Expert Advice: Google Analytics Tutorial
Monday September 27th, 2010
by Bryan Mills
Google Analytics is a free service that provides website owners with advanced statistics on traffic to their website. It tracks raw page views and provides information on unique visitors, traffic sources, search engine usage and more. It’s a valuable tool for any website owner to not only help determine how much traffic is coming into their site, but also analyze where that traffic is coming from and what trends are affecting popularity.
How Does It Work Exactly?
Whenever someone visits your website, Analytics will track their activity within your site.
Among the many different statistics Analytics collects are:
- If a visitor is new or returning
- Where they’re coming from (search engine, another site, etc.)
- Which URLs they visit inside your site
- How long they stay on a page
- Geographic region
- Browser version, operating system, screen resolution, etc.
All this data is compiled for you daily on the Analytics report page.
How Do I Sign Up?
Visit the Google Analytics Homepage. If you have a Google account (for Gmail, or another Google service), you can log in using that. If not, it only takes a few seconds to sign up.
You’ll need to create a new site profile for your domain name. Just enter the domain name of your website and click “Finish”:
Setting Up Your Website
Once you’ve entered your domain name information, Google will provide you with a snippet of HTML code that needs to be added to your page in order to for the tracking to work.
Depending on your experience level with web and HTML, you may be comfortable doing this next part yourself. Otherwise, you may want to pass it on to your web designer or technical guru.
In each and every HTML page that exists on your site, you will need paste this code at the very end of the page <body>:
Make sure you use the code Google provides, as it contains your unique Analytics ID.
If you’re using a Flash-based website, you might only have one or two actual HTML documents that need this code. Or if you’re using a CMS or dynamic website, you may only need to paste it once in the footer template. WordPress users may want to use a plugin adds this automatically.
Once the code is in your site, Google Analytics should start working immediately.
Using the Report Page
The Google Analytics report is a deep and involved tool, so we’ll only go over some of the basics. When you access your report, the first thing you’ll see is the Dashboard:
This will default to showing a broad view of traffic over the past 30 days. You can click the date drop-down box in the top right corner to choose any date range you wish.
In addition to the traffic graph, you’ll also see details about Traffic Sources (where users are coming from) and an overview of the most popular pages within your website.
Using the menu to the left you can find much more information about each of these areas.
One of the greatest things about Analytics is the ability to see which sites referred visitors to your page. This provides a great deal of insight into what marketing efforts are seeing the greatest impact.
For example, if you wanted to see how many referrals you’ve gotten from Wonderful Machine, click “Traffic Sources” in the menu on the left, then click “Referring Sites” in the expanded menu:
On this page, you should see a list of the top 10 referrers to your site and how many visits they’ve generated. If you want to filter for a specific referrer, just type the name in the search box:
And hit “Go.” You should then see any referrer entries that match that search text:
I’m using a Flash site. Why isn’t Analytics tracking which parts of my site users visit?
Analytics can only track visits to a unique URL per page. Most Flash sites only ever run inside a single page, and therefore only a single URL is used.
To correct this, many Flash sites will utilize page anchors like:
to provide unique URLs for Analytics to see. You would need to contact your web designer or provider for more information about implementing them.
What’s the difference between Visits and Pageviews?
Visits refers to the number of times people have arrived at your site. Pageviews is a tally of all the pages viewed on your site. In other words, one visitor would likely view multiple pages, so often the Pageviews number will be higher.
Can Analytics tell me who is visiting my site?
Analytics can only provide the most basic information about people visiting your site (geographic region, language and some technical information). It cannot divine who these people are, or provide any sort of qualitative analysis.
What is Direct traffic versus Referral traffic?
Direct traffic is traffic that comes into your website without going through another web source. Most likely it is from a bookmark or email, or typed directly into the address bar. Referral traffic means a visitor is coming from another website.
Can Analytics help me track the success of email campaigns?
Yes. Analytics allows you to set up custom URLs to your site that can be added into emails to track traffic from your campaign. If you’re using a service like CampaignMonitor, it may already be done for you. Or, you can set it up yourself. You can read more about this here.
I’ve been using a different stat counter, and it provides different numbers than Google Analytics. Which is more accurate?
There are many different tools that allow you to track your website traffic. Often, they will have a different set of methods for determining what qualifies as a visitor, unique pageview, page popularity, etc. Typically, this is a matter of semantics and no one tool is objectively more correct than another.