Google Analytics: Complete guide for beginners

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Google Analytics: Complete guide for beginners

Getting started in Google Analytics is not as complex as it may seem. However, it does require one to become familiar with the architecture of the platform. So here’s a Google Analytics guide for beginners.

What do people do when they browse my site? What pages do they see before buying my products? Has Google traffic dropped? Is the money I invest in Google Ads or Facebook Ads well spent?

Google answers these and many other questions Analytics, or web analytics, is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of web data for understanding and optimizing the use of the web. When…, one of the most comprehensive and affordable traffic analytics tools for your website.

The Topic of this Post

  • 1 What is Google Analytics?
  • 2 Google Analytics: the guide
  • 3 Google Analytics: certification
  • 4 Google Analytics and WordPress
  • 5 In Conclusion

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is of the many free Google tools, launched in 2005 after the acquisition of Urchin and part of the Google Marketing Platform suite in 2018.

The platform uses a script to detect the Behavior of users who navigate between the different pages of a site by collecting, for example, the number of sessions, page views, bounce rate, and much more.

It is possible to connect Google Analytics to other Google tools, particularly Google Ads and Google Search Console, to share traffic data.

By connecting to Google Ads, it becomes possible to target advertising campaigns on all or part of the public that has already visited our site. By clicking Google Search Console instead, new reports relating to the status of being made available in Google Analytics Indexing is the phase in which the search engine collects, analyzes, and stores data to facilitate the quick and accurate search for information of the domain. In short, each connected instrument shares and receives valuable information.

The most recent version of Google Analytics, presented in 2017, has primarily standardized the tracking scripts available for different Google tools and employs a Global Site Tag script.

Over the years, Google has released a demo account of Google Analytics. A fully configured account (belonging to the Google Merchandise Store, truly existing e-commerce ), accessible for reading by anyone with a Google account.

Suppose you have never fully configured Google Analytics or are concerned that your account may be missing some critical information. In that case, the demo account will be beneficial in this guide to compare you with accurate data.

Google Analytics: the guide

Getting started in Google Analytics is not as complex as it may seem. However, it does require you to grow familiar with the architecture of the platform.

The first time we reach analytics.google.com, the platform guides us to create an account, a property, and a view.

You can think of these three elements as Chinese boxes: an account can contain one or more properties, Property, in turn, can have one or more views.

The account is the highest level in Google Analytics. Each Google login can have access to 100 stores, although only one will probably be enough for your project.

Can be created Fifty properties within one account. A property defines what you want to track: your website or your iOS or Android application. You get the Google Analytics tag at the property level and specify the URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. Colloquially called a web address, it refers to a web resource such as a site, page, or file … of the place to be traced.

A first view, called “All Website Data,” is automatically created within each Property. A view contains materially all the reports that we usually observe in Google Analytics and allows us to access all the data collected. Each Property can have a maximum of 25 views.

Accounts, properties, and views host different and specific settings, which we will see in detail in a moment. But, of course, once you have created your first account, your first Property, and your first view, it will always be possible to make others according to the needs of future projects.

To act on the account architecture at any time, at the bottom left of Google Analytics, you will find the entry “Administrator.”

Administer Google Analytics: the account

At the account level, there are a few but essential settings related to the account name (which can permanently be changed), the country of the activity, and above all, the settings on sharing and data processing.

That’s is where you can choose if and how to share the information collected by Google Analytics with other Google and third-party services. You also need to provide DPA information for your company to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A discussion with an experienced legal counsel is more than necessary to configure this part correctly.

Always at the account level, it is possible to find the archive of all the filters – which we will discuss later – present and available for application on the various views. Finally, there is also a small section called “change history,” which, as the name suggests, tracks all the actions performed by users with access to the account.

Administer Google Analytics: the Property

At the ownership level, things get even more enjoyable. In fact, in Tracking information> Tracking code, we find the Google Analytics tag, ready to be installed on our site through Google Tag Manager or other more or less complex methods.

It is also at the property level that Google Analytics can be connected to other Google services such as Google Ads – allowing the two platforms to communicate and share data on traffic and the achievement of objectives – Google AdSense. 

