Posted by kristihines
If you don’t know what Google Analytics is, haven’t installed it on your website, or have installed it but never look at your data, then this post is for you. While it’s hard for many to believe, there are still websites that are not using Google Analytics (or any analytics, for that matter) to measure their traffic. In this post, we’re going to look at Google Analytics from the absolute beginner’s point of view. Why you need it, how to get it, how to use it, and workarounds to common problems.
Why every website owner needs Google Analytics
Do you have a blog? Do you have a static website? If the answer is yes, whether they are for personal or business use, then you need Google Analytics. Here are just a few of the many questions about your website that you can answer using Google Analytics.
- How many people visit my website?
- Where do my visitors live?
- Do I need a mobile-friendly website?
- What websites send traffic to my website?
- What marketing tactics drive the most traffic to my website?
- Which pages on my website are the most popular?
- How many visitors have I converted into leads or customers?
- Where did my converting visitors come from and go on my website?
- How can I improve my website’s speed?
- What blog content do my visitors like the most?
There are many, many additional questions that Google Analytics can answer, but these are the ones that are most important for most website owners. Now let’s look at how you can get Google Analytics on your website.
How to install Google Analytics
First, you need a Google Analytics account. If you have a primary Google account that you use for other services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google+, or YouTube, then you should set up your Google Analytics using that Google account. Or you will need to create a new one.
This should be a Google account you plan to keep forever and that only you have access to. You can always grant access to your Google Analytics to other people down the road, but you don’t want someone else to have full control over it.
Big tip: don’t let your anyone (your web designer, web developer, web host, SEO person, etc.) create your website’s Google Analytics account under their own Google account so they can “manage” it for you. If you and this person part ways, they will take your Google Analytics data with them, and you will have to start all over.
Set up your account and property
Once you have a Google account, you can go to Google Analytics and click the Sign into Google Analytics button. You will then be greeted with the three steps you must take to set up Google Analytics.
After you click the Sign Up button, you will fill out information for your website.
Google Analytics offers hierarchies to organize your account. You can have up to 100 Google Analytics accounts under one Google account. You can have up to 50 website properties under one Google Analytics account. You can have up to 25 views under one website property.
Here are a few scenarios.
- SCENARIO 1: If you have one website, you only need one Google Analytics account with one website property.
- SCENARIO 2: If you have two websites, such as one for your business and one for your personal use, you might want to create two accounts, naming one “123Business” and one “Personal”. Then you will set up your business website under the 123Business account and your personal website under your Personal account.
- SCENARIO 3: If you have several businesses, but less than 50, and each of them has one website, you might want to put them all under a Business account. Then have a Personal account for your personal websites.
- SCENARIO 4: If you have several businesses and each of them has dozens of websites, for a total of more than 50 websites, you might want to put each business under its own account, such as 123Business account, 124Business account, and so on.
There are no right or wrong ways to set up your Google Analytics account—it’s just a matter of how you want to organize your sites. You can always rename your accounts or properties down the road. Note that you can’t move a property (website) from one Google Analytics account to another—you would have to set up a new property under the new account and lose the historical data you collected from the original property.
For the absolute beginner’s guide, we’re going to assume you have one website and only need one view (the default, all data view. The setup would look something like this.
Beneath this, you will have the option to configure where your Google Analytics data can be shared.
Install your tracking code
Once you are finished, you will click the Get Tracking ID button. You will get a popup of the Google Analytics terms and conditions, which you have to agree to. Then you will get your Google Analytics code.
This must be installed on every page on your website. The installation will depend on what type of website you have. For example, I have a WordPress website on my own domain using the Genesis Framework. This framework has a specific area to add header and footer scripts to my website.
Alternatively, if you have a WordPress on your own domain, you can use the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin to install your code easily no matter what theme or framework you are using.
If you have a website built with HTML files, you will add the tracking code before the </head> tag on each of your pages. You can do this by using a text editor program (such as TextEdit for Mac or Notepad for Windows) and then uploading the file to your web host using an FTP program (such as FileZilla).
If you have a Shopify e-commerce store, you will go to your Online Store settings and paste in your tracking code where specified.
If you have a blog on Tumblr, you will go to your blog, click the Edit Theme button at the top right of your blog, and then enter just the Google Analytics ID in your settings.
