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Introduction to Google Analytics

If you’re looking to learn about why data analysis is so essential right now, you’ve come to the right place. In our introduction to Google Analytics, we explore what the tool is, what it’s used for and how to use it.

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We are firmly in the midst of the information age. Over the last 30 years, the internet has changed the world in many ways. It’s now a crucial part of our lives, used for communication, shopping, entertainment, education, and many other purposes. In our introduction to Google Analytics, we explore why data analysis is playing an increasingly important role in many of these areas. 

The Google Analytics service is an incredibly powerful and widely-used set of tools. The platform provides all sorts of insights to website owners and marketers. We take a look at what exactly it is, how it’s used, and how you can get started with the platform.

Why is analytics important?

Let’s start our introduction to Google Analytics (GA) by looking at why data and analysis are important. Data analytics is a rapidly growing area of expertise. According to data experts Domo, it’s estimated that for every individual on earth, around 1.7MB of data is created every second, the equivalent of the average mobile web page. What’s more, this data is growing at a nearly exponential rate, meaning that almost 90% of all data has been created in the last two years.

With the staggering amounts of data being produced, analysing and understanding this information can bring all kinds of benefits. Below, we’ve outlined just a few examples of how data analytics can be used. It can:

  • Help us make informed decisions and manage risk 
  • Help all kinds of organisations be proactive in their approach, anticipating the needs of the people they serve. 
  • Add a detailed level of personalisation to products, services, medicine, and more. 
  • Help businesses optimise processes, highlight opportunities, and reduce costs. 
  • Provide information about current and future trends.

Crucially, such techniques can be used in just about every industry, from healthcare to tourism and beyond.

To find out more about the opportunities, challenges, and future of big data, check out our free online course. You’ll learn some of the basics of how data is used, as well as how different industries apply analytics.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free web analytics service offered by Google. It helps website and app owners (both organisations and individuals) track and report on all kinds of data from their users. Google purchased the web statistics analysis company Urchin in 2005, forming Google Analytics shortly after. Since its launch, it’s grown to become the most widely used web analytics software on the internet. 

Google has been making improvements to the platform since its launch, adding new features, refining their approach, and making the tool essential for just about every online business. At its heart, Google Analytics gives companies the chance to understand their customers through the data they produce. 

The service provides a wide range of tools that are useful for getting an insight into how people use websites. With relatively little technical knowledge, users can gain a comprehensive and easy-to-understand glimpse at a variety of relevant factors. 

Although the standard service is free, there is also a paid version, Google Analytics 360, which gives a more detailed look at certain key areas.

Why is it useful?

If this is your first introduction to Google Analytics, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. A good place to start answering this is to consider the topic of digital marketing. For all kinds of businesses, the internet presents a unique opportunity to reach new audiences, expand brand awareness, and increase sales. 

With Google Analytics, you can gain an understanding of what your marketing activity should be, how your campaigns are performing, and what your customers tend to respond to. The tool gives you the chance to get detailed layers of information related to your online channels. You can then plan and adjust your approach and understand if it’s working and what needs changing. 

One of the most useful things about GA is that, once set up, it takes relatively little effort to get detailed reports. Daily, weekly, monthly, and annual statistics about a variety of factors can be automatically generated and shared with key stakeholders within an organisation. You can also review information at any time to monitor the impact of campaigns, channel improvements, or website changes. 

Web analytics, in general, is an essential digital skill for those working in or close to digital marketing. With our online course on web analytics, you can start learning about some of the ways in which data is used by businesses.


What do companies use Google Analytics for?

So far in our introduction to Google Analytics, we’ve focused on some of the broader uses for the service. Let’s now turn our attention to some of the specifics. As you’ll see when you start using the platform, there are many different metrics you can track. But what do businesses use this data for?

1) Benchmarking

Another one of the most useful aspects of Google Analytics is the benchmarking data. Essentially, this gives businesses the chance to compare their data with others in the same industry. Not only does this allow them to track their performance, but it can provide valuable insight when it comes to things like identifying trends across the industry.

2) Visitor data

Internet traffic is a valuable resource for companies with a website. The goal for many online businesses is to drive as many relevant visitors to their site as possible. With GA, you can get an idea of how many people visit during specific time frames, where they’ve arrived from, how long they stay, and where they leave. All of these factors are valuable when it comes to making technical and marketing choices.

3) Compatibility

When it comes to things like content design, data analysis can play a significant role. Google Analytics gives insights into how customers are accessing your site or app. Given how prominent smartphones are these days, it’s vital that websites are compatible with a range of different devices, screens, and internet browsers. Businesses need to know how their users browse, and in turn, how to create content that serves those users.

4) Marketing optimisation

In our post on an introduction to digital marketing, we looked at the various forms of online marketing channels. As well as promotional activity on a company’s own website, there is also scope for things like pay-per-click advertising, social media campaigns, emails, and other forms of paid media. Google Analytics provides valuable information about how these marketing efforts are performing and how they can be improved.