Each connected service will “enhance” Google Analytics to obtain further data useful for insurance website analysis.

Administer Google Analytics: the view

In terms of view, the available configurations multiply, allowing us to manage the collection of the data that we will read in detail.

At the view level, the time zone on which the data is oriented indicated, the activation of the tracking of e-commerce transactions, and the currency with these are displayed.

Each view can have one or more filters, useful in some cases to restrict (destructively, let’s underline it) the data collected. However, applying a filter effectively prevents Google Analytics from collecting data in reports – use with caution!

Always at the view level, it is possible to manage the objectives of conversion. Web analysis A conversion goal is everything that has meaning for you at the business level: for e-commerce, it is reaching the order confirmation page; for a landing page, the visit to the thank you page after the collection of the lead.

There are four types of conversion available in Google Analytics:

  • destination (the visitor has reached a key page)
  • duration (the visitor has come, in his session, a minimum number of seconds of navigation)
  • pages/session (the visitor has seen, in his session, a minimum number of pages)
  • event (the visitor has performed a specific action, tracked through advanced configurations on the code)

Each view can have up to 20 conversion goals. Also, remember that a plan cannot be deleted, only disabled. Fortunately, it is always possible to change any behavior of any present objectives, no longer helpful to our discoverers.

Administer Google Analytics: manage users

In Google Analytics, user management occurs according to a highly rational approach: accounts, properties, and views can manage users and their roles separately.

A section called “User Management” is available at all three levels, which allows us to invite our collaborators to the platform, indicating their email address and choosing an access level:

  • Edit (account architecture can be created and edited)
  • Collaboration (bespoke reports and dashboards can be made)
  • Read and analyze (you can read the report data)
  • User management (you can invite other users to the platform)

Of course, a user invited at the account level with maximum powers will freely act in a cascade even within the properties and views of that account. Likewise, a user-requested only at the Property or view level will have limited access only to the scope defined by us. Exceptionally comfortable, don’t you think?

Dimensions and metrics

At this point, we can take a further step towards relationship management. Before we begin, however, it is essential to describe the platform’s approach to data.

In Google Analytics, it’s all about dimensions and metrics – clearly understanding what these two terms mean is critical.

Dimensions are attributes of the data. For example, the “page” dimension indicates the URL of the page we are reading data from (such as “example.com/who- are”). The “source” dimension indicates the specific traffic source (such as “Google”). Again, the “device category” dimension suggests the type of device that users use to access the site (such as “desktop”). The dimensions are shown in rows in the tables.

Metrics, on the other hand, are quantitative measurements. Put simply, “the number of.” Thus, the “users,” the “sessions,” the “pages/session,” the “average session duration,” and everything that quantifies with a number one of the dimensions is metrics. The metrics are shown in the column and vertically cross the dimensions.

Introductory sessions, users, and references

Understanding the concept of the session in Google Analytics is crucial because all reports rely on it.

We could simplify by defining the set of interactions that a user makes on our site over a given period.

A single session may contain interactions such as a visit to a page, purchase, or any other “hit” recognized by the platform.

Of course, a user can start a session on our site several times a day or for a more extended period. It is important to emphasize that a session does not last forever but has a well-defined deadline.

A session can expire:

  • after 30 minutes of inactivity
  • at the stroke of midnight

Furthermore, a session expires every time a user enters the site through a campaign, exits, and then re-enters through a different drive.

Navigate the reports

Finally, we can devote ourselves to relationships.

I like to think how, in Google Analytics, all reports tell the same story. Only one chapter at a time. That’s is perhaps the best interpretation for such a complex and layered platform.

Each section and its reports observe traffic by focusing on a particular nuance, allowing us to go into as much detail on one side as it serves our purposes.

It is also a way of saying that there is no such thing as the best report or the useless one. There is no entry point and exit point, nor a valid approach for every project. But, on the other hand, it is essential to understand the peculiarities of the available macro-sections.

Google Analytics was segmented into five main sections:

  • In real-time
  • Public
  • Acquisition
  • Behavior
  • Conversions

In real-time

Within the “In real-time” section, the latest one arrived in chronological order; we have constantly updated information on the traffic active at that precise moment on the site.

