A beginner’s guide to Google Analytics

Here’s some fundamental information to get you started using this powerful online tracking tool.

Google Analytics is a vast and powerful tool that enables you to track the effectiveness of your website in invaluable ways.

You can see where users enter and exit, what paths they follow, and where they come from in the first place. Information garnered via Google Analytics allows you to break your site into specific components, establishing which are most effective and which need work.

If your business relies on the Internet—whether for making sales, providing clients with information, or as a marketing tool—then Google Analytics is for you.

Initially introduced to developers, Google Analytics is now an indispensable tool for anyone engaged with the Web as a marketing tool. You have specific goals for your site—whether it’s sales, data entry, or subscription. Google Analytics can help you meet those goals.

Once you have a clear understanding of how users navigate your site, you can help to steer them in the right direction. Effective Internet marketing is about providing online service in the most intuitive way. Whether this means organizing your website to provide information quickly or simply providing clearer directions from product to checkout depends on your marketing goals.

Getting started

Anyone can set up a Google Analytics account. It’s free and easy to use, and there is plenty of great information to help you take your first steps. Check out this analytics guide for small businesses for a thorough Analytics run-through, but in the meantime, read on to get started.

What to track

One intimidating aspect of setting up a GA account is the sheer amount of information that analytics can provide. It’s a vast and sprawling application, and the key to putting it to good use is to know which statistics are most important to you and your site.

Here are a few great places to start, particularly for those with marketing strategies in mind:

  • Bounce rates. Each page of your site will have a “bounce rate”—the percentage of visitors who leave without clicking on any further links. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, they were misdirected, and yours was not the site they were looking for, in which case you might want to find out which search terms most frequently lead users to your site and adjust your content to include more relevant keywords—analytics can also provide helpful statistics on keywords.

Second, the site does not provide clear direction. Information is delivered too slowly or pathways to further pages/products are not effectively signposted. If this is your diagnosis, look for creative ways to make your pages more intuitive.

  • Conversions. A conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who complete a goal for a particular site or page. For example, a user signs up for your newsletter if that’s the goal of your particular page. A conversion doesn’t have to be a sale. With Google Analytics you can set the terms for your own goals and monitor the success of your site accordingly. See this beginners’ guide to conversion rates for more information.
  • Social media links. GA also allows you to see where your traffic comes from, whether it’s via search engines, from links on other sites, or through social media channels. Social media is a powerful resource for directing users to your site. Most marketing plans include a strategy targeting social media. Google Analytics allows you to see how effective your current strategies are and make amends, accordingly.

Moving forward with customizations

Once you have the basics down, you’ll soon discover the vast potential of analytics for receiving customized data about your website, enabling you to develop a made-to-measure marketing strategy.

Rob Toledo is a Seattle stereotype, with a love of rain, coffee, and high-tech gadgets. He works at Distilled as a marketing coordinator. He can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo or on Google+. A version of this article first appeared on the Straight North Blog.

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