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What is Google Analytics and How to Use It

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Looking for the best way to understand your website data? Google Analytics (GA) is an incredibly powerful tool that tells you vital information about visitors, such as how many there are, where they come from, and how they interact with your site. Sometimes looking at all these stats can be overwhelming. How do you know which information is the most relevant to your business goals? Here are a few tips to help you figure it all out.

Collecting data

The very first thing you need to understand is how Google Analytics (GA) collects all of this data. When you set up your GA account, Google will provide you with a small snippet of Javascript code —unique to your website—to place on every page of your website. While the mechanics of that code are beyond the scope of this article, this code allows for visits and interactions with these pages to be logged in your GA account. This information will give you a good look at general visitor behavior. It is important to note that Google does not collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and anything that attempts to make this information available in your GA account is expressly forbidden in Google’s terms of service.

Channels

In your Acquisition overview, Google Analytics breaks down data based on different channels — organic search, social, email, etc. These channels are grouped around different sources and mediums to give you a broad picture of how and from where users are getting to your site. The source is the referring domain of your website traffic, be it google.com, bing.com, facebook.com, or some other site. The medium is the category of source as Google defines it, such as organic search, display, referral, email, cost-per-click, etc.

Google organizes these default channels into the following groupings: Direct, Organic Search, Social, Email, Affiliates, Referral, Paid Search, Other Advertising, and Display.  You can create custom channels with your own sources and mediums, but the default groupings will likely be sufficient to get you started.

Landing pages

The landing page in Google Analytics is the first page a user visits on your site, not necessarily your homepage. Once you know your site’s most popular landing pages, take a look at the data. Which pages are causing users to explore your site further? Which pages have the highest bounce rate? Acquisition reports can tell you what prompted users to come to your site in the first place, whether it’s their first time on your site, and what percentage of total visitors are new.

Audience

The audience overview page gives you tons of information about who is visiting your site, from their demographic to whether they used their phone or computer. The demographics and interests sections can be also useful, but Google collects this information from external sources and it may only represent a portion of your users. To assist you, Google does let you know what percentage of users this data represents in the reporting.

Mobile and technology sections of the audience page can be helpful, as they tell you what portions of your audience is looking at your site on their phone, tablet, and computer. (e.g. Windows, Macintosh, iOS, Android, etc.), brands (e.g. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, etc.), and browsers (e.g. Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc.) your audience is using to look at your site. For phones and tablets, it will even tell you what brand, model, and networks are being used. In today’s mobile-centric world, it’s best practice to make sure your site is mobile-friendly.

Benchmarking

Once you have an overview of your site’s statistics, do some comparing. Where were you last year at this time? Use date ranges to break it down weekly instead of monthly; months vary in length, number of weekdays and can make comparisons more difficult. Make sure you’re comparing things that are statistically similar -- don’t compare total users one month to new users in another month. You may not know what you need to improve yet, but it’s important to know where you stand now.

Key takeaways

Now that you know who your audience is and how they interact with your site, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind. Don’t fret over bounce rate. A high bounce rate without context doesn’t give you enough information to make meaningful changes. Blog posts especially can have high bounce rates, but if your homepage is driving away visitors at a high percentage, you should investigate further.

Don’t forget to filter traffic from your own IP address. If you don’t, your statistics will reflect every visit from yourself or someone else within your organization, and it will be impossible to get an accurate look at your visitor data. You should ask your IT department to provide you with your office IP addresses as you may have more than one and online tools for finding your IP address may not show all the IP addresses associated with your organization.

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