Google Analytics is the most accurate and sophisticated way you can measure the success of your digital strategy and the various SEO methods you are using to drive traffic to your website. Alongside Google Search Console, it is probably the most important tool in the toolbox of any SEO.

Google Analytics measures and records the traffic coming into your website, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. The data that Analytics captures are incredibly granular and can be broken down in – what can be at times – an intimidating number of ways. It is the job of a good SEO company to interpret this data, present it in the right way and adjust strategy accordingly. The efficacy of Google Analytics is really dependent on the individual who is using it. It’s easy to see a dip in traffic, but using Analytics to understand why that has happened and taking action to address it, is what counts.

Whilst this article can’t teach you how to react to every dip and spike in your website traffic, it can hopefully help you to interpret the data you find in Google Analytics.

How does Google Analytics Work?

The true success of Google Analytics lies in the depth and breadth of its capabilities. Forming connections between important elements, including channel performances and customer behaviour across platforms, GA gives us access to detailed and customisable reports that help us to quickly see which approaches are working successfully and which need additional attention to effectively drive positive results.

Google Analytics provides options to connect both online and offline channels, encapsulating call centres, points of sale and allows for large volumes of product/customer data to be imported to further inform key decisions and marketing initiatives. Integrated data avoids unnecessarily siloed knowledge which only presents a partial picture and not a holistic view.

What Can Google Analytics Measure?

Google Analytics measures and tracks a huge volume of data and information including:

  • How many people visit your website
  • How and when visitors are arriving at your website
  • Where your visitors are located and which devices they are using
  • Which pages on your website are the most popular
  • Which websites are sending traffic to your website
  • Which marketing strategies are delivering the best results
  • Your visitor to customer conversion rates
  • The journey your converting visitors took throughout your website
  • The types of content your visitors spend the most time engaging with

The range of specific and granular data Google Analytics can capture is huge and the above list is just the tip of the iceberg. We could list many more – these are just some of the most important and common data points it can capture.

Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics

On 14 October 2020, Google made Google Analytics 4 (GA4) the default property type for new accounts. It is set to eventually replace the current analytics tool Universal Analytics. The latter is still the more widely used tool so, for now, it’s worth using both as per Google’s recommendation.

For this guide, we’ll cover the setup for both tools.

Setting Up Google Analytics

There are several stages to go through to ensure Google Analytics is set up and recording data accurately.

  • Set up an analytics account. For your account name, we recommend using the name of your business. Under Account Data Sharing Settings, you have four options that you can choose to enable or disable regarding what data from your account you’re willing to share with Google. It’s up to you what you want to share, but we recommend enabling **Technical support **and **Account specialists **to get help from Google in case the need arises. Once you’re done, click Next.

Set up an analytics account

  • For Property setup, enter the website URL you want to track data for under Property name. Select the relevant reporting time zone and currency.

enter the website URL you want to track data for under Property name

  • Click on **show advanced options. *Turn on the switch for Create a Universal Analytics property then enter the URL of your website. The options _Create both a Google Analytics 4 and a Universal Analytics property* _and _Enable enhanced measurement for Google Analytics 4 property **_should be checked by default. Leave these as is.

Click on show advanced options

  • You’ll then have to answer three questions about your business and your goals for using Google Analytics. Once you’re done, click Create. Agree to the Google Analytics Terms of Service Agreement to finish the initial setup.
  • There will be another window where you can choose what optional email updates you’ll receive from Google about Google Analytics. After making your choice, you will be shown the **Web stream details **of your business’ website. Take note of the MEASUREMENT ID at the top right, as this will be useful for later.

answer three questions about your business and your goals for using Google Analytics

  • Under Add new on-page tag, click on Global site tag (gtag.js). It will show the tracking code for GA4 that you need to add to your website’s custom HTML field to start getting data. Copy this code for now.

click on Global site tag (gtag.js)

  • Close the Web stream details window. Click on the URL of your business site under the blue +Create Property button. It should drop down to show two properties. Click on the item with UA- in the parenthesis. This contains your Universal Analytics tracking code, which you also need to add to your website’s custom HTML field.