As you can see, the installation of Google Analytics varies based on the platform you use (content management system, website builder, e-commerce software, etc.), the theme you use, and the plugins you use. You should be able to find easy instructions to install Google Analytics on any website by doing a web search for your platform + how to install Google Analytics.
Set up goals
After you install your tracking code on your website, you will want to configure a small (but very useful) setting in your website’s profile on Google Analytics. This is your Goals setting. You can find it by clicking on the Admin link at the top of your Google Analytics and then clicking on Goals under your website’s View column.
Goals will tell Google Analytics when something important has happened on your website. For example, if you have a website where you generate leads through a contact form, you will want to find (or create) a thank you page that visitors end upon once they have submitted their contact information. Or, if you have a website where you sell products, you will want to find (or create) a final thank you or confirmation page for visitors to land upon once they have completed a purchase.
That URL will likely look something like this.
In Google Analytics, you will click on the New Goal button.
You will choose the Custom option (unless one of the other options are more applicable to your website) and click the Next Step button.
You will name your goal something you will remember, select Destination, and then click the Next Step button.
You will enter your thank you or confirmation page’s URL after the .com of your website in the Destination field and change the drop-down to “Begins with”.
You will then toggle the value and enter a specific dollar value for that conversion (if applicable) and click Create Goal to complete the setup.
If you have other similar goals / conversions you would like to track on your website, you can follow these steps again. You can create up to 20 goals on your website. Be sure that the ones you create are highly important to your business. These goals (for most businesses) include lead form submissions, email list sign ups, and purchase completions. Depending on your website and its purpose, your goals may vary.
Note that this is the simplest of all conversion tracking in Google Analytics. You can review the documentation in Google Analytics support to learn more about setting up goal tracking.
Set up site search
Another thing you can set up really quickly that will give you valuable data down the road is Site Search. This is for any website with a search box on it, like the search box at the top of the Moz Blog.
First, run a search on your website. Then keep the tab open. You will need the URL momentarily.
Go to your Google Analytics Admin menu again, and in the View column, click on View Settings.
Scroll down until you see Site Settings and toggle it to On.
Look back at your URL for your search results. Enter the query parameter (usually s or q) and click Save. On Moz, for example, the query parameter is q.
This will allow Google Analytics to track any searches made on your website so you can learn more about what your visitors are looking for on specific pages.
Add additional accounts and properties
If you want to add a new Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Account column, and clicking the Create New Account link.
Likewise, if you want to add a new website under your Google Analytics account, you can do so by going to your Admin menu, clicking on the drop-down under the Property column, and clicking the Create New Property link.
Then you will continue through all of the above-mentioned steps.
Once you’ve installed Google Analytics on your website(s), set up your goals, and set up site search(es), you should wait about 24 hours for it to start getting data. Then you will be able to start viewing your data.
How to view Google Analytics data
Once you start getting in Google Analytics data, you can start learning about your website traffic. Each time you log in to Google Analytics, you will be taken to your Audience Overview report. Alternatively, if you have more than one website, you will be taken to your list of websites to choose from, and then taken to the Audience Overview report for that website. This is the first of over 50 reports that are available to you in Google Analytics. You can also access these reports by clicking on the Reporting link at the top.
Standard report features
Most of the standard reports within Google Analytics will look similar to this. At the top right, you can click on the drop-down arrow next to your website to switch to different websites within all of your Google Analytics accounts. Or you can click the Home link at the top.
In the report at the top right, you can click on the dates to change the date range of the data you are viewing. You can also check the Compare box to compare your data from one date range (such as this month) to a previous date range (such as last month) to view your data.
You can hover over a variety of areas on your Google Analytics reports to get more information. For example, in the Audience Overview, hovering over the line on the graph will give you the number of sessions for a particular day. Hovering over the metrics beneath the graph will tell you what each one means.
Beneath the main metrics, you will see reports that you can switch through to see the top ten languages, countries, cities, browsers, operating systems, services providers, and screen resolutions of your visitors.
You can click the full report link on each to see the full reports. Or you can click on any of the top ten links to see more details. For example, clicking on the United States in Countries will take you to the full Location report, focused in on visitors from states within the US.
