Google Analytics is a great tool – flexible and versatile like it ought to be. But, at the same time, it is confusing, complex and opaque.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Google Analytics is probably the best resourceful, full fledged tool available out there for free. You know, there are several paid softwares out there that can take care of your monthly analytics report, sometimes even in-depth than Google Analytics. But the truth is that, Google Analytics is so awesome, sometimes even those tools have to use the data from Google Analytics.
Why is Google Analytics the best traffic analysis software out there?
Free, Versatile and Awesome.
Those three words, I think would best describe Google Analytics. It is free, it is versatile, you can use it alike with the same effectiveness as on a one page portfolio website (wait, are there one page portfolios these days? Never mind.) or a thousand page E-Commerce engine.
The days before Google Analytics – Counters and stuff.
Before the days of Google Analytics, there were several open source programs available to track website traffic. A common open source program was AwStats. I remember those days when I loved checking AwStats numbers, because it used to always show me larger counts. Even before Awstats there were simple counters. Remember those? Funny little numbers that counted every page refresh? Counters are the most simple website traffic analysis mechanism we know of today. But gone are those days when all webmasters wanted to know was number of visitors to the website.
Things have become a lot more sophisticated now. Webmasters want to know the number of visitors, number of hits on each page, each segment, visitor browser type, geographic location, ip address, visit time period, earlier referral sources and what not?
Even though it sounds like too much to ask, we do have answers to them, with the help of softwares like Google Analytics.
Is Google Analytics the only website traffic analysis software?
Absolutely not. Google Analytics is probably the only such comprehensive tool that is available free out there. There are many other paid and sometimes free or partly free website traffic analysis tools out there that sometimes even does better job than Google Analytics. We’ll talk about them more in detail later. But here are some of the most popular ones.
Google Analytics Alternatives
1. Kissmetrics. (Paid)
2. Mixpanel. (Paid)
3. Crazy Egg. (Paid)
4. Clicky (Paid)
5. Fox Metrics (Paid)
6. Open Web Analytics (Free)
7. Piwik (Free)
Google Analytics – Everything you needed to know.
So, like I said, Google Analytics can be a monster if you don’t know how to tame it. Even the most simple portfolio website and the advanced online shopping engine will have the same Analytics code implemented on its templates.
Its about how you set the system and what you make sense of. There is a lot of junk there, which some folks (the basic ones) might want to ignore. While for others, it is all about taming the beast.
Intro: So, this article is written with everyone in mind. The beginner to the advanced. Typically my audience is the educated SEO, but I have to admit that this article is intended for everyone, and if you find things that you already know of, feel free to skip.
1. Who should use Google Analytics?
Pretty much anyone who wants to track website traffic stats. From the person who wants to track the overall daily number to the person who wants details about the visitor. Anyone who has a website and has the access and rights to edit files on your server, can implement Google Analytics on their website. If you are not the administrator of your website, you can still sign up for Google Analytics and email the instructions right from within the dashboard to your web designer or developer.
Also, even if you have no programming knowledge, implementing the Analytics code on to the site is super easy, and simple as a copy paste exercise.
2. The best way to integrate Google Analytics to your website?
There are couple of ways to integrate Analytics to your website. Step one will be to add your site to the accounts list on Google Analytics.
Adding websites to Analytics.
- Click the Admin tab at the top right of any Analytics page.
- Click the account to which you want to add a property.
- Click + New Web Property.
- Web Property Name: enter a name for the web property.
- Website’s URL: select http or https, and enter the URL of the website you want to track, using the following format:
- You can use only UTF-8 characters when you enter the URL. You cannot use the following UTF-8 characters: & = . $ %20 ? ^ #
- Do not enter any characters after the domain name (for example, a trailing slash).
- If you enter a URL that is not formed correctly, Google Analytics prevents you from proceeding until you resolve the error.
- If the URL for your website contains non-UTF-8 characters (for example, characters from the Cyrillic alphabet), see this article.
- The In-Page Analytics report also uses this option to identify the web page on which the report launches.
Learn more about how to enter the URL if you’re using In-Page Analytics.
- Time zone: select a country and time zone.
