A dozen top tips for using and understanding Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the most popular analytics tool in the world. It is accurate, frequently updated, and best of all – it’s free.

But for all its benefits, Google Analytics can be overwhelming for a first time user. To help you get started, we have put together a dozen top tips to get the most out of Google Analytics.

1. Learn what it can do

Google Analytics is designed to help you understand your website traffic and users better. It can help you to judge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, as well as determine your ROI, using a range of tracking and visualisation tools.

At the most basic level, Google Analytics can tell you how many people visited your website during a specified period, how many pageviews were generated during that time, and so on. More experienced users can track the performance of individual campaigns, understand download trends, and benchmark their site against competitors.

2. …and what it can’t

But Google Analytics does have some limitations. Primarily, you should note that Google Analytics does not give real-time reports. Data is generally updated within a few hours, so if you need instant information you may need to find a self-hosted analytics solution instead.

3. Integrate GA with your website

The first step is to integrate the Google Analytics code into your website. GA uses a few lines of Javascript to keep track of your site, and this needs to appear on every page you want data on. If you are using a CMS like Wordpress or Joomla this is very easy; there is a range of plugins available to add the code automatically.

4. Make comparisons

The data you will gather through Google Analytics is only really useful when it is used to make a comparison with a previous period. The data really comes into its own when you use it to track changes in visitor numbers or user behaviour. This can also help you to determine the success of individual marketing campaigns, and work out how best to improve your efforts.

5. Look at traffic sources

One of GA’s most basic, and yet most useful functions is that of traffic source tracking. You can use Analytics to determine where your visitors are coming from. For example, what proportion of your traffic is derived from natural search? What proportion comes from social media? These figures can help you to work out where to concentrate your marketing efforts. Do you need to better optimise your site? Or should you be spending more on PPC?

6. Understand visits vs. pageviews

There is one particularly common mistake amongst analytics beginners: confusing visits with pageviews. In Google Analytics terms, a pageview is considered to be a single view of a single page that is tracked by GA code. A visit, on the other hand, is a single ‘session’ initiated when a user arrives at your website. If a user leaves and then visits again within half an hour, it will be counted as a single visit.

7. Look at your bounce rate

Bounce rate is a key metric in analytics. It measures the proportion of visitors who leave your site without clicking through to another page. This number helps you to understand how well your site is holding visitors’ attention, and how well your landing pages are performing. It is worth remembering, though, that the bounce rate is obviously less important for blogs or other sites where most of the key information is on a single page.

8. Filter out your own visits

It is vital that you filter out your own visits if you are to get accurate tracking data. Thankfully this can be achieved very easily in Google Analytics. Click here for step-by-step instructions.

9. Use some useful plugins

There is a range of plugins available that extend the functionality of Google Analytics. Many of these are now considered ‘must-haves’. For example, Firefox users can use the Better Google Analytics plugin to achieve things like accurate tracking of social media stats within your Analytics dashboard.

10. Use the click map

The click map is a relatively new feature, but is incredibly useful for judging how well your site design is achieving your goals. The map shows how many clicks, by percentage, are generated by each link on an individual page. The information is displayed as an overlay. You can access this by clicking on Content on the left-hand menu, then clicking In-Page Analytics.

11. Use the API

Power users can use the Google Analytics API to export GA data as a feed – and do virtually anything they like with it. For example, you might want to dump your analytics data straight into a spreadsheet, or build a shared dashboard so that everyone in your organisation can share the information. Click here for more on the Google Analytics API.

12. Get regular reports by email

Finally, some people find it difficult to remember to check their analytics figures. If you are prone to bouts of forgetfulness, you can have GA email your data to you regularly. Simply find the report you want to be sent in the dashboard, then click Email, then click Schedule. Easy!