Getting started with Google Analytics

Contributor - Amy Wilkinson

A female entrepreneur checks the analytics reports for her business website.

Wrapping your head around marketing data can be tricky. Sure, you’re used to the sales figures and talking to your team or investors about performance - but how do you drill down and really understand your audience? It’s time to get under the skin of analytics, and make the tools at your disposal work for you and your business.

There are a huge number of tools out there - you’ve probably heard of the likes of Mixpanel, Hubspot and Hotjar, but most of these come at a cost to get anything decent out of, plus have various limitations and complexities. That’s why billions of users turn to Google and its free toolbox of handy web-based platforms.

The Google products aren’t perfect by any means - but are ideal for those wanting a gateway into valuable data such as user behaviour, SEO or marketing channel ROI. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the different Google platforms too - with Ads, Analytics, Search Console and Tag Manager being the most commonly referenced. Most start-ups and small businesses will start with Analytics, which is sensible as it provides the framework to start building up comfort levels and familiarity with performance data. 

Google Analytics: first steps

The likelihood is that you’ve already found your way to setting up your Analytics account, with many CMS systems (such as Wordpress or Squarespace) encouraging this as soon as you set up your website. If not, then get started at Google’s own Analytics Help Centre, and then head over to your own CMS system to link the two up (your CMS provider should have a help section on how to do this).

Once you’re logged in and have sight of your Analytics dashboard, you’ll see a list of ‘reports’ on the left. Let’s break down what these mean:

Realtime: A live summary of what your users are doing on your site right now.

Audience: Information about the people who visit your site, such as where they are located, device (mobile or desktop), or whether they’ve visited your site before (new vs returning visitors). Take some of these reports with a pinch of salt - such as demographics and interests - as they’re based on selective data, so are indicative rather than cold hard fact.

Acquisition: How users came to your website, such as through social media ads, an email campaign, or a referral from a partner / another website.

Behaviour: What users do, what content they look at, and what they engage with on your website.

Conversions: Tracks whether users ‘convert’ - that is, whether they do what you want them to do (such as make a purchase or sign up to a newsletter) when on site. Note - this requires extra set-up. Don’t panic - we’ll come to this in a second.

Set your date range in the top right-hand corner, and have a poke around the different reports. Bear in mind that Analytics only starts recording when you set up it and link to your website - so if you’ve only just done that, give it a week or so to build up some data before you start to look around. 

Top five beginner reports in Google Analytics

There’s no end to the combinations of reports you can produce in Google Analytics. As a starter, here are the five most useful ones for getting to know your audience.

1) Audiences > Overview

This is a really useful report for getting a quick sense check on your users. The data includes:

  • how many people (users) have visited your website;
  • how many of those are new and haven’t visited your site before;
  • how many sessions (blocks of activity - usually 30 minutes) those users had on your site;
  • how many pages (pageviews) those users looked at while on site.

The above is most helpful in context - for example, did your users spike when you ran that campaign last month? Or after you attended that event? Numbers by themselves aren’t that helpful - consider the context of your business and marketing activity, digging deeper if something interesting crops up. 

2) Audiences > Mobile > Overview

This seems obvious, but knowing what devices your audience is using is key to optimising their online experience. Google expects your mobile traffic to be at least 50% - if it’s significantly lower than this, ask yourself why. Is your site optimised for mobile? If not, you could be losing out on potential customers through poor user experience.

3) Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium

This tells you what marketing activity and channels is driving people to your site. If you had a boost or drop in users, where did they come from? This report will tell you all that, and more. 

4) Behaviour > Site Content > All pages

This provides an insight into pageviews, where you can see the most popular pages on your website. This might be a product, piece of content or even the ‘get in touch’ page. Either way, it’s really handy to know how the traffic is weighted across your website.

Also click on ‘Secondary Dimension’, and type in ‘Source/Medium’ within this report. Here you’ll be able to see which channels flowed to which pages. Are visitors from social media more likely to get to the ‘contact’ page? Is your email campaign resulting in the sort of engagement on site that you want? The secondary dimension button is useful if you ever want to break down the data further, and cross-reference with other reports. 

Another useful one to flag in this section is ‘Behaviour Flow’ - where you can see the user journey taken from one piece of content to another throughout your website.

5) Conversions → Goals

This is where it starts to get a little murkier (bear with me). Google allows you to set up ‘Goals’ within the ‘admin’ section of the dashboard. This should relate to your business and marketing objectives, taking into account what success means to you. This will probably include things like:

  • users making a purchase;
  • users filling in a form / signing up for a newsletter;
  • users showing engagement - so visiting more than one page, for example, or spending more than 30 seconds on site.

Follow the steps and look at Google’s own help page to get some advice around set up. Once done, you can view them all back in your dashboard within the conversions section. They’ll also be handy if you ever run any Google Ads.

It’s useful to set up Goals so you can see what marketing channels are contributing most towards achieving - or not achieving - your targets. 

Selecting the best reports for your business

While the above is helpful as a starting point, it’s important to look at the reports in the context of your marketing objectives. Do you want to increase the number of leads (eg people filling in the contact form); or increase the conversion rate of website visitors to sales; or improve brand familiarity among particular target groups?

Start with what you’re trying to achieve - and then identify the most appropriate reports and Goals to give you that insight.

Copyright 2019. Featured post made possible by Amy Wilkinson, co-founder of Disruptive Thinking

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Amy Wilkinson

With experience working across in-house and agency marketing teams, Amy has a proven background designing, implementing and optimising complex, integrated digital campaigns and projects.

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