- Click Create Property.
- That’s it and you’re done. At this point, you can click on the “Get Tracking ID” blue button and the code snippet that you need to add to your website is ready.
- Add to Google Webmasters (Will talk about this later in the article.)
Go to your favorite web editor or send the snippet to your designer/developer for implementation.
Tips to remember – Take your time in finding the right category for your website. It might not make any big difference now as you set up the site, but as you scale up, it might become necessary for you to use other Google properties like AdWords or Google Double Click or Google AdSense, at which point, if you have selected the right category for your website, it is easier to set things up. Example: Publishing the website on Google Double Click for advertisers to place ads on your site. As Advertisers look for opportunities in certain categories, having your site available accurately will be a huge help.
3. How to track sub domains using Google Analytics?
When you set up your new website on Google Analytics, make sure that you plan for at least an year ahead. While most people start with a single domain, going ahead, if there are plans to scale up, you might have to expand to subdomains, like blog.xyz.com and chat.xyz.com, at this point, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to make changes to Google Analytics settings. So, plan well in advance and make sure you’re setting up the Google Analytics code including sub domain tracking and sub directory tracking.
To turn sub domain tracking on, make sure the tabs corresponding to it are in the ON position. See on the tracking code snippet admin console. By default, they are off, so make sure that you turn it on.
Also. turn on “Top Level Subdomain” tracking and “Display Advertiser Support” > Like I said earlier, this will help you integrate better with other Google tools like AdWords and AdSense.
4. Tracking Custom Campaign parameters with Google Analytics
This is a very very important step most of us misses when setting up Google Analytics. In the snippet settings, you’ll see a third tab named “Custom campaign tags”. Turning this on will show you additional boxes to fill in. These are custom campaign tags. For instance if you want to track traffic from a specific source like an ad you placed on a website, you might want to add custom codes to the referral URL you place on the Ad.
Google has a custom tag URL generator here.
You can create these custom URLs anytime, but to have them integrated into Google Analytics, you should manually add them to the tracking code, or you would have to set filters later on, which is going to be a pain point.
I’ve also encountered situations like having to integrate an e-commerce engine to a third party sales tracking software like Salesforce. For effective and seamless tracking, I recommend that you hand code the custom tracking parameters right from the start so that you can avoid trouble later. Luckily, you only need to add the template tags and not he actual campaign codes.
See how in the below screenshot, I have added custom codes for an imaginary 300×250 Display Ad running on CNN.
4. ensure that your tracking code is implemented properly.
Now, this can be tricky. It could take up to 24 hours for Google Analytics to any data. You got to wait. Yes, in a world where we talk about fast like and 1 minute burgers, Google Analytics will take 24 hours to populate the traffic data. That’s fair enough, because we don’t have any pre-populated data. But how to ensure that you have the tracking code implemented correctly within this time?
The best way to ensure this is to check the source code of your website. Check all the pages, or at least all the most important page and look for the snippet. If it is in there, you should be good.
If you have made any changes to the code setting like mentioned in the last step, it might be a good idea to check if the website has the updated code.
5. How to tackle the page load time issue with Google Analytics code?
This is a recurring question on forums and discussion boards. But quite frankly, an easy one. With respect to functionality, it makes no difference as to where you would place the code. You can place it on the header or footer and it would still pull in data.
6. Google Analytics old code or new code? Which one to use?
The new one, if you ask me. The new asynchronous code fixes the slow loading issues by allowing analytics to cue up events that work themselves out on the side, while the rest of your site takes care of itself.
Here are details about the new snippet – Google Developers.
7. How to configure Google Analytics profiles efficiently?
If you own more than one site, keep track of them separately with separate metrics and dimensions – that is why Google Analytics profiles exist. You don’t need to have separate Google Analytics accounts for each but just separate profiles from within a single account. This way, with one single Analytics account, one can track as many websites as you need with the same login.
Within each single website, there can be multiple profiles to track a different or unique set of data as well.
For instance, within Site A, you can have a profile to track all referral data and a separate profile to track search engine data. One of the common uses, webmasters use separate profiles for is to track mobile traffic and downloads separate from website.