In this view, you can hover over each state to see the number of visitors from that state. You can scroll down to the table and hover over each column name to learn more about each metric.
You can also click on the name of each state to see visitors from cities within the state. Effectively, any time you see a clickable link or a ? next to something, you can click on it or hover over it to learn more. The deeper you dive into your analytics, the more interesting information you will find.
Types of Google Analytics reports
Speaking of reports, here is quick summary of what you will find in each of the standard Google Analytics reporting sections, accessible in the left sidebar.
Everything in (parenthesis) is a specific report or set of reports within the following sections that you can refer to.
These reports tell you everything you want to know about your visitors. In them, you will find detailed reports for your visitors’ age and gender (Demographics), what their general interests are (Interests), where they come from (Geo > Location) and what language they speak (Geo > Language), how often they visit your website (Behavior), and the technology they use to view your website (Technology and Mobile).
These reports will tell you everything you want to know about what drove visitors to your website (All Traffic). You will see your traffic broken down by main categories (All Traffic > Channels) and specific sources (All Traffic > Source/Medium).
You can learn everything about traffic from social networks (Social). You can also connect Google Analytics to AdWords to learn more about PPC campaigns and to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to learn more about search traffic (Search Engine Optimization)
These reports will tell you everything you want to know about your content. Particularly, the top pages on your website (Site Content > All Pages), the top entry pages on your website (Site Content > Landing Pages), and the top exit pages on your website (Site Content > Exit Pages).
If you set up Site Search, you will be able to see what terms are searched for (Site Search > Search Terms) and the pages they are searched upon (Site Search > Pages).
You can also learn how fast your website loads (Site Speed) as well as find specific suggestions from Google on how to make your website faster (Site Speed > Speed Suggestions).
If you set up Goals within your Google Analytics, you can see how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview) and what URLs they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). You can also see the path that visitors took to complete the conversion (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).
Speaking of goals and conversions, most of the tables within Google Analytics standard reports will tie specific data to your conversions. For example, you can see the number of conversions made by visitors from California in the Audience > Geo > Location report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors from Facebook in the Acquisitions > All Traffic > Source/Medium report. You can see the number of conversions made by visitors who landed on specific pages in the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report.
If you have multiple goals, you can use the dropdown at the top of that section of data to switch to the goal you want to view or all of your goals if you prefer.
Shortcuts and emails
While you won’t need every report within Google Analytics, you should explore them all to see what they have to offer. When you find some that you want to visit again and again, use the Shortcut link at the top of the report to add them to the Shortcuts in your left sidebar for faster access.
Or, use the email button to have them emailed to you (or others on your team) on a regular basis.
If you choose to send emails to someone outside of your organization, be sure to regularly check your emails by going to your Admin menu and clicking on the Scheduled Emails box under the View column to ensure only people working with your company are getting your data.
Answers to common questions about Google Analytics
Got a few questions? Here are some of the common ones that come up with Google Analytics.
How do I share my Google Analytics data with someone?
You don’t have to give your Google account information over to someone who needs access to your Google Analytics data. You just need to go to your Admin menu and under the Account, Property (website) or View you want someone to see, click the User Management menu.
From there, you can add the email address of anyone you would like to view your Google Analytics data and choose the permissions you would like them to have.
I don’t like viewing the reports in Google Analytics. Can someone just summarize the data for me?
Yes! Quill Engage is a service that will take your Google Analytics data and summarize it in an easy-to-read report for you. Best of all, it’s free for up to ten profiles (websites).
I have a dozen websites, and I don’t want to check each of their Google Analytics on a daily basis. What do I do?
You have two options in this scenario. You start by going to the Home screen of Google Analytics. There, you will find a listing of all your websites and an overview of the top metrics—sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, and conversion rate.
You can also try business dashboard solutions like Cyfe. For $19 a month, you can create unlimited dashboards with unlimited widgets, including a large selection of data from Google Analytics, alongside data from your social media networks, keyword rankings, Moz stats, and more.
This solution significantly cuts down on the time spent looking at analytics across the board for your entire business.
Google Analytics says that 90%+ of my organic keywords are (not provided). Where can I find that information?
