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The beginner's guide to Google Analytics ~ A crash course from A to Z

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Opening Google analytics for the very first time can be as terrifying as it is frustrating. Terrifying because, well, what in God's name does it all mean? Frustrating because of the nagging knowledge that in this vast array of data is the means and insights to empower your business through measuring performance, understanding your audience and so much more.

We think it's important to point out that Google Analytics comes armed with an excellent help centre and an active and helpful community forum. Regardless, if you're just getting started with this invaluable platform, we understand that a helping hand can go a hell of a long way, which is why we made this guide.

In this blog, we'll take you through the jargon-busting essentials of Google Analytics, the bare bones that you can build upon as you develop a greater understanding and appreciation for this glorious platform.

 

A is for Auto-tagging

What on earth is it?

Auto-tagging enables improvement of accuracy for the data and insights you collect when using Google Ads (the same setting is also available in Bing Ads).

How does it work?

Put succinctly, auto-tagging adds an extra layer of information to the Google ad URL that people click through. We usually refer to this parameter as a Google Click Identifier or GCLID for short. 

Great, but what else can it be used for?

Glad you asked. 

Sounds Great, how can I set it up?

It's pretty easy, believe it or not. 

 

B IS FOR Bounce-rate

What on earth is it?

In simple terms, bounce rate represents the percentage of your users that enter your site but then leave without progressing to other pages within the session. 

oh my, the bounce rate on some of my pages is really high! Is that a bad thing? 

Not necessarily. Let's say, for example, your users enter a landing page where the overall aim is to read an article, on pages such as this, we'd expect the bounce rate to be pretty high, after all, the user has done what we wanted them to do. You're doing something really good if you can get them to continue their journey and read other related articles or browse other parts of your site.

However, if, for example, you're trying to move your users through a sales funnel a high bounce rate on the point of entrance is pretty bad. 

Okay, so how can I lower my bounce rate?

This is altogether more tricky to ascertain. If you're looking to reduce bounce rate on pages, a great place to start is considering conversion rate optimisation. Are your calls to action clear? Could you use heat-mapping to see if your links to further pages are in the right places? Are ads that drive your traffic going to the right pages? There really are numerous things you can do to reduce your bounce rate.

 

C is for Campaigns, CPC and Conversion Rate

Campaigns 

What on earth is it?

This is a dimension in analytics which is either auto-generated by auto-tagging or is manually generated when you take the time to build your own URL tracking links to highlight the source of external traffic.

When creating campaign naming conventions its worth considering their longevity and use across multiple channels, as this dimension can be used as a shorthand way of reviewing a campaign's full performance across channels.

How can I report on campaigns and traffic sources? 

In short, with great care. 

There are a number of ways to review campaign performance, and depending which report you look at will give you a specific view of performance which may or may not include the data you're looking for.

There is a handy 'Campaigns' default report in Acquisition where you can view all campaign data, however be mindful that you'll probably want to segment this via source/medium or default channel grouping to make sure that you're reporting on the right data.

This is a free type field at the point of creation, so unifying / standardising as much as possible will help when you review performance at a glance.

 

Cost-Per-click (cpc)

What on earth is it? 

In Google Analytics, CPC is a traffic source bought on a cost-per-click basis (ie paid search). If you've already enabled auto-tagging, you'll find that all of your Google Ads traffic is automatically labelled as CPC. It is also possible to manually identify traffic sources as CPC by manually tagging URLs with the urchin tracking module (UTM) tracking structure

 

Conversion rate 

What on earth is it?

Conversion rate is the number of conversions per ad interaction. You can calculate it by dividing the number of conversions by the number of page visits. It's a figure that should always be presented as a percentage. 

Conversion points on your website should be clearly defined to make the most of this metric.

It’s worth noting that…

Conversion rates vary by types of user as well as the traffic source the user came from and the device they used. Interest triggering sources such as email will generally have a significantly lower conversion rate than decision-ready sources, such as direct traffic. However, this isn't to say that any single source is less valuable than the other.

 

D is for Direct Traffic and Duration (Average Page Time)

Direct Traffic 

What on earth is it?

Amazingly, direct traffic is exactly what you'd probably imagine it to be, website traffic that hasn't come through any external source, they've gone direct to you by typing in your URL in their browser.

Beware though...

If you have some issues with your tracking, like emails not being tagged with custom links, or GA code not firing on first page load, then you may find you have an over-reported number of direct visits. At this point you may need to consult an expert or seek further advice to help diagnose and/or rectify the problem. Using 'real time' reports to understand how your sources are being credited can be a good first step to checking this out. So click on one of your emails, and see what Google Analytics interprets as the source of your web visits.

