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Google Analytics Basics

July 20, 2015 Gina Gallup

analyticsWe are in a world of big data. There is information everywhere, and we want it all – but, you know, distilled in an easy-to-understand, tailored-just-for-the-information-I-want kind of format.

Google Analytics is an awesome resource for learning details about the performance of your website and how your other marketing channels affect it. It can also support public relations and marketing efforts and measure success. But, if you’re new to it, it can seem a little daunting.

The good news is that Google Analytics gives you some handy information that is already organized and detailed. You just have to know how to find it. Here are a few quick things to look at to start analyzing your website’s data.


Audience > Overview

(The “>” notation signifies how to navigate to that page within Google Analytics. In this case, in the navigation, under “Audience,” choose “Overview.”)

After you log-in to Google Analytics and choose “Reporting” from the top nav, The Audience Overview page is the first you’ll see. And it’s a good place to start. You immediately have high-level information on the number of users, sessions, pageviews, pages per session and bounce rate.

In case you’re not familiar with those terms:

  • Users are the unique visitors to your site. Sessions represent all the actions taken on your site at one time. So, if User Bob comes to your site on a Monday and visits three pages within a few minutes and then leaves, that is one session. If he comes back on Thursday, that is a second session. And those two sessions reflect one user.
  • The bounce rate shows the percentage of single-page sessions without any interaction.

So, this page gives information that helps you know how your website is doing. The numbers should be improving over time. If you get a news hit or have an engaging social media post, you will probably see spikes in visitors to your site, which will be displayed in the graph.


Acquisitions > Overview

This page and all other pages in this post are accessed through the left-hand navigation in Google Analytics. This Acquisitions Overview page gives you information about your traffic sources: direct, referral, organic, social, email, etc.

Here’s the “fun” thing about Google Analytics – there is information that they don’t fully show you, and there are other things they have incorrect. So, delve deeper into the numbers that you see to try and gain a fuller understanding of what exactly is happening.

For example, when you see “direct traffic,” that means that people typed your URL directly into their browser, right? Well…maybe. It very well could mean that. Or it could mean that a linking site or browser is secure and won’t give linking info, so Google put it in the “direct” bucket. It could even mean that the user came from social media or an email, depending on the platform(s) used and the device accessed on. So, grain of salt, people.

Still, this page shows a good amount of information about your traffic. Clicking on a category lets you see more information within it.


Once you understand your data, you can begin to make more intelligent decisions about your site and set smart goals that will directly impact your traffic and your business.

Acquisitions > Overview > Referral

From the Overview page, if you click on “Referral,” you can see more detail – in this case, the links from other sites. Below the chart, you can choose to show more rows, so you can see more than 10.

You may also see some spam as referring links (things like or, so, again, be mindful of the information you’re viewing and maybe export the information if you want to better work with the data.

Note: If you’re more familiar with Analytics, I suggest setting up segments to better handle your data views.

To see where users are going from a specific referral source, add a Secondary Dimension of “landing page.” (Click on the button above “Source” in the chart.) From here, you can look at bounce rate, average session duration, new users, etc. Also look at pages per session and session duration.

This information lets you see results from online activities and how they impact what is happening on site. Take that information and modify your public relations and marketing tactics to be more effective in generating leads, getting more traffic, etc.


Acquisitions > Overview > Organic

To see keyword information, click on “Organic” from the Overview page.

And, here you’ll find another fun thing about Google: the “(not provided)” stat. This is all the people that did a secure search – meaning they were either already logged into a Google account or using a browser that gives a secure search – and we don’t have access to that data.

Even so, there is good information here. In addition to actual search terms, you can see pages per visit, duration and bounce rate for each keyword, plus you can sort by those columns. That gives you good information about your site.

Also, you can add a Secondary Dimension of “landing page” to see where the visitors are going. This helps you know what posts are optimized best and how the traffic is flowing from search engines.


Behavior > Overview

Now that you have all that traffic, you will want to see what’s popular. This page ranks your pages in order of popularity. Click on one to see detail. From that detail page, add a Secondary Dimension of “keyword” and see what people are using to find you.

This page may show a line that has “(not set)” – another fun Google thing! It means that traffic didn’t arrive by a particular keyword and maybe not from search at all, i.e. it might have come from images or maps or another referral.

Also, while on this detail page, above the graph, choose the middle tab, “Navigation Summary.” Now you can see more about the entrances to and exits from this page, giving detail about the flow of your site.navigation summary


Behavior > Behavior Flow

If you prefer visuals, this page is great. It shows where people land, how people move through your site, how much dropoff a page has and more. Rolling over a page gives more information, and clicking on it gives you options to explore deeper.

behavior flow


And more

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Other things to look at:

  • Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning
  • Audience > Behavior > Frequency & Recency – shows visits, page views
  • Audience > Behavior > Engagement
  • Audience > Mobile > Overview – helps to know how people are finding your site and how usage varies
    • And then add a Secondary Dimension and see the landing pages
      –  Leverage popular mobile pages – add mobile sharing, put instant tweets on it, etc.
  • Behavior > Site Speed > Overview
    • A slow page load time could be because of front-end things like image size or connection speed, or it could be back-end things like inefficient code or a slow server.

As you learn the information that you want to see quickly, you can set up customized dashboards and reports.

Once you understand your data, you can begin to make more intelligent decisions about your site and set smart goals that will directly impact your traffic and your business.

Happy analyzing!



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