(not provided) is Google’s way of protecting search engine user’s privacy by hiding the keywords they use to discover your website in search results. Tools like Google Webmaster Tools (now Search Console, free), Authority Lab’s Now Provided Reports (paid), and Hittail (paid) can all help you uncover some of those keywords.
They won’t be linked to your conversions or other Google Analytics data, but at least you will have some clue what keywords searchers are using to find your website.
How do I use Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments?
If you’re ready to move to the next level in Google Analytics, Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments are the way to go.
Custom Reports (under the Customization menu at the top) allow you to create reports that look similar to the standard Google Analytics reports with the metrics you want to view.
Dashboards allow you to view your Google Analytics data in a dashboard format. You can access them at the top of the left sidebar.
Segments allow you to view all of your Google Analytics data based on a specific dimension, such as all of your Google Analytics data based on visitors from the United States. You can also use them to compare up to four segments of data, such as United States versus United Kingdom traffic, search versus social traffic, mobile versus desktop traffic, and more. You can access Segments in each of your reports.
The nice part about these is that you don’t have to create them from scratch. You can start by using pre-defined Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments from the Google Solutions Gallery.
There, you will find lots of Custom Reports, Dashboards, Segments, and other solutions that you can import into your Google Analytics and edit to fit your needs. Edit Custom Reports with the Edit button at the top.
Edit Dashboards using the Add Widget or Customize Dashboard buttons at the top.
Edit Segments by clicking the Action button inside the Segments selector box and choosing Edit.
Or, when you have applied Segments to your reports, use the drop-down arrow at the top right to find the Edit option.
As you get used to editing Custom Reports, Dashboards, and Segments, you will get more familiar with the way each works so you can create new ones on your own.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this beginner’s introduction to Google Analytics for beginners. If you’re a beginner and have a burning questions, please ask in the comments. I’ll be happy to help!
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Posted by EricEnge
Note that I am not going to provide code examples in this post, but I am going to outline how it works on a conceptual level. If you are interested in learning more about Ajax/JSON/jQuery here are some resources you can check out:
Defining the problem with faceted navigation
Having a page of products and then allowing users to sort those products the way they want (sorted from highest to lowest price), or to use a filter to pick a subset of the products (only those over $60) makes good sense for users. We typically refer to these types of navigation options as “faceted navigation.”
However, faceted navigation can cause problems for search engines because they don’t want to crawl and index all of your different sort orders or all your different filtered versions of your pages. They would end up with many different variants of your pages that are not significantly different from a search engine user experience perspective.
Solutions such as rel=canonical tags and parameters settings in Webmaster Tools have some limitations. For example, rel=canonical tags are considered “hints” by the search engines, and they may not choose to accept them, and even if they are accepted, they do not necessarily keep the search engines from continuing to crawl those pages.
A better solution might be to use JSON and jQuery to implement your faceted navigation so that a new page is not created when a user picks a filter or a sort order. Let’s take a look at how it works.
Using JSON and jQuery to filter on the client side
The main benefit of the implementation discussed below is that a new URL is not created when a user is on a page of yours and applies a filter or sort order. When you use JSON and jQuery, the entire process happens on the client device without involving your web server at all.
When a user initially requests one of the product pages on your web site, the interaction looks like this:
This transfers the page to the browser the user used to request the page. Now when a user picks a sort order (or filter) on that page, here is what happens:
When the user picks one of those options, a jQuery request is made to the JSON data object. Translation: the entire interaction happens within the client’s browser and the sort or filter is applied there. Simply put, the smarts to handle that sort or filter resides entirely within the code on the client device that was transferred with the initial request for the page.
As a result, there is no new page created and no new URL for Google or Bing to crawl. Any concerns about crawl budget or inefficient use of PageRank are completely eliminated. This is great stuff! However, there remain limitations in this implementation.
Specifically, if your list of products spans multiple pages on your site, the sorting and filtering will only be applied to the data set already transferred to the user’s browser with the initial request. In short, you may only be sorting the first page of products, and not across the entire set of products. It’s possible to have the initial JSON data object contain the full set of pages, but this may not be a good idea if the page size ends up being large. In that event, we will need to do a bit more.