You must know that if all the other reports have a difference of several hours, this section instead shows the snapshot of the traffic. For example, what happened in the last few minutes.

It is a section, limited to only a handful of reports, essential to check the correct functioning of the tracking code or conversion objectives and directly observe the concentration of a peak of traffic to some specific pages.

The “Real-time” section reports are not suitable for analyzing the traffic of the previous days, as they do not collect a history.

Public

In “Public,” Google Analytics focuses on the characteristics of the people who browse the site. For example, information on demographic data (age, sex), interests (what they read, what they buy), and the technology (devices) used for navigation can be found here.

This section answers questions such as:

  • What language does mine speak? 
  • How relevant is mobile traffic?
  • How many days pass between my users’ sessions?
  • How long do my users’ sessions last?

It is also in this report that we can analyze the incidence of “new” traffic (users who have never visited our site) and “returning” (a user recently seen on our pages).

If the question you’re looking for an answer to is about project audience characteristics, this set of reports is a great place to start.

Acquisition

In “Acquisition,” you will find detailed information on the origin of the public. In other words: where were they before you started browsing your pages?

To understand these relationships, we must become familiar with the concept of the channel, that is, the sets within which Google Analytics divides all the traffic trying to interpret its meaning.

The default channels on the platform are:

  • Direct (typing the URL into the browser. browser is an application program that provides a way to look at and interact with all information on the World Wide Web such as web pages, …)
  • Organic Search (traffic from a search engine)
  • Social (social traffic)
  • E-mail (newsletter traffic)
  • Affiliates (traffic from affiliate sites)
  • Referrals (traffic from unaffiliated sites)
  • Paid Search (traffic from search engine ads)
  • Display (traffic from display ads)
  • Other forms of advertising (unclassified ads in the above)
  • Other (anything not classified in the above)

Each channel uses information on the source of the traffic and the medium used by the user. For example, “direct” traffic is only described on a “direct” basis (the “medium” is not applicable). On the other hand, traffic from “organic search” can be described as a “google” source and an “organic” medium.

That brings us to a later consideration. Analyzing traffic sources means relating precisely to a couple of parameters: source and medium.

The possible pairs are numerous and allow us to find all the information necessary to identify the origin of the user in this dimension.

This set of reports answers questions such as:

  • What are the primary traffic sources for my site?
  • What are the areas that bring traffic through a link to my pages?
  • How many sessions come from social networks?
  • What do incoming audiences do from Google Ads campaigns?

Behavior

The “Behavior” section, on the other hand, analyzes in-depth the actions of users once they have begun to navigate between the pages.

This report answers questions such as:

  • what are the pages viewed first while browsing?
  • What are the pages viewed last before leaving the site?
  • What are the loading speed of the site and the individual pages?
  • What are users looking for through the search box on my site?

These reports are valuable if we want to analyze the content of the content, investigate the words based on the URL of the page, its position through the different categories of the site, the title, and much more.

Conversions

Finally, the “Conversions” section is where data against conversion goals and e-commerce transactions are shown.

In this section, we can find answers to questions such as:

  • How many goals have been achieved?
  • What paths did the user take to complete the objectives?
  • What is the performance of my e-commerce?
  • What is the average shopping cart of my e-commerce?
  • How many days does it take for my users to convert?
  • How many interactions do my users have before converting?

Don’t underestimate this section: even if yours is not an e-commerce, you can find valuable data by looking only at the conversion goals. But, again, I remind you that these goals are defined and limited to a single view level, and their tracking is not retroactive.

Export and share a report

Observing a report directly on the platform is undoubtedly effective. However, when we are not alone in working on the data, it is possible to:

  • export an account, downloading a file in PDF format, opening a Google sheet in Excel format, or, for the more adventurous, directly obtaining a CSV format
  • share a report by sending it as an attachment to an email at regular intervals (for example, receiving a message every week, on Tuesdays)

When working on many projects, it makes perfect sense to try to free up as much time as possible on repetitive tasks.

Segments: what they are and how to use them

Up to now, we have talked about dimensions and metrics, relationships, and objectives, leaving out an important aspect: traffic is not all the same.

