Google Analytics 101, Part 1

Many companies are realizing the “if you build it they will come” mentality to launching a Web site just doesn’t work. How do you know if the site is accomplishing the company’s goals or not? What can you learn from your visitor’s behavior on your site?

You need the help of an analytics tool to gain this insight. In this economy, many firms are looking to keep costs down. Google Analytics is a good choice because it provides great statistics for free.

This two-part article is for beginners, and will focus on learning the basics of Google Analytics, setting goals, and exploring top reports you will want to view frequently.

Part 2 will explore methods for integrating Google Analytics with your AdWords PPC campaign, and how to track social media.

Getting Started with Google Analytics

In a nutshell, you simply need to head to Google Analytics to open an account. After this, you will need to add a small chunk of JavaScript code to each page you want to track on your Web site. You may need the help of your Webmaster to do this.

Once this is done, the tracking will start and you can soon begin using Google Analytics to see how your visitors interact with your site. Two great useful resources as you begin your journey into the analytics world are the Google Analytics Blog and Google’s Learning Center. There are many helpful tips and information about all aspects of Google Analytics.

Tracking Goals

Regardless which analytics tool you use, it’s always a good idea to identify your Web site goals and objectives first. Decide what success looks like for you.

What do you want visitors to do once they land on your site? Make a purchase, download something, or pick up the phone? Google Analytics lets you “tag” the pages where these events occur and track them as conversions so you can determine if you’re meeting your goals.

To get started with goals on Google Analytics, click on “Goals” in the left navigation box. If you haven’t already defined any goals, you’ll see a Goals Overview page that introduces you to goals in Google Analytics.

At the bottom of that page is a link to set up goals and funnels for your site. Pick an available goal (Google Analytics supports up to four) and edit the goal’s settings.

Define a target page for the goal, give it a label and a value, and you’re ready to go! If you want to track a specific path or series of pages/actions on your site, use the Funnel options at the bottom of the goal settings page.

Google offers a nice introduction to Goal Conversions on Google Analytics. There is also a great educational resource called Conversion University that you will find useful.

Top Reports

The reports you will find most valuable will depend on your specific site and situation, but let me highlight a few of the reports you may want to pay close attention to.

You’ll also probably want to customize your dashboard (the initial report screen) by adding/removing components to give you a quick glance at the data you are most interested in.

Most reports will have a small “Add to Dashboard” icon in the upper left. If you find yourself looking at a specific report a lot, click this button to add it to your front-page dashboard for easier access. Here are some of the most insightful reports:

  1. Goals > Overview Report: This will tell you how well your site is doing at meeting your defined goals. Note: this report is blank/useless until you define and set up your goals ahead of time.
  2. Traffic Sources > All Traffic Sources: This breaks down traffic to your site by source (e.g. Google, direct, referring sites, etc.) and medium (organic, referral, CPC, etc.). This report will give you excellent statistics on where your site traffic is coming from, and which sources/mediums are trending up or down.
  3. Content >Top Content Report: This tells you which sections or pages of your site are the most popular. You can learn a lot about your site visitors’ habits from this report. If your site has pages set up for a product or a service you can learn which of those visitors seem most interested in.
  4. Content > Site Overlay: This will load your site into a new window and overlay the links on the page with graphs showing which links were followed and how often (percentage). For those of you who are more “visual” this report gives you a great visualization of site traffic.

These reports are just the tip of the Google Analytics iceberg, but a good reference to get you started with the reports you can easily access with Google Analytics. Google Analytics has made it easy (and free) to get great information about your site’s traffic.

In part two: the method for connecting your Google AdWords PPC campaign to Google Analytics and using Google Analytics to track social media. Until then, please post comments about any reports or insights you’ve found useful below.

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