percentage of visitors who do this make up your bounce rate. Single-page websites have higher bounce rates, and that’s OK. But a high bounce rate (usually greater than 50 percent) is no good, and it could indicate any number of problems, including with a site’s load time, design, copy, or other factors.
Audience > Geo > Location
This shows where your site visitors are. Don’t get too excited if you do business in Orlando and find you have 100 visitors from various countries around the world. You want people you can actually do business with.
Audience > Mobile > Overview
Still on the fence about making your website mobile responsive? This measurement shows what devices people are using most to visit your site.
Audience > Technology > Browser & OS
Your new web designer built an awesome site on a Mac using the Safari browser. This might cause complications if most of your target audience uses older PCs with Internet Explorer Version 8. Of course, a good designer makes sure your site performs on all major devices, operating systems, and browsers, but this metric lets you know if your visitors tend toward certain browsers and operating systems, which is a helpful design consideration.
Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning
This is the age of quality content and content marketing. It doesn’t just bring in new visitors, it also keeps them coming back for more. A low return rate suggests you need to improve the user experience on your site.
Audience > Demographic > Overview
This one is still a bit of a leap of faith, but every year, with all the social media data being collected and shared, Google Analytics is getting better at helping define your audience persona. Knowing the gender, age, and interests of your visitors is of course a major boon to marketing research.
Again, this is only the tip of the iceberg…
You can connect your Google Analytics and Adwords accounts if you run paid advertising with Google. You can also monitor how effectively your website design funnels visitors from your home page to a specific product page to your checkout, plus you can set goals and be alerted when visitors reach them, and see where along the way people drop off before reaching them.
Google Analytics is an extremely powerful tool and the best money you won’t spend. Don’t be afraid to give it a try, but do your homework before making major decisions based on these metrics. There are numerous classes on the web and even a Google Analytics Academy with online tutorials. Happy analysis!