Looking for a beginner’s guide to Google Analytics? If you run any type of website or blog today, you have to stay on top of your statistics in order to improve your website and gain more traffic. It’s one of the most important things you can do for website growth. In fact, it’s a huge waste of time not to use the tools at your disposal. That’s why we’ve created this guide on how to use Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is one of the best and free tools you can use to track and view your website statistics.
However, it can be fairly daunting for new users, because of its incredible capabilities. Today we are going to tap into the wonderful world of Google Analytics and breakdown the fear barrier of this useful software in five quick tasks. This Google Analytics walkthrough will help you get going, so you can find the stats you need quickly and easily.
There’s also a free Google Analytics video so you can see use using the platform in action.
You may also like our free SEO checklists. Grab your free copy here.
What is Google Analytics and Why Do I Need it?
If you aren’t already using Google Analytics, you may be surprised to hear that Google offers a completely free tool for you to track your website stats.
All you have to do to use it is sign up for a free account, then install a small amount of “tracking code” on your website that will enable Google Analytics to compile data about how people use your website and where they come from.
Every website needs a way to track their statistics and traffic because it gives you valuable insights into everything that is working or not working on your website, and these insights can help you improve your site to better serve that traffic, and even to increases the amount of traffic you receive.
That’s why we are big supporters of Google Analytics here at Make Traffic Happen. Trying to grow a website without these insights is futile, at best.
What Sort of Information Does Google Analytics Give Me?
Once the tracking code is set up on your site, all kinds of useful information will start flowing through your Google Analytics dashboard. This includes things like:
- What sources are you receiving traffic from
- Where are the people who view your website from
- How many people are visiting your site
- How long people are staying on your site
- What search terms people are using to find your site
- What pages on your site are the most popular
- How fast your site loads
- How much mobile vs desktop traffic you receive
That’s just a partial list of the many things Google Analytics can show you. Once you realize it’s full potential, it will be hard for you not to spend every waking hour studying it.
Rarely does a day go by when I don’t open and look at my stats in Google Analytics.
Task 1: Setting Up Google Analytics
If you haven’t already set up Google Analytics on your site, that is your first task. It’s free to use and it’s easy to install. If you have already done this, you can move on to the second task of connecting your GA account to the Google Search Console [skip down here].
If you’ve already done that too, you can move on to the third task of learning how to find your important stats in Google Analytics [skip down here]. Follow these basic instructions to set up your account (more details are available in this Google help article).
If you don’t already have a Google account, sign up at google.com. Go to Google Analytics.
Click Sign In, then click Analytics (see screenshot above).
On the next page, you can log in using your existing Google account if you have one, or click the Create account link to create a new Google account. Click Sign Up.
Leave website option highlighted and enter the requested information for your website. Click “Get Tracking ID” and accept Google’s Terms of Service agreement.
Install the tracking ID on your site. To do this, you can: Use a plugin like GA Google Analytics, which allows you to add just the tracking ID to a plugin.
The plugin takes care of placing the code on every page in your site.
I recommend this plugin over others because it also gives you a space to add additional code to your header or footer and to alter the Google Analytics code, which may come in handy in the future.
Or, add the tracking script directly to your site (you can find the tracking id in the Admin section of your Google Analytics account). You will need to add the code to the header of your site so that it goes onto every page in the site. In some themes, it’s possible to add this code without making a change to the .php file itself, however, there are many that don’t allow you access to the header.
If you aren’t able to find custom code box to add code directly to the header in your theme, you may need to contact the theme to ask for help (or use the plugin recommended above).
This is what the advanced header code box looks like on my theme, and you can see that I’ve added the GA code directly to that box.
Though this isn’t what yours will look like (unless you have the theme I’m using), the box will look very similar.
Once the code is installed, return to the Admin section of your Google Analytics account and click “Send Test Traffic”.
Task 2: Set up Google Search Console
After setting up Google Analytics, you’ll want to connect Google Analytics with your Google Search Console account, so all of the data you need is in one place. The Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) offers another way to see your website stats.
You can find many of the stats you can see in Google Analytics in Google Console, but it focuses primarily on analytics from search, so it’s very important for SEO.
Google Search Console also helps you find and fix website errors, submit a sitemap, create and check the robots.txt file for your site, and see all of the sites that are linking back to you.
While you can find all the information you need about your site in either of these two services, I encourage you to connect them for ease of use.