Similarly, accrediting conversions to direct website traffic isn't quite as black and white either. 

Direct traffic will only ever be credited for conversions if it was the only channel present in the user's journey to conversion. Google backdates this information by 30 days so if the user originally found your site through email, search, social or through paid ads, that is the channel that will be accredited for the conversion. 

It's worth knowing that...

It may be that you want to understand how often direct traffic was the last traffic source before conversion. To do this, simply head to the 'multi-channel funnels' section in analytics.

 

Duration 

What on earth is it?

We use duration to refer to the average amount of time a user has spent on any individual page. When reporting on your data, this measurement should be used alongside bounce rate and the total number of page views to help paint a picture of how long your visitors spend on your site. 

Duration is calculated like a lap timer - when someone lands on your site the timer begins...when they move to another page the timer stops for that page, and starts up the timer again for the next page. Total duration will be the addition of all these 'laps' but average time on page will be just for a single 'lap time'. An interaction with the page which is tracked by an interaction event tag like the click of a button, play of a video etc. will also help with time recording as Google Analytics will have 2 events to record the session between. But if the timer starts, and there is no other interaction on your site and the user leaves then its like the timer continues running and"timed out" which does not record in Google Analytics.

 

It's worth knowing that...

Landing pages with high bounce rates may have a skewed duration figure as effectively Google Analytics doesn't have a 'stop' trigger on it's stop watch if someone leaves your site. So a high duration page like a blog article, may actually have a low session duration if someone bounces. There are ways around this to provide a better indication of time spent on the page - look into firing events at timed intervals to demonstrate that someone is still active on the page.

When evaluating the average visit duration on individual pages, benchmark that statistic against the average site-wide figure to gauge whether individual pages are performing well or not. 

Average page duration can be a useful indicator of how engaged users are with your site and, in the case of relatively low average visit durations, a warning sign that your website navigation may be somewhat confusing.

 

E is for Entrances, Exit Rates, E-commerce and Exclusions

Entrances 

What on earth is it?

Often paired in reports alongside bounce rates, entrances inform you how many times a visitor enters your site via a specific page URL.

Why is it useful?

The number of entrances to a page with poor bounce rate will give you a pretty good idea of which pages you should be addressing first when attempting to lower bounce rates or diagnose why the bounce rate may be high.

It's also a useful statistic to pair with traffic source, helping you to understand which sources are driving entrances to individual pages.

 

Exit Rate

What on earth is it?

Easily confused with bounce rate, exit rate is distinctly different from your bounce rate in that it informs you where within a sales funnel or customer journey customers are choosing to exit your site. 

Why is that useful?

If you find that pages in the middle of your sales funnel or customer journey have extraordinarily high exit rates then this should be cause for great concern. If this is the case, then you need to go through a process of checking the page in question for reasons why users are exiting.

Factors contributing to high exit rates may include:

 

e-commerce 

What on earth is it?

In Google Analytics, e-commerce tracks where purchasing customers are coming from as well as how profitable they are. If you happen to be an e-commerce site without e-commerce tracking set-up, then it's probably time to take a look at the mirror in a period of deep self-reflection.

adjusting

You can find the output of your sales data in Analytics' conversions section. This section will also provide you with insight into which products have been purchased, the number of daily sales generated as well as transaction ID information. You can also segment data by traffic source to ascertain which channels are driving sales. 

It's worth knowing that...

If you are an e-commerce site, you have to make sure that your analytics profile is set to that of an e-commerce site, you can adjust this by entering the profile settings section on Analytics.

 

Exclusions

What on earth is it?

Well, it does what it says on the tin. It excludes data from your overall reports.

Why on Earth would I want to do that?

In many instances, reports can be skewed by certain users. Whether they be internal staff or related parties, such as marketing agencies. To make such exclusions you can remove certain IP addresses from your reports in the admin section of your account.

 

F is for filters

What on earth is it?

In Google Analytics, a filter is the process of setting up exclusions. The most common filter set up is one which removes internal and associated IP's, preventing reports from being skewed by inaccurate data. 

Okay, so how do I set up filters?

If you follow the steps detailed below, it's actually pretty easy. To provide an example, we're demonstrating how to go about setting up IP filtering.

 Voila!

 

G is for goals

What on earth is it?

