Google Analytics 101 – A Simplified Guide

Google Analytics empowers digital teams to stop guessing and start measuring marketing and website success.

Nearly 95% of the top 200 marketing websites use Google Analytics and it’s the top SEO tool used by marketers.

The free, powerful analytics tool measures website and digital campaign activity to help marketers answer questions, like:

  • What tactics or campaigns are working?
  • Who’s visiting my website?
  • How are people finding my website?
  • Are they interacting with my content or products?
  • Where should I focus marketing spend?

Google Analytics helps marketers focus their investment on the right campaigns and audiences to maximize every opportunity. Follow our beginner’s guide to get started on your Google Analytics journey.

Getting started with Google Analytics doesn’t have to be intimidating. To get set up for long-term success with one of our favorite marketing analytics tools, dive in below and watch our on-demand webinar, Google Analytics 101.

Google Analytics Overview and Glossary

Arriving on Google Analytics, you’ll see dashboards, trends, and individual data sets. Quickly navigate to content via the search bar or use the Customization tab (left sidebar) to create and revisit custom dashboards, reports, and alerts.

In the left sidebar is a list of reports available in GA, each with a dropdown for more granular insights. In the top-right corner, change the dates to view different time periods, or compare time periods year-over-year, quarter-over-quarter, or a custom range. For a great example of custom reports, check out our GA tip, Easy Insights with Day of the Week Data.

The center of the dashboard is a graph tracking and comparing trends over time for individual metrics, and summaries of high-level metrics and graphs below help to make sense of web activity in easy visualizations.

First, let’s brush up on common terminology found in every report. Here’s an example chart of web activity and a definition for each term below.

Key elements included in each report are:

  1. Users: individuals visiting your website within the designated timeframe. A single user can view webpages once or multiple times (repeat visitors).
  2. New users: individuals that visit your website for the first time within a specified time range. New users is a metric to track to achieve lead generation and acquisition goals.
  3. Sessions: a single visit to your website (includes at least one pageview). When we measure website traffic, we’re measuring Sessions.
  4. Bounce rate: a metric showing the percentage of single-page sessions. This means the user stopped on your website and left immediately, without visiting additional pages. A high bounce rate could indicate user friction.
  5. Pages per session: measure the average number of pageviews in a single session.
  6. Average session duration: a high-level metric showing the average amount of time users spend on your site.
  7. Conversion: measures when a user completes an established goal (like completing a webform – see more on conversions below).

You can dig deeper into the data and analyze different views or segments by modifying primary and secondary dimensions. Reviewing and comparing these key performance indicators informs your overall website, channel marketing, and campaign strategy, helping you fine-tune your approach to consistently improve results.

Overview of Google Analytics Reports

Google Analytics slices and dices the entirety of your data into reports to answer questions, accessible along the left sidebar.

Each of these report sections – Realtime, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions – offers different viewpoints and subsections to help you understand activity on your website.

It’s easy to go down a data rabbit hole by the sheer volume of insights captured in Google Analytics. Today, we’ll focus on the reports most beneficial to marketers, that we return to time and again.

1. Audience: Who’s Visiting Your Website?

Understanding the makeup of people visiting your website is fundamental for immediate success and to optimize performance to meet long-term business goals.

The Audience tab includes a wealth of information to discover about your users. For example, view a breakdown of web visitor demographics, like age or gender. Divide your audience into new or returning visitors and see how frequently or recently users visited your website, to see if campaigns are driving nurture or acquisition goals.

Find location data to improve campaign targeting, or mobile audience breakdown to identify opportunities for mobile optimization and engagement.

The Audience report can help you develop user personas or identify high traffic segments to better target marketing promotions or themes.

Via Audience Behavior, you can understand how your users interact with your site. For example, this includes new vs. returning visitors, frequency and recency, and level of engagement.

Using GA’s built-in audiences, including location and age, or building your own audiences around your target personas or characteristic, you can break down your visitor data into audience reports.

2. Acquisition: How Did Visitors Find Your Website?

Hubspot reports that 61% of marketers consider lead acquisition to be their biggest challenge. Are your marketing campaigns achieving lead acquisition goals? Google Analytics gives you the data to find out.

To determine where your website traffic is coming from, and therefore, which of your marketing tactics are working, refer to the Acquisition section of Google Analytics.

Looking at Acquisition data reveals traffic sources, campaigns, ads, and social efforts generating the highest traffic, conversions, and revenue – necessary direction on where to focus your time and effort in the future.

Notice a big spike or dip in your revenue or visitors? Look to our favorite report, the Channels Report, to understand which channels are driving the increase or decrease. The Channels Report breaks down Traffic sources – the channels or places that helped people find and click to your website.

Google Analytics has Default Channel Groupings, including Organic Search, Paid Search, Social, and Email, which combine related traffic sources and mediums to provide an understanding of overall performance.

Google breaks down Channels into four groups, and you’ll see high level metrics showing acquisition, behavior, and conversions:

  • Direct traffic is captured when visitors type your website URL directly into the address bar on their browser. For example, if you typed into the browser to land on our website.
  • Referral traffic is sent via links from external sites. For example, if you read one of our thought leadership articles [LINK] and clicked from the article to our website.
  • Organic Search come from search engines results pages, like Google or Bing, influenced by SEO efforts). For example, if you searched Google for a Google Analytics Guide and found this article.
  • Paid Search is driven via Pay-Per-Click advertisements. For example, if you clicked on Google Shopping paid advertisement.
  • Email is the result of email marketing campaigns. For example, if you clicked from our digital newsletter to this article.
  • Social traffic is driven through organic social media posts. For example, if you clicked to this article from our Facebook post.