8. Adding other users to Google Analytics dashboard.
Google Analytics lets you share your data with others on different levels. There are two roles allowed – Admins and Regular users. Admins can have in depth access (all profiles) to the data with write privileges, while Regular users can have read-only privileges to selected profiles.
9. Sharing data between users on Google Analytics.
Sharing data between users is very easy in Google Analytics. Just give in the user email ID and you can share any data with them via the User panel. If selected reports are to be shared, one can easily email it to someone right from within the Analytics dashboard console.
Go to any report within the console and click on the “Email” link on top navigation bar. It would pop up an Email prompt like shown in the screenshot.
You can select the report file type (Excel CSV, PDF etc) and the time frame for which the report will be generated, and emailed to the email id provided. This is very useful in situations where you wouldn’t want to overload people with data like designers and share only the required part.
10. Filtering what you need and don’t need with advanced filters.
Advanced filters are God send on Google Analytics. They let you create any number (well, almost) of custom sorting and filtering of data so that you get only what you need. The possibilities are numerous. For instance, you could selectively pull out the “Organic Traffic” by filtering out all traffic of which the “Source” is Google, Yahoo or Bing.
Also, you could create custom reports in SEO, and take away the pain of having to match data from different sources such as your SEO reporting software and Google Analytics.
Here are some examples.
In order to do a custom filter, take any report, let’s say organic from the dashboard and click on the “Customize” link on the top navigation bar. Now you can use all different matching options from the metrics and dimensions to create custom filters.
Here is an example set up of finding out all traffic that came from Social Media interaction, ie. “Facebook Likes, Google + Votes and Twitter Tweets”.
Go to Traffic Sources Overview > Click “Customize” and then from dimension drill down select “Social Action”.
11. How to set up goals & manage them effectively.
Setting up the right goals is the most important thing to do on Google Analytics. Based on your business goals, try to find out the right metric that will calculate the overall target for you. Everything else you do on Analytics, will fall into place if goals are set properly.
Like I said earlier, there is a limit to 5 groups and 5 goals each inside them that can be set up on Analytics. Also, goals cannot be deleted when once set up, so be choosy on what you’re creating in the first place.
Here are some reference articles.
12. AdWords + Analytics = Magic!
One of the reasons I use Google Analytics predominantly is for search engine marketing. Use the data from Analytics within the AdWords workspace to do magic!
One common way to integrate AdWords and Analytics is to import the goals from Google Analytics into AdWords. This can be done via the AdWords “Conversions” panel where goals show up ready to be imported when adequate data is available.
Another great way to use Analytics and AdWords together is in remarketing. This works by creating custom segments on Analytics. Segments are particular groups of classified traffic where, a group of visitors qualify towards a particular goal. These advanced segments can be created on Google Analytics from “Remarketing Lists” within the Admin console.
Here too, advanced filters can be created for tracking particular segments, which then can be targeted for remarketing. For instance, all organic traffic who searched for keywords related to “seo tips” can be grouped together to a segment. Any sort of customization is possible here – here is an old post of mine that describes it > Advanced remarketing with Google AdWords.
13. Linking separate AdWords and Analytics accounts.
Linking AdWords and Analytics accounts brings magic to your marketing campaigns. AdWords got a facelift recently with some integrated campaigns like “enhanced campaigns” coming in, when this is combined with the richness of Analytics metrics and insights, there is no limit to how you can fine tune your marketing channels.
Here’s how you do it.
- Sign in to your AdWords account at https://adwords.google.com.
- Click the Tools and Analysis tab, then click Google Analytics.
- Click the Admin tab at the top right of the page.
- Click the account you want to link with the AdWords account.
- Click the Data Sources tab.
- Click the AdWords tab, then click Link Accounts.
- Select the Analytics profiles in which you want the AdWords data to be available.
Essentially, Google Analytics is the holy grail of online marketing. Many might argue that it doesn’t have the scalability factor or the fine grain details. True, but no other platform can match its versatility and simplicity. If you know what you want, there is a way in Analytics to find it, its just about customizing the experience to tailor it.
Will continue in part 2.