The Basics of Google Analytics

'Back to the Basics' written on a chalkboard

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you wake up screaming, drenched in sweat and have the urge to run away from the Big Bad coming to eat you? That’s how most people feel when they see Google Analytics for the first time.

GA is a massive application that has so much data, options and features it’s overwhelming. Even after years of working with it and passing Google certification, I’m still learning new things every day.

When it comes to your website, data is worth its digital weight in gold. It tells you where people are coming from, where they’re going and where they left. It tells you how many men vs. women visited, how many new vs. returning customers and more. If you want to track a drop or increase in traffic, then GA is your first step.

Starting with Google Analytics

The key to all Google Analytics data is your tracking code. When you sign-in and create your GA account, it gives you snippet of code to place on your site. Place the code on every page of the site for Google to track correctly.

If you leave some pages off, then when a person goes to that page is put into referral traffic with the source as your site. This can be confusing and makes tracking your true data difficult. Many website platforms such as Yahoo Small Business, allow you to automatically connect GA to your website without manually adding the code.

E-commerce sites can enable e-commerce and enhanced e-commerce tracking, but that requires additional coding. It’s usually easier to have your developer set this up due to its complexity.

Syncing with Google Analytics

GA has more data then you’ll ever need, but there are other Google applications that provide different information such as Google Search Console, Google Ads, and Google AdSense. You can connect these accounts with your Google Analytics to meld data sets.

You get the insights from Google Ads along with the data power of Google Analytics. These applications are amazing alone, but putting them together gives you an unprecedented look at your customers and performance.

Too many people leave them unconnected because they don’t know how or are worried it will interfere with the application. This isn’t the case and it adds much to your experience.

Understanding your Website Traffic

When you first see your Google Analytics dashboard, it can be a bit overwhelming. If you want to track your website traffic, then click on Acquisition in the left navigation. This opens up a new menu. Click on All Traffic and then Source/Medium.

You’re seeing all the traffic sources to your website from Google organic to referral traffic. You may notice considerable referral traffic. Some are real and some are ghost or spam traffic. These are not actually users going to your site, but Black Hat SEO tactics.

You’ll also see direct/none. This is the Google catch-all for anything they can’t track. This includes people coming from email, dark social, etc. Google lumps them all together. You can manually tag URLs for email marketing so that Google separates them out using UTM tags.

In the upper right corner, you’ll see a date range for the current data set. You can change this to anything you need and then compare it to the previous period, the previous year or a custom range. This is nice for seeing how your traffic has changed over different periods of time.

Finding Page Popularity

Understanding what pages people are going to most on your site can help you create and drive content. It also lets you know what areas need improvement. There are two different ways to see page statistics.

Under Acquisition, there is a section called Search Console. If you have it and connected it to GA, then you can see data on landing pages, countries people were from, devices and queries. Click on landing pages and it shows data on your site pages including impressions, clicks, click through rate and more.

If you go Behavior, click on Site Content and Content Drill Down, it shows you popular pages using pageviews. You get information about your pages in two different ways using two different datasets.

Advanced Settings

These are just a few basic concepts for Google Analytics and they are less than 1 percent of the total information available to you. Once you have familiarized yourself, you can explore and learn about segments, website exclusions, goals and more.

GA is incredibly complex, but with time and patience, you can overcome these challenges. If you’re interested in learning more about Google Analytics, then continue to explore our website.

Brock Cooper

Brock has been doing SEO, Social Media Management and Marketing for seven years and has watched the industry shift and change, providing a unique perspective to clients. Brock is the recipient of two Associated Press awards and the Richard A. Laymon President's Award for Service by the renowned Horror Writer's Association. When he isn't scouring the Internet for the latest in SEO info, Brock enjoys writing short stories, teaching his wife and children the importance of Dr. Who and writing articles for various entertainment and video game sites.

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