When connected, Google Analytics will pull the search-based analytics from the Search Console in and merge it with the other information it gives.
Then you won’t have to check both sites to gather the information you need.
In order to allow Google Analytics to access the Search Console reports, you need to enable Search Console data sharing in your Google Analytics property settings.
You must have administrator permissions on both the Google Analytics and Search Console accounts that you are linking.
Go to Google Search Console. Click Sign In in the upper right corner.
Next, select the Google account that is connected to your Google Analytics. In the upper right corner, click Add Property.
In the popup box, enter your website domain address. Click Add.
Once added, your website will have to be verified. There are two ways to do this.
You can upload an HTML file to your site, following the instructions given, or you can use one of the four alternate methods.
Each is explained in detail in the instructions on the site.
Once the site has been verified, continue with these instructions: Sign in to your Google Analytics account.
Click Admin, and navigate to the property for which you want to enable Search Console data sharing.
In the property column, click Property Settings.
Scroll down to Search Console Settings.
You should see the URL of your website, which confirms that the website has been verified and that you have permission to make changes.
Select your web address and click save.
Once the search console is connected, you will have to wait until the data is populated, which can take up to a week or longer.
You can track its progress by navigating to Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.
Once the data is visible in this screen, you can proceed.
Finding Important Data in Google Analytics
At this stage, you’re ready to start finding important data. We will show you how to find the following:
- Where your traffic is coming from
- How to compare traffic with the previous month
- Top traffic-generating posts from all sources
- Top traffic-generating posts from organic search
Task 1: Watch Our Google Analytics Video
For me, the fastest, most efficient way to learn is by watching a video.
We’ve made an easy-to-follow video that will walk you through how to find most of the stats mentioned above.
If you’re a visual learner like me, we invite you to watch the video, then stick around for written instructions below.
Task 2: Where Your Traffic is Coming From
- Open Google Analytics.
- Navigate to audience overview in the left navigation menu.
- Next, click on Acquisitions > All traffic > Channels.
- In the main panel, you will see various channels listed, which is where your traffic is coming from. By default, the system will show stats for the last 7-day period.
These are the channels that are directing traffic to your site. They are fairly self-explanatory, but we’ll go over them quickly.
Feel free to click into each of the channels for more details, the social section breaks down your social media channels even further so you can see which social channel is your best referrer.
- Organic traffic is users finding your articles via search engines like Google by searching for queries that are associated with your content.
- Social is your social media marketing (here you can also find Pinterest traffic)
- Direct is where users have headed straight to pages on your website/pathway of referral cannot be identified
- Referral is an interesting one as this is where you will find traffic from your off-page SEO efforts – your backlinks
- Other shows you traffic from RSS feeds such as Bloglovin’ and newsletters
Next to the channels are a few extra fields with useful information. These are “Users”, “New Users” and “Sessions”.
We’ll explain the other sections in a bit. For now, look at just these three fields.
The difference between users and new users is that new users have never been to your site before, while “users” have checked out your posts during the time set in the Google Analytics calendar.
Using this metric, you can see how many returning users you have.
The more returning users, the more of an engaged audience you’ve built up. Sessions shows how many interactions one user takes within Google Analytics’ default 30-minute time frame.
So whatever a user does on your website within 30 minutes before leaving (e.g. browses pages, downloads resources, purchases products) is logged as one session.
The image above doesn’t show Pages / Session, but the comparison image down below does, so have a quick look. From this metric, you can see that of the 59,000 users who came to my site, they collectively viewed 71,000 pages, or what amounts to around 1.2 pages each.
That means at least some people who visit my site are clicking to other content, which is what we want!
Task 3: How to Compare Traffic with the previous month
On the top right corner of the page, you will see a date range. Click on the arrow to see the drop-down calendar.
You can change this date to anything you want to see, just by clicking on the calendar to set the date range.
I typically look at the last 30 days, because it gives me the best overall picture of my current traffic. You can set it to the last week, the last month the last 3 months. It’s up to you.
- For this task, set the calendar to show last 30 days. You can select “Last 30 Days” from the drop-down “date range” box.
- Click the Compare to box and choose “previous period” from the drop-down. You will see the calendar light up with the selected dates. Blue for the current period, orange for the previous period.
- Click Apply.
