What is Google Analytics?

What Is Google Analytics

Web Analytics Explained

Google Analytics is the most popular Web Analytics tool in the world today. Before we understand what Google Analytics is, we need to understand more broadly what web analytics tools are.

Web analytics can be defined as:

“the collections, measurement and analysis of digital marketing and website data”.

Web Analytics tracking tools give you detailed information in relation to…

Visitors To Your Website:

  • Where are visitors coming from?
  • What web browsers are they using?
  • Why are they visiting?
  • How do they interact with your website?
  • New vs returning visitors?
  • How do they navigate through your site?

The Website Itself:

  • Is your website attracting visitors?
  • Is your website retaining traffic?
  • What are the number of site visits and page views?
  • Summary of conversion rates and the ratio of conversions to visits.

Google Analytics Explained

There are a number of web analytics programs on the market. By far the most common is Google Analytics – it’s free, user friendly, easily integratable with other marketing tools like AdWords and Search Console and easily customised with a tool called Google Tag Manager (which I’ll discuss later).

I’ve already outlined the broad types of information that web analytics tools like Google Analytics provide – so why should you care? What are the benefits of having access to this kind of data for your business?

Google Analytics analyses website visitors and their behaviour, allowing website owners to:

  • Optimise their internet marketing strategies
  • Tailor marketing campaigns to attract, retain and grow a valuable client base more efficiently
  • Identify which KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are appropriate for their website
  • Monitor improvements / modifications to their website
  • Inform and direct business decisions within the company

How Does Google Analytics Work?

Google Analytics uses a small piece of Javascript tracking code to collect data about your website (Figure 1), visitors and their interactions.

Google Analytics Tracking Code
Figure 1: Google Analytics Tracking Code

Once the code has been implemented on the site, Google Analytics will drop a cookie in the user’s browser for your website to obtain user session and any ad campaign information from the page request

Aside from this cookie, Google Analytics also collects data from:

  • The HTTP request of the user e.g. hostname, the browser type, referrer, and language
  • Browser/system information e.g. Java and Flash support and screen resolution

When all this information is collected, it is sent to the Analytics servers in the form of a single pixel GIF request. This data then gets processed and ends up in your reports. (Figure 2)

Google Analytics Data Collection
Figure 2: Google Analytics Data Collection

The tracking code also reads a 3rd party DoubleClick cookie to get information about the Display Features if these features are enabled.

Once you create a Google Analytics property (which you can do here) and place the associated code on your website, you will begin to see data rolling into your reports. By default, Google Analytics provides you with a huge amount of reports, all falling into 1 of the standard report categories (Figure 3):

Google Analytics Interface
Figure 3: Google Analytics Interface

Supercharging Your Google Analytics Reports

Google Analytics by default tracks loads of data. However none of it is necessarily tailored to the specific goals of your organisation. So what happens over time is organisations end up either abandoning it or even worse, reporting on the most visibile “vanity metrics” and making decisions based on these.

Examples of vanity metrics are pageviews, sessions and users. These are good metrics to be aware of – but they aren’t exactly a solid foundation for making business decisions in 90% of cases.

Realistically, instead of tracking these high level, often misleading vanity metrics, you want to track “actionable metrics”, for example sales, leads generated, downloads, content engagement (e.g. video plays and progress), application form submissions, etc.

Luckily, with a little help from a tool called Google Tag Manager, you can supercharge your Google Analytics implementation to track almost any user activity on your website. Read more about Google Tag Manager here.

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