5) Content optimisation

There are all kinds of online content, used for all manner of purposes. As well as written words and images, there are also things like videos, infographics, podcasts, and visual stories (like Snapchat content). Whether you’re paying to promote this content or hoping it performs well organically, you can track and test how well it’s doing. With things like Analytics’ A/B testing, you produce multiple variants of the same content and see which your audience responds to best.

6) Performance measurement

As well as understanding in general terms how visitors are using your website, app, or social media activity, Google Analytics also gives you measurable metrics on how useful these interactions are. We’ll get into specific terms further on in our introduction to Google Analytics, but essentially you can measure what percentage of users are having meaningful/desirable interactions with your site.

7) Setting goals

Of course, with the metrics associated with all of the points above, you can also use Google Analytics to set goals and drive decision making. Whether you’re trying to achieve a certain number of visitors, a percentage of users who make a purchase, or the number of newsletter signups, you can track your goals. What’s more, you can then use this data to inform your decisions going forward.


Google Analytics key terms explained

The further we get into our introduction to Google Analytics, the more technical terms we’ve started using. Before we get into how to use the tool, let’s first look at some of the key terms you need to know. This will make the process of understanding the basics much easier.

What is a metric in Google Analytics?

Two of the building blocks of Google Analytics are dimensions and metrics. Every report uses these two elements, but what exactly are they? Well, we can think of dimensions as the attributes to your data. There are many variations of these, allowing you to sort your data by all kinds of variables. 

As an example, let’s take the dimensions for time. Let’s say you want to only display data from a particular period. You could sort by the specific or range of dates, years, months, weeks, hours, and several other variables. 

A metric is a quantitative measurement that is paired with a dimension. So for example, for the dimension Device Category (the type of device used to access your website), you will have values for metrics such as the number of users, the average time they spent, how many pages they visited, and more. These metrics are quantifiable and can be used to compare and contrast performance.

What are users?

One of the key metrics in Analytics is users. This term is used to measure the visitors who have initiated a session with your website. It’s usually the first metric you’ll see when you log into your Google Analytics account. The difference between new users and returning users is whether Google’s tracking cookie (a small piece of stored data) is present on the device.

What are sessions?

A session refers to a group of user interactions over a certain amount of time. So, if a user visits your website and spends several minutes loading a few different pages, clicking on some calls to action, and making a purchase, this counts as one session. You can use this data to find out how many sessions your users have and over how long a time period. In turn, this can inform your marketing strategy for attracting new users.

What is the bounce rate?

The term ‘bounce’ is used to describe when a user visits a website page and then takes no further action. So, a user might arrive at one of your pages from a Google search, scroll through some content, but not click on any of the other elements of the page before leaving your site. The bounce rate refers to the percentage of sessions that result in a bounce. Metrics exist for both your website overall and specific pages. It’s a useful data set for understanding how particular pages on your site are performing.

What is the exit rate?

This term is related to bounce rates in the sense that it has to do with where visitors leave your website. For example, a user may navigate to your website, click on some links, get through to a particular page, and then leave the site. Here, the page that they leave on is attributed with the ‘exit’. However, if the user arrives and leaves on the same page, this is a bounce. So, every bounce is an exit, but not vice versa.

What is the conversion rate?

As any introduction to Google Analytics will tell you, one of the key metrics for marketers is conversion rate. Essentially, this is a measure of how many visitors complete a specific business objective you are tracking. It’s one of the central metrics for many kinds of marketing analytics, as it shows how effective your efforts are. A conversion could be something like making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or sharing a post on social media. The conversion rate is the number of visitors who take that action.

What is acquisition?

Acquisition reports focus on how people find your website, often referring to the source (such as a search engine, social media, or another website) and the medium (such as paid advertising, web referral, or organic search). This dimension is particularly useful for finding out how things like your paid marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) are working.

An introduction to Google Analytics – getting started

Next on our introduction to Google Analytics is how to get started with the platform. Over the years, Google has worked to make it as easily accessible as possible. So, whether you’re technically gifted or not, you should be able to get set up and start generating reports in no time.

Creating an account

First things first, you’ll need both a Google Tag Manager account and a Google Analytics account. It’s easy to set these up, and it’s also free to do so. 

Tag Manager lets you easily create and edit tags. The ‘tag’ is basically just a small amount of code that you insert on the back end of your website. This code tracks the various ways people interact with each page, and then exports the data and sends it to platforms such as GA and Facebook Analytics.

Although you don’t need to be a coding expert to add this tag to your site, you can always take our Learn to Code for the Web course as a good primer. You’ll also find that sites like WordPress have plugins that can make this process pretty straightforward. 

With your Google Analytics account, you’ll need to enter your Google account details, as well as the name and URL of your website. You’ll then get a tracking ID that you can add to Tag Manager, linking the two.


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