Want a deeper dive into traffic sources? Read more about the differences between direct, search and referral traffic.

Google Analytics allows you to see which keywords are driving traffic to your site. In organic search, you can see the terms entered to return your website in the free search engine results. Many GA users find that a large portion of their organic traffic comes from two unusual keywords: (not set) and (not provided). For more on this common anomaly, read our GA tip, ‘Not Set’ vs. ‘Not Provided.’

If pure new lead acquisition is one of your marketing goals, take the extra step to exclude branded keywords. This removes visitors from the report who directly input your brand keyword into the search engine. For example, searching Digital Agency Whereoware. Omitting these users reveals amore accurate picture of new prospects, not already aware of your company or product. For more, check out our guide to branded keywords and best practices for generating accurate lead acquisition reports in Google Analytics.

Campaign tracking using UTM parameters is a best practice to track marketing campaigns more effectively than Google’s native channel groupings and evaluate where to invest your time and resources. By adding custom tracking codes (parameters) to your marketing URLs, you can isolate and track traffic coming from specific marketing efforts – this is especially important for online advertising and other paid resources. If you are paying for multiple banner ads on an external website, it is imperative that you can clearly measure and separate traffic coming from each ad. For more, check out our Beginners Guide to Campaign Tracking.

3. Behavior: How Are Visitors Engaging?

Behavior Reports tell you how customers are interacting with website content. Where are they entering the website and what does their customer journey look like? It’s helpful in understanding user behaviors as they navigate your website and identify how to optimize the most popular content across all pages.

The Behavior Flow report is a great way to visualize how visitors are interacting with your site. This report shows the path users have traveled from one page or Event to another. Behavior Flow helps you evaluate popular customer journeys and identify content or user experience (UX) issues.

Site Content reports shows you the content visitors are browsing across all pages and is broken down further into landing page and exit page behaviors.

The All Pages report gives you a high-level understanding of pageviews, bounce rates, average time on site, and more for your website content. This indicates popular pages or articles or those that are performing poorly (and therefor may need some UX love to make them easier to find or interact with).  

Similarly, the Landing Pages report measures the first page that visitors viewed during a session, in other words, where they landed when they arrived. The landing page is an indicator of content marketing quality and search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. If many visitors arrive on your website on a blogpost, this indicates your topic is relevant and interesting, and you’ve marketed the page appropriately to be found through a campaign or search engine.

The Site Speed report is another valuable view under Behavior to measure how quickly users can see and interact with website content. When webpages take too long to load, visitors are more likely to leave. The Google Analytics Site Speed report identifies individual pages that are loading slowly, so you can improve this common area of friction for visitors and the overall UX of your website.

Google also takes site speed into account when ranking your website. For more, checkout our webinar on Google’s Page Experience Update, for recommendations on optimizing your website’s UX to benefit both visitors and your search engine rankings.

Additionally, you can configure Google Analytics to track how visitors use your website’s search function in Site Search. This allows you to see what search terms were entered, what page they were entered from, and analyze how effectively the search results increased engagement with your site.

4. Conversions: What efforts are driving action?

For the simplest way to determine the effectiveness of your marketing, design, email, and website efforts combined, refer to your conversion rate. Conversions show which efforts are getting site visitors to complete their end goal, like downloading a pdf, making a purchase, or submitting a form.

To quantify your success rate, navigate to the Conversions section and set Goals that accurately reflect the actions you want site visitors to accomplish. Goals are the finish line for visitors to your website – when visitors arrive on your site, do you want them to download a pdf, make a purchase, or submit a form? Set these actions as your goals.

There are 4 types of goals in Google Analytics to help track engagement on your website. Every goal can be grouped into one of the following buckets:

  • Destination: Completed when individual users reach a specific page. Examples include an order confirmation page or targeted product pages.
  • Event: Completed when a custom tracked interaction occurs. Examples of events you may choose to track are media plays, downloads, or link clicks.
  • Duration: Completed when the length of a user’s session exceeds your pre-set amount of time (so, they stayed on your website longer).
  • Pages/screens per session: Completed when a user views a specified number of pages on your website during their session.

Set and measure goals regularly to understand if visitors are taking the actions you want them to, and if not, how you can improve the conversion rates.

Do you run an e-commerce website? Then, you need to set up E-commerce Tracking in Google Analytics to understand how visitors are shopping your website. The E-commerce Report under Conversions measures:

  • Popular (high selling) products
  • Revenue and number of products per transactions
  • Conversion rates and month-to-month or year-over-year trends
  • Frictions across the shopping journey (including the cart – a critical component of every e-commerce website)

Get Started – GA Account and Property Set Up

Ready to get started? Here are the basic steps to set up your Google Analytics account:

  1. Create a Google Analytics account, or sign into an existing account, and add your property to the account. (Pssst – the “property” is a fancy word for your website.) You will be asked for your property details, including the name and URL, along with your industry and time zone. Creating a property in GA gives you a unique tracking ID and a global site tag, which you will need in the next step.
  2. Copy your new global site tag and add it directly into the code for each page in your property. This ensures you will be able to measure the activity across the entirety of your site.
  3. Now, using a different device, open your website and click around to different pages. Go into GA and check the Realtime reports section to ensure your code is working. You should see at least one active visitor on the site – you!

Once you’ve completed these basics, follow our step-by-step checklist to verify you’re properly set up and ready for GA success.

Looking for More?

For actionable tips to effectively leverage data across your website, watch our Google Analytics on-demand webinar. We cover the must-know terminology, best practices for maximizing your data, and easy-to-use reports to measure your marketing and website success.