Saturday, January 26, 2013

How to use Google Analytics, A starters guide.


As a novice to the field, I have been thinking about what is an effective way to use web analytics and one of the obvious conclusions is data / information is only valuable if we can tell a meaningful story from the output and determine what we can do to improve our business.

In this blog, I want create a guide for readers at my level.
Before I start though, true beginners might find this article by Lynne Brehmer helpful to understand the basics of web analytics.
Having Google Analytics is a good starting point to set a baseline for the site but as Tom Ewer writes "we need to curve our addiction and there is no apparent benefit to look at these numbers on a daily basis" (1) . Basically, it is important but be should not be obsessed about it. The logical next step is to start thinking about how to increase traffic to the site, obviously this is easier said than done but since we have established a baseline we can easily track what is working


Probably the most basic measure for us is to monitor visitor count and understand the site's traffic, which is very easy with Google Analytics (below is the visitor data for the class blog as of 1/26) One of the items to focus on is the unique visitors to the site, even though this number might not be very meaningful for a class blog for an e-commerce site this figure could tell us the potential size of our customer base. However, just like everything else this is not a perfect measure and here is a detailed explanation of some of items we need to keep in mind when looking at these figures.

Another interesting stat is the new versus returning visitors. Obviously this number requires another level of analysis to understand whether return visits mean customers saw an item and coming back to purchase it or they had purchased an item and came back to review the FAQ page or buy something else. Obviously, new visitor count is also important as it shows something is working and driving traffic to the site, the question is whether it is working as good as it could. However, depending on cookie profiles new visitor count is usually overstated, Neil Mason has a good article explaining nuances around these numbers, however, as he also notes ""A trend is a friend." Assuming that there isn't a massive shift in the number of people deleting their cookies or using multiple devices or browsers, then it's probably safe to assume that any change in the numbers over time is reflecting a genuine trend." (2)


Having more information about our visitors will help us to make better decisions on how we need to use our limited resources. If most of our visitors are from Spain and using Android phones, we should make sure that our site is optimized for  Spanish and mobile check out. Google Analytics' demographics section allows us better dissect our visitor base by demographics, behaviour, technology and number of other custom reports. (3) Below is sample data set for the class blog, seems like some level of iOS and Chrome support would be the best way to utilize our funds if we were to improve the site.


Besides the volume and technology, it is also key to understand how visitors came to our site. It may be a marketing campaign drove an increase in traffic and understanding this will help us to replicate what has worked. In Traffic Source of the Google Analytics there are number of useful tools such as: Search, Referral, Direct and Campaign driven traffic. It also provides the breakdown of the visitors based on our campaign or business model. Below is the traffic info for the class blog. Even though we are not getting much search traffic, referral traffic is substantial. Looks like we are on track to meet one of the objectives of the blog.

A detailed explanation of various traffic types can be found on

One of more useful traffic monitoring in Google Analytics is the URL builder, we can use this to generate unique identifiers that we can be used in our ads, this information is available under Campaign Traffic section.


Knowing visitor behavior once they get to the site enables us to see how engaged our clients are with the content. In Google Analytics, the Overview report (under Audience) we can see the page visit count, the average amount of time people spend on the site in addition to bounce rate and number of other useful information. This gives us a high level view of the experience people are having when they are on your site.

We can do even more detailed analysis under the Content - Overview section. Here we can find pages that were visited and the page views count. This is a good way to find out the most popular sections. It can also help us to see where visitors are leaving our site.

In addition to the transactional data that is available on Google Analytics there are also companies like TeaLeaf and ClickTale that provides behavioral information as well. This technology can lets us see everything a visitor does on our site; we can see recordings browsing sessions to find out how they use your site. As  Shmuli Goldberg, Director of Marketing and Communications at ClickTale, noted "It's as if you're looking over their shoulder!" (4)  There is an excellent discussion on this topic on the Episode 26 of Beyond Web Analytics.


(1) Ewer,Tom |

(2) Mason, Neil |

(3) Google Analytics Analysis Tools |

(4) Goldberg, Shmuli Beyond Web Analytics #26 |


  1. This was great. The visuals were really helpful for me.

  2. Good article, thank you for putting this together.