What Ajax does for you
Now we are going to dig in slightly deeper and outline how Ajax will allow us to handle sorting, filtering, AND pagination. Warning: There is some tech talk in this section, but I will try to follow each technical explanation with a layman’s explanation about what’s happening.
The conceptual Ajax implementation looks like this:
In this structure, we are using an Ajax layer to manage the communications with the web server. Imagine that we have a set of 10 pages, the user has gotten the first page of those 10 on their device and then requests a change to the sort order. The Ajax requests a fresh set of data from the web server for your site, similar to a normal HTML transaction, except that it runs asynchronously in a separate thread.
If you don’t know what that means, the benefit is that the rest of the page can load completely while the process to capture the data that the Ajax will display is running in parallel. This will be things like your main menu, your footer links to related products, and other page elements. This can improve the perceived performance of the page.
When a user selects a different sort order, the code registers an event handler for a given object (e.g. HTML Element or other DOM objects) and then executes an action. The browser will perform the action in a different thread to trigger the event in the main thread when appropriate. This happens without needing to execute a full page refresh, only the content controlled by the Ajax refreshes.
To translate this for the non-technical reader, it just means that we can update the sort order of the page, without needing to redraw the entire page, or change the URL, even in the case of a paginated sequence of pages. This is a benefit because it can be faster than reloading the entire page, and it should make it clear to search engines that you are not trying to get some new page into their index.
Effectively, it does this within the existing Document Object Model (DOM), which you can think of as the basic structure of the documents and a spec for the way the document is accessed and manipulated.
How will Google handle this type of implementation?
I had the same question, so I reached out to Google’s Gary Illyes to get an answer. Here is the dialog that transpired:
Eric Enge: I’d like to ask you about using JSON and jQuery to render different sort orders and filters within the same URL. I.e. the user selects a sort order or a filter, and the content is reordered and redrawn on the page on the client site. Hence no new URL would be created. It’s effectively a way of canonicalizing the content, since each variant is a strict subset.
Then there is a second level consideration with this approach, which involves doing the same thing with pagination. I.e. you have 10 pages of products, and users still have sorting and filtering options. In order to support sorting and filtering across the entire 10 page set, you use an Ajax solution, so all of that still renders on one URL.
So, if you are on page 1, and a user executes a sort, they get that all back in that one page. However, to do this right, going to page 2 would also render on the same URL. Effectively, you are taking the 10 page set and rendering it all within one URL. This allows sorting, filtering, and pagination without needing to use canonical, noindex, prev/next, or robots.txt.
If this was not problematic for Google, the only downside is that it makes the pagination not visible to Google. Does that make sense, or is it a bad idea?
Gary Illyes: If you have one URL only, and people have to click on stuff to see different sort orders or filters for the exact same content under that URL, then typically we would only see the default content.
If you don’t have pagination information, that’s not a problem, except we might not see the content on the other pages that are not contained in the HTML within the initial page load. The meaning of rel-prev/next is to funnel the signals from child pages (page 2, 3, 4, etc.) to the group of pages as a collection, or to the view-all page if you have one. If you simply choose to render those paginated versions on a single URL, that will have the same impact from a signals point of view, meaning that all signals will go to a single entity, rather than distributed to several URLs.
Keep in mind, the reason why Google implemented tags like rel=canonical, NoIndex, rel=prev/next, and others is to reduce their crawling burden and overall page bloat and to help focus signals to incoming pages in the best way possible. The use of Ajax/JSON/jQuery as outlined above does this simply and elegantly.
On most e-commerce sites, there are many different “facets” of how a user might want to sort and filter a list of products. With the Ajax-style implementation, this can be done without creating new pages. The end users get the control they are looking for, the search engines don’t have to deal with excess pages they don’t want to see, and signals in to the site (such as links) are focused on the main pages where they should be.
The one downside is that Google may not see all the content when it is paginated. A site that has lots of very similar products in a paginated list does not have to worry too much about Google seeing all the additional content, so this isn’t much of a concern if your incremental pages contain more of what’s on the first page. Sites that have content that is materially different on the additional pages, however, might not want to use this approach.
Credit: Thanks for Clark Lefavour for providing a review of the above for technical correctness.
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- Building Faceted Navigation That Doesn’t Suck
- Information Architecture, Faceted Navigation & Duplicate Content (Oh My!)
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