Close the Web stream details window

  • Click on **< > Tracking Info **then Tracking Code. In the code box for Global Site Tag, look for the line of code that’s just above </script>. Copy that one line.

Get your tracking code

  • Now we need to add that one line of UA code to the tracking code for GA4 that you copied earlier. Paste the line of UA code right above the line that contains the GA4 code. It should look like the following: <!– Global site tag (gtag.js) – Google Analytics –> <script async src=”https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=G-XXXXXXXXXX”></script> <script> window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || []; function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);} gtag(‘js’, new Date()); gtag(‘config’, ‘UA-XXXXXXXXX-X’); gtag(‘config’, ‘G-XXXXXXXXXX’); </script>
  • Make sure that you have your UA code instead of ‘UA-XXXXXXXXX-X’ and your GA4 code instead of ‘G-XXXXXXXXXX’.
  • Paste this combined code into the <head> of your website’s HTML field. Congratulations, your account will now start collecting data!

Ensuring Google Analytics is set up and accurately capturing data relating to your website will form an integral part of a proper website audit. This will ensure that any other relevant stages are completed such as setting up filters, so you aren’t capturing data from individuals who are accessing the site on a regular basis who aren’t potential customers. This could include employees of the company and any external SEO agency, website developers or digital marketing consultants.

I won’t go into details about filters here as it could warrant an article all to itself but Google has some good guides and videos to get you up to speed.

An SEO audit will also set up goal tracking, if appropriate at this stage. This will help you track specific actions from visitors and assign a monetary value to those actions.

The tracking code can also be modified to record events such as interactions with certain buttons and links. On e-commerce sites, for example, this can help you establish the efficacy of your purchase funnel and checkout process.

The Google Analytics Interface

The Google Analytics interface can seem daunting at first but don’t panic. It’s likely that you will only be using a fraction of it so it’s just a case of knowing what menus to access and what data you are looking at.

The first thing to mention is that the data you view will relate to the date range selected in the top right box. You can select as long or as short a date range as you like to get a short or long view of your website performance. Many of the charts produced can also be set to view in hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly views. This will make visualising data easier for longer and shorter periods accordingly.

Adjust report date and time

Google Analytics Reports and Views

The left-hand menu has several sections, each with their own sub-sections. In reports, these are then broken into further sections. It is beyond the remit of this guide to go into detail on every single report view in Google Analytics, so we will turn our attention to the most incisive for the average small business website.

Audience

  • Overview: The audience overview is probably the most comprehensive high-level report you can view in Google Analytics. On a single page, you can see sessions, users, page views, pages per session, average session duration, % of new sessions and bounce rate over time. It also gives you a pie graph of new visitors vs return visitors and a quick breakdown of traffic by demographics, browser, OS, mobile OS and service provider.

Audience Overview

  • Geo: This is a really effective way of seeing whereabouts in the world your traffic is coming from. The Language view breaks all the standard data in the overview down by language, whilst the Location view represents this data on a map of the world

Geolocation

  • Behaviour: The behaviour section allows you to drill down into how traffic is behaving once it’s on your site. This includes all the standard metrics on New vs Returning visitors. It also allows you to see Frequency & Recovery (visitors broken down by session count, days since the last session). A more specialist Engagement view allows you to see sessions broken down by session duration and page depth (number of pages viewed in a single session).