It is by no means a trivial aspect.

Saying: “my site gets 100,000 page views” doesn’t have much value. Because within that volume of traffic, there will be users who have seen ten pages in a single session. Others who saw a page quickly exiting the site (jargon: bouncing ). Still, others will have sailed for 15 minutes, others for a few seconds.

When we look at traffic overviews, we look at average values, which are of little use to answer precise questions.

No, not all traffic is the same.

And to go deeper into the data, segments are used.

Segments are defined as a subset of data based on Google Analytics dimensions and metrics. By creating a segment, we filter the traffic through conditions that allow us to observe the behavior of the users that interest us most.

It should be noted that segments are a non-destructive filter. Thus, applying a segment, the data is not deleted (as it happens instead by using a filter at the view level, which acts before the information is collected). Still, they are hidden as long as the segment is active.

Up to four can be utilized to each report that supports segments simultaneously (beyond that, it would be tough to navigate the data). You can make use of system segments, already defined and ready to use for each view, or create a new component freely drawing on:

  • Demographic data: age, sex, language, 
  • technology: device category, browser, 
  • behavior: sessions, transactions, session duration, 
  • date of the first session : (as per the title)
  • Traffic sources: source, vehicle, countryside, 

The possible combinations are so many and essentially allow us to “illuminate” only the traffic relevant to our analysis.

Customize reports in Google Analytics

The reports present in the various sections, although complete, allow us to deepen the data only within a specific limit. There comes a time when it is essential to tackle an additional level of Personalization.

Customizing a report means using some features of the platform to extract from that report only the data necessary to answer our question.

For example, in a report such as Behavior> Site Content> All Pages, we may want to understand which device the pages that have gotten the most views are navigating from.

How to do it?

We have several options available.

Apply a secondary dimension

We may decide to apply a secondary dimension. You see, every relationship moves on a measurement called “main.” It corresponds to the title of the report. Yet sometimes, it is not enough.

By applying a “secondary” dimension, we ask Google Analytics to detail the report data with additional size.

Not all dimensions apply as secondary to every ratio.

In the example above, in the “Site Contents” report, I could choose to detail the secondary dimension “Device Category” to obtain, for each row, the cross-section of the traffic from desktop, mobile, and tablet.

Search in a report

Sometimes the information is already there, in the lines of the report. Sometimes it has been made present through the detail of a secondary dimension. Except that the lines of the information, perhaps, are a few thousand. How to do it?

Each report has a search form at the top right of the table header. By simply typing a term, the search takes place on the primary dimension. Through the Advanced Search, it is possible to:

  • Search for lines in the report that include or exclude a term
  • apply the Search to the principal and secondary dimensions
  • use conditions such as “contains,“ begins with,” “ ends with,” and the like

Save a report

At this point, you might be admiring: How can I keep track of my reporting operations? After making all this effort, applying a secondary dimension, maybe having sorted some columns and filtered the report with the Search, now that the working day starts at the end, the last thing you want and, tomorrow, start over again.

Fortunately, each report can be “saved” (even if it is not such a precise term, it is the one used by the platform) by acting on a transparent icon at the top right. Saving a report creates a shortcut to its current configuration, available in the Personalization> Saved Reports section.

The job of a web analyst is that of an ongoing investigation; being able to “photograph” the configuration of a relationship is invaluable to work on overtime.

Create a custom report

If saving a report does not create a genuine message from scratch, it is instead through the Personalization> Custom reports section that you can indulge yourself by crossing any dimension and metric that the platform has collected.

It is an advanced level. You probably won’t need to start creating a report from scratch for a long time instead of finding it easier and faster to reorganize an existing account.

However, the time comes sooner or later to organize your ideas from scratch and choose a small number of metrics (columns) and dimensions (rows) to navigate precisely as it suits us.

Each report can be created, modified, and deleted at any time without affecting in any way the data collection of the predefined essays. Also, you can share the report template (template only, with no data inside) by generating a public link.

Create a dashboard

Sometimes, we need not obtain data but present it to the client or the rest of the team clearly and transparently. Dashboards in Google Analytics are for precisely this.