In Google Analytics, a goal indicates some sort of success. Goals can include anything from completed sales and enquiries to content downloads and general levels of engagement. 

Every website should have goals that are being tracked on Google Analytics.

It's worth knowing...

The distinction between a goal and an event. You should not be interpreting each and every on-site action as a goal.

Also, be aware that it will be better to review goals individually, you'll find that the goal conversion rate column will add up conversion rates for every goal that you have set up. 

 

I is for inclusion

What on earth is it?

An advanced filtering tool, predominantly used for manipulating specific metrics or dimensions to ensure report insight is as useful as possible. You can use this advanced filter option in any data view which can be customised to allow data sets for specific criteria. 

Okay, so how can I set up filters? 

For the sake of demonstration, we'll outline the steps you'd need to take for understanding what proportion of organic traffic is brand vs. non-brand, a common inclusion task.

 

K IS For Keywords

What on earth is it?

Keywords are a dimension in analytics that can either be auto-generated via auto-tagging,  automatically picked up by Google Analytics for organic traffic or manually generated when custom URLs are created to track links for external traffic sources. 

It's worth knowing that...

While in most cases the keyword dimension is populated, looking at keyword information in certain data views can show two keywords, (not provided) and (not set).

 

L is for landing page and linked accounts

Landing Page

What on earth is it?

Your landing page report shows the pages on your site where visitors entered. Landing pages with a high number of entrances will typically be those you direct paid ads towards or those with high organic rankings in Google. 

Why is that useful to me? 

It gives you an invaluable insight into what sort of first impressions you are leaving on visitors.

When paired with other data, such as bounce rate, visit duration and device segmentation, landing page data can highlight how site experiences vary in different circumstances.

 

Linked Accounts

What on earth is it?

What it sounds like really. Linked accounts focus on linking your Google Ads account with your Google Analytics account, in order to automate the tracking of Google Ads data within Google Analytics.

How do I set this up?

There are 4 key steps to follow to ensure your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts are linked correctly 

 

M is for medium

What on earth is it?

A medium is a dimension in analytics which can be defined both automatically and manually. It refers to the medium of which the visitor has entered your site.

So what's the difference between automatic dimensions and manual ones? 

Google's automatic definitions include:

Manual mediums come about when custom URL's are created to track links for external traffic sources. When you're manually tagging URL's it's worth bearing in mind that if aggregate data is required for similar data types then you need to ensure you use the default label. Any variation will make aggregation a time-consuming process as it'll be shown as an entirely separate medium. 

 

N is for New Visitor and (not set)

New visitor

What on earth is it?

Well, it's exactly what it sounds like really, a new visitor to your site. This figure is displayed as a percentage of the total page traffic. However, bear in mind Google will measure users by specific devices. If a user visits your site on a laptop and then does so later via mobile, this will register as 2 separate users. Google sets a 2-year expiration date on new visitors. 

Why is knowing the percentage of new users useful?

For starters, it's a valuable insight to evaluate your website goals and marketing activities. For example, if you're investing a lot of your marketing budget into paid search to drive website traffic, you should be seeing a high percentage of new users.

Another example of when insight into your percentage of new users would be useful is if your website features a blog. In this scenario, a high number of new users wouldn't necessarily be a good thing as you'd hope that your blog is of sufficient quality to keep visitors coming back again and again. 

 

(Not Set)

What on earth is it?

(Not set) is the placeholder name that is given when there is no information about the specific dimension you wanted to retrieve data for.

Why does this happen?

If you find (not set) appearing in your traffic sources report, it could be an indication that there is no keyword data available for that source.

If you find (not set) appearing in paid search data views, then this is a pretty dependable indication that your Google Ads haven't been tagged correctly and then linked to Google Analytics.

 

O is for organic

What on earth is it?

Organic traffic is traffic that has naturally been accrued from search engines. With higher search engine rankings you'll generally find that your organic traffic increases.

There is a couple of different ways to look at organic search data...

 

P is for page views

What on earth is it?

Pageviews simply refer to the number of times a page on your site has been loaded within a set time frame. 

But beware...

Pageviews can be a misleading metric as Google Analytics counts page reloads, new sessions and going back to the original page following a click as additional page views. With this in mind, analysis of the page views metric should be approached critically; you may even be better served looking at other metrics such as pages/visitor or goals.

 

R is for Referral and revenue 

Referral

What on earth is it?

The referral source is a dimension of site traffic in analytics which includes site visitors who have arrived via a link on an external website and it's domain is registered by Google Analytics as an inbound source. 