You will now see the same list of your traffic channels in the main panel, with the previous month’s stats underneath, along with a percentage of change from one month to the next.
Looking at these stats can help you see if you’re made improvements or had setbacks over the previous month.
You can see from the stats above that I have had a 16.59% increase in organic search over last month, as well as a 5.78% social increase.
It’s always good to see an increase, but sometimes it will show a decrease. That’s why it’s important to check up on these stats often, to make sure your traffic is headed in the right direction.
Task 4: Top traffic-generating posts from all sources
One of my favorite metrics to look at is the top traffic-generating posts. This is how I know which of my content resonates best with my audience.
To find this metric, head back up to left navigation: Click Behavior > Site Content > All pages. This pulls up your top 10 posts from all traffic channels.
The list automatically shows 10, but you can set it to show up to 100 per page in the lower right corner of the list.
Below is a screenshot of my top pages list (though I’ve cropped it to 3 and blurred out the titles of my best posts).
As you can see from the results above, you are given metrics on pageviews, unique pageviews, average time on page, and bounce rate.
There are a few others, but we won’t look at those in depth here.
Pageviews shows how many times this page was viewed in total, regardless of whether a specific user viewed the page more than once.
Unique pageviews shows how many times the page was viewed by a unique user, meaning that person has never viewed this page before.
Average Time on Page
Average time on page can be a fascinating metric to look at. It shows how long a user spent looking at the page.
The only problem with the average time on page metric is that it is based on a start and finish point that Google Analytics is only able to calculate if there is both a start and finish triggered.
This sounds confusing, I know. But think of it this way: a user enters your site (which is a start point), they read your post and decide to click into another post on your site 5 minutes later (which is a finish point).
If this happens, Google Analytics will calculate that the time on page was 5 minutes. Fantastic.
But now let’s say that a user enters your site and chooses not to click into another post but leaves instead.
Now there’s a start point, but no finish point. In this case, Google Analytics has no way of knowing when the user left the site, so they count this as ZERO time on page.
All those zeros eventually get averaged out with the actual times Google Analytics could determine, and that becomes your average time on page.
It can be a useful metric to see, as long as you understand how it’s calculated.
Bounce rate is a percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page.
Whenever someone comes to your site, does not click to another page in the site or interact with the page, it is counted as a bounce, much like the average time on page.
There was a start point, but no end point, so GA counts it as a bounce. The bounce rate on blogs is typically really high – something like 80% on average – because users tend to come for a specific post.
They may read the entire post and love it, but still leave without reading another post.
Take that into consideration when viewing your bounce rate. Just because it’s high doesn’t mean there’s something horribly wrong with your content.
However, if you do have related content on your site you may want to highlight this to the user.
Create a colourful box, tell them to read the next post with a clear call to action (CTA).
PRO TIP: If you need to find one specific article, select a large number of rows using the drop-down at the bottom “show rows” and type a word associated with the URL into the search bar. It’s best to just type in one word from either the title or URL of the post you’re looking for.
Doing this will bring up all the posts with that word. However, if you use multiple words, I’ve found that it can’t find the post at all.
Task 5: Top traffic-generating posts from organic search
Now that we can identify our top posts for all traffic channels, let’s take a look at our organic traffic from search engines. For this, you need to have Google Console set up.
I told you we’d use it! To find this metric, head back to the left navigation.
Click Acquisitions > Search Console > Landing Pages This pulls up your top 10 posts from all organic search.
The list automatically shows 10, but you can set it to show up to 100 per page in the lower right corner of the list.
Below is a screenshot of my top organic search pages (though I’ve cropped it to 2 posts and blurred out the titles of my best posts).
As you can see from the results above, you are given slightly different metrics in this view.
You see Impressions – how many times your URL appears in front of a user in search results, Clicks – how often someone clicked on your post from the search results, CTR – which stands for click-through rate and is a percentage of impressions to clicks, and Average Position – which is an average of where your post shows up in the search results.
Now that’s you’ve mastered the Google Analytics interface it’s time to dig deep in the data.
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And that’s a wrap on our blogger’s guide to Google Analytics.
It wasn’t that scary, was it? Once you learn how to find your way around Google Analytics, it becomes a lot less daunting and unfamiliar.
There are many uses for the information you just learned how to find, and we hope you’ll start using them to your advantage to make traffic happen.
Keep these instructions handy for when you check up on your site (at least once a month!).