Conceptually similar to “blank canvas” to populate, they allow us to add widgets to report dimensions and metrics within counters, timelines, maps, tables, pie, and bar charts.

Beginners may find it very useful to be guided by the “beginner’s dashboard.” That presents a series of tables and charts valid for practically every site, which we can modify and adapt to our discoveries.

As with reports, each dashboard can also be shared, exported to PDF, or emailed at regular intervals.

Other useful tools

Before approaching the end of this path, it is important to underline a couple of additional tools useful in different areas.

  • The “Add-on to deactivate Google Analytics,” with a name perhaps a little verbose but able to quickly clarify its purpose. This browser extension disables platform tag tracking for our site and all others we will browse. It is essential not to dirty the traffic data, especially when the volumes are shallow or, on the other hand, there is a team that continuously moves on the site to manage its contents.
  • “Google Tag Assistant” an essential tool for analyzing the active Google tags on the places you browse (even not yours) and identify implementation errors. An extension for Google Chrome is also able to record a browsing session and produce a more than detailed report to share with the developer while remaining in the browser.

Google Analytics: certification

Getting certified in Google Analytics offers several benefits. The first, of course, is to bring to the company or its customers greater competence on the basic and advanced topics of web analysis through one of the best known and most appreciated Google tools.

The exam – available in several languages, including Italian – is called “Google Analytics Individual Qualification” and is obtained through the Google SkillShop platform, answering 70 questions in a time limit of 90 minutes (usually about 60 are needed. to top it all off).

The individual qualification obtained is valid for 12 months, after which it will be necessary to proceed with a new examination. At the moment, there is no badge to be published to show passing the exam.

Google Analytics and WordPress

If your site is managed in WordPress, you should consider a few other aspects to handle the installation of the Google Analytics code.

Install the Google Analytics code via plugin

One of the most common ways is to use a plugin. There are many, from the most essential to the most complex, paid and free.

The first benefit of using a plugin to manage the Analytics tag is thinking of the whole plugin. Often it is simply a matter of indicating the code (“UA-XXXXXXX-X”) or connecting the plugin to your Google Analytics account. Also, through a plugin, advanced tracking mechanics are often made available in just a few clicks.

Similarly, it becomes easy to make the plugin manage the delivery of the code to all users except those logged into the site (for example, administrators) by improving the cleanliness of the collected data.

One of the most popular plugins is Monster Insights, available for both standalone WordPress installations and the hosted counterpart at WordPress.com.

On the other hand, the use of a plugin tends to weigh down the site. Plugins are complex tools that tend to slow down the loading of pages and expose us to potential security holes if not well thought out.

Finally, many plugins offer more than you need, with an additional waste of resources. In short, you have to choose the right plugin and make sure it is really for you: the advice of an expert developer can be precious in these cases.

Manually install the Google Analytics code.

The other way involves the manual installation of the code. Once you have retrieved the Google Analytics tag at the Property> Tracking Information> Tracking Code, you can report it on all pages of the site.

Many WordPress themes, often paid ones, have a specific section dedicated to Google Analytics, which allows you to copy-paste, in this case, the UA code (“UA-XXXXXXX-X”) or the entire script so that it is then automatically inserted where necessary. If the theme supports this functionality, it is a quick and often very safe way, which saves using an additional plugin.

However, not all themes offer this type of opening towards the Google service. Furthermore, even if potentially feasible, it is still complex to modify (in this case by hand) the Google Analytics code for configuring advanced tracking.

For completeness, it is good to remember that in WordPress, it is also possible to modify the theme directly through the Appearance> Theme Editor section by reporting the Google Analytics tag in the correct file (header.php). That’s is a decidedly advanced approach, which if on the one hand, leaves complete control of the code; on the other, requires precise knowledge of HTML, JS, and the functioning of WordPress themes to not do damage. Furthermore, this type of intervention is canceled by any future update of the article.

In Conclusion

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. With this ancient Chinese proverb, we could sum up all the importance of traffic data analysis work. Google Analytics is one of the best and most trusted tools to start.

Now the fundamental problem of many projects on the web is not having harmful traffic data but not having data at all.

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