How Google Analytics Works – Tracking results is highly paramount in any things one is doing in other to achieve a desired goal.The first thing you need to do is set your goal. What are you working toward? Oftentimes, you’ll be tasked with increasing site traffic or increasing site conversions. To do this, you’ll need a tool that tracks those numbers, and that’s where Google Analytics comes in.
Google Analytics Review
In this guide we will cover what Google Analytics is, how it works, how to get started, and what information it provides.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free website tracking tool and platform that collects data on how users interact with your website. Once the data is collected, Google Analytics sorts the data into easy-to-read interactive reports, which is what we see in the platform.
Google Analytics History
Website data wasn’t always pretty and easy to read. Originally, if people wanted to know what kind of traffic their site got, they’d have to read their server log. The server log would spit out a list of information for each action that happened on the site. While the information proved valuable, it was hard to comprehend.
To make things a bit easier, companies started to compile log files and create reports based on the available information. A company called Urchin made reports of the log files and grew in popularity very quickly and turned a lot of heads. So much so that in 2005, Google acquired Urchin and started the process of building and branding Google Analytics.
- Google Analytics
Google Analytics, the original platform, was a simple visualization tool created to make log file data easier to read. It looks similar to the platform we use today, but with far less data. Remember, at this point, Google wasn’t storing and selling all of the personal information on users that it is today.
- Universal Analytics
Universal Analytics became the standard in 2014 when it came out of beta. Universal Analytics became a must as the diversity in user devices expanded. The rise of mobile devices and tablets led to a larger need for tracking users across the internet and across devices.
As of 2021, Universal Analytics is still the platform of choice, and it’s what we’re going to focus on for the majority of this guide.
- Google Analytics 4
The newest revision of the Google Analytics platform was released in October of 2020. Google Analytics 4 is a new take on App + Web properties and flows all data into one stream. GA4 also relies far more heavily on machine learning and aims to help analysts forecast with predictive analytics.
This iteration of Google Analytics is still very new and has not been widely adopted, yet. However, we do encourage setting GA4 up as soon as possible as GA4 does not bring retrospective data from Universal Analytics into GA4.
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How Google Analytics Works
To get any data from your website into Google Analytics, you must first place the tag on your site. As soon as that tag is properly placed (and don’t worry, we’ll cover that in the next chapter), Google Analytics will start collecting data. The data is then put into reports made up of metrics and dimensions.
Metrics are what produce the numbers you’ll find in the platform. Anything that can be measured with a number is a metric. Think of the number of users, number of purchases, value of conversions, average time on site, etc.
A dimension is how metrics can be segmented. Think of the word “by”: Number of users BY source. Average time on site BY landing page. Number of conversions BY device type.
Why choose Google Analytics?
Perhaps the most enticing thing about Google Analytics is that it’s free. This makes the platform available to anyone with a website, which in turn creates a larger community of users to share information and guidance. There are plenty of resources available on how to use Google Analytics, making it accessible for users of all levels.
That’s another advantage: Google Analytics is helpful to analysts at any skill level. With Google Analytics, you can achieve more basic level analysis on your site performance, but there is also opportunity for advanced analysis. Not only do you get information on what marketing channels drive traffic to your site, but you can also see which sites users come from at different times of day, what landing page they arrived at, and how long the page took to load for them.
Also, who wouldn’t want information on their website from the largest search engine on the internet? As search engine marketers, much of the work we do is aimed at pleasing Google. Having a platform that can tell us some of the information Google is tracking on our site is extremely beneficial for strategic planning. Using the numbers in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to make changes to your site with data-driven strategy as opposed to relying solely on intuition.
Lastly, as marketers, we use a lot of Google tools: Search Console, Google Ads, Data Studio, Google Tag Manager, Google Optimize and more. All of these tools integrate seamlessly with Google Analytics.
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Get started with a demo account
Getting started with the demo account can get you hands-on experience with Google Analytics before you even have a website. The demo account comes loaded with plenty of data to dig in and analyze.
To set up your demo account:
- Go to analytics.google.com
- Create your account
- Add the demo account
We will be using demo account data throughout this guide. Diving into the account and following along will help solidify what you learn. Each section will come with step-by-step instructions, so consider following along using the demo account before applying the learnings to your own website.