Acquisition

  • Overview: Like the audience overview, the acquisition overview gives a good all round picture of how you are acquiring the traffic you’re getting. This includes a pie graph split by organic, direct, referral and social traffic. This is also broken down by all the standard metrics in a comparative bar chart. Sessions and goal tracking graphs are also included for quick reference.
  • All Traffic: This subsection includes a number of very useful views, which include:
    • Channels: Traffic is broken down by channel, which is organic search, direct, referral, social and email. These are then broken down by all the standard metrics. This can be further drilled down into by clicking on any one of these groups. The primary channel can then be changed so you can compare traffic by landing page and, in the case of organic traffic, keyword.
    • Source / Medium: The primary dimension can also be changed from the default channel grouping so you can compare traffic by source, medium or both. This can be done from within the channel view (at the top of the table) or in this separate subsection.
    • Referrals: This is an extremely useful view if your campaign strategy involves pulling in traffic from other sources other than search. If you are building links to your site through guest blogging, for example, this will show you if these articles are delivering you any traffic. The primary dimension in this view can be changed from source to landing page, showing you what pages on your site are getting the most referral traffic.
    • Social: The social view breaks all your traffic derived from social networks down. If social media marketing is a big part of your digital strategy then some of the views in this section will be essential. These include social traffic by Network Referrals, Landing Page, Conversions and even Plugins.

Traffic Channels

Behaviour

  • Behaviour Flow: This is a very useful view and one we use in our own website audit reports, as it is a powerful graphical representation of how traffic flows through your site and what landing pages are driving the most useful traffic. This report is highly customisable allowing you to set up your own page groupings and adjust the level of detail. For websites with hundreds of pages, you can also zoom in and out which is very useful. \

Behavior Flow

  • Site Content: This set of reports shows you traffic as it relates to individual pages on your site. You can view by All Pages, Landing Pages and Exit Pages, as well as a Content Drilldown view, that lets you view pages grouped by top level folder paths.

Google Analytics 4 Interface at a Glance

The introduction of GA4 comes with a new interface and set of tools for users to discover and take advantage of. While Universal Analytics is still the preferred way of collecting and analysing website data in the SEO industry, it’s worth getting acquainted with what GA4 offers in preparation for the future.

Home Page Report

Booting up GA4 will show you a snapshot of how your website is performing on a number of metrics:

  • Users — how many have visited in the past week, where they come from via location and medium
  • Campaigns — which ones are performing the best, how much revenue you’re making in total
  • Pages — which ones are getting the most views

Realtime Report

This basically shows you the most recent statistics and events on your site based on the past 30 minutes. It’s an easy way to see if you installed your tracking code on your website properly, YouTube activity if you have a YouTube channel linked, and real-time effects of a new product drop.

There’s also the View user snapshot feature that gives you a quick rundown of how a single user is engaging with your website.

Life Cycle Report

For a more long-term view of user activity, Life Cycle reporting tracks the user journey throughout the conversion funnel. It’s crucial for user acquisition, engagement, monetisation, and retention analysis.

A Final Word on Conversions and Goal Tracking in Analytics

It’s worth pointing out before we end this guide, that we have only really touched on this subject. Google Analytics is extremely diverse and contains many different reports and a host of functionality that we haven’t covered. One that I would like to mention is conversions and goal tracking.

Goals are set up in the Admin section of Google Analytics (at the view level which sits to the right of the property and account levels). Goals basically tell Google Analytics to track a given action in your site. Usually, this will be a specific web page that a user lands on after filling out a contact form, signing up to an email mailing list or completing a purchase.

Conversion tracking using goals

Goals can also be a user spending a given time on the site or a page, viewing a certain number of pages per session, or a specific event like playing a video, opening a drop-down menu or a rollover animation.

Goals and conversions can be tracked and analysed across many of the reports we’ve mentioned in this guide, allowing you to quickly assess whether certain tactics are working or not. It will all depend on what you want your website to achieve.

Understanding Google Analytics reports and metrics, at even a very basic level, will immediately empower you by giving you greater insights into the successes and failures of your ongoing digital marketing efforts.

Of course, it should be said that it’s all too easy to get lost in all the data that Google Analytics generates, let alone creating strategies based upon it. So, if you’re serious about growing your business online, it’s essential to engage the services of a skilled and seasoned SEO agency to interpret the data and make practical decisions based on it.

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