You should know...

Referral sources are predominantly automatically generated. However, manually tracked links can be included in the referral medium category if they follow the same naming convention. If they do follow the same medium label of referral, they'll be included in the traffic sources referral data. If there is any deviation, such as capitalisation or misspelling, the data will only appear in the campaigns section of traffic sources, not under referral. 

 

Revenue 

What on earth is it?

Well, it's revenue. Specifically, it's the data that Google Analytics compiles from e-commerce stores. Revenue data can be split into two distinct fields: 

Bear in mind that...

The revenue reported in most e-commerce data views will be the total revenue. Be mindful of factors included within these figures such as VAT and postage when calculating your ROI.

 

S is for SESSIONS, source, site usage and search 

SESSIONS

What on earth is it?

Sessions (previously visits) are your bread and butter metric within Analytics. A session encompasses the process of coming to your site and performing various actions within a given timeframe.

What classifies as a session?

A session is considered as 'ended':

It's worth bearing in mind that...

Clicks are not the same thing as sessions. Clicks take an off-site point of view as it denotes the number of times your listing has actually been clicked on. Conversely, sessions take an on-site point of view, focusing on the number of individual sessions initiated by all visitors on your site (and the Google Analytics tracking tag fully loading on the page). 

 

Source

What on earth is it?

In Google Analytics, the source gives a specific indication of where traffic has actually come from. Sources are either automatically defined in Analytics or can be manually generated with custom URLs that track links for external traffic sources.

Automatically generated sources include: 

You should know that...

When manually tagging URLs, you need to ensure that, if aggregate data is required for similar traffic types, you use default labels (e.g. Google). Any variations will make aggregation significantly more time-consuming as it will be shown as a separate source. 

 

Site Usage

What on earth is it?

Site usage is the default view of the explorer tab found above the tab group.

You should know that...

This section of the explorer tab groups together vital metrics such as overall visits, pages/visits, average visit duration, new visits and bounce rate. Other views in the explorer tab include goals set and e-commerce. 

 

Search 

What on earth is it?

The search report is your one-stop-shop for quickly finding valuable insights and data. 

What can it be used for? 

A couple of useful ways to use the search report include:

You should know that...

When logged into Google, for organic search keyword data will be encrypted into (not provided), whereas paid-search won't be affected in this way. 

Organic traffic is automatically tracked in Analytics and will be attributed to the referring search engine. For paid search to show, you will need to auto-tag your keywords or manually tag other paid search accounts using the UTM builder. Not following this process will result in (not set) data appearing under campaign and keyword dimensions in your search report, as well as incorrectly attributing paid traffic as organic. 

 

U is for Unique visitors and ua

unique visitors 

What on earth is it?

Google Analytics classifies users as being unique when the _utma cookie isn't present, indicating that the visitor isn't a repeat visitor.

It's worth knowing that...

Despite widespread misconceptions, unique visitors is not the same as the unique number of people that have visited your site. 

As any new visitor + device combination receives the _utma cookie, it means that one person can visit site X from both desktop and mobile and two unique visitors will be recorded.

Add in the fact that individual user IPs are randomly re-assigned by ISPs and the fact that people often delete their cookies and the disparity between the recorded number and the true number of unique visitors can be quite large.

Studies show that that disparity tends to mean 30-40% ore unique visits are recorded in analytics.

 

UA

What is it? 

A UA is a number associated with a property in analytics. This is to ensure simple tracking. While a property UA ID can be used for multiple website domains, it's an awful lot less complicated to restrict them to one single domain. 

Why do we have this?

A company should only have one analytics account to gain access to the Google Analytics interface, but within that single account, you can have multiple properties and multiple views. 

Where can I find the UA number?

The UA number is available to view in property settings within the admin section. You can also find it in the tracking code which is pasted on every single page of the website during setup.

It's worth bearing in mind that...

When implementing Google Analytics tracking, the UA number in the code must match the UA number of the Google Analytics property. If it doesn't then there is either another Google Analytics property set up or the code has been manually amended, which will prevent Analytics from tracking your website. 

 

And that's all folks. If you've stayed with me to the end then good work, if not...then I guess you're not reading this anyway. But hopefully this post has set you on the right path to conquering Google Analytics and given you some food for thought. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's got quite a few of the essentials, and it's always good to refresh foundation principles from time to time. 

If you have more complex analytics and/or tracking needs then our team is here to help. Get in touch to start the conversation.

 

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