Google Analytics is one the most widely used methods of analysing website visitor numbers and behaviour. Use it to track your visitors, find out what they like, and grow your audience.
You might have heard of Google Analytics, you might already be using it, but haven’t explored beyond the basics. In this article we will see how to set it up on your website and look at some of the things it can do.
We will also look at some of the drawbacks and potential problems with it.
Create an account
Go to the Google Analytics website. Some parts of the site are for large businesses and some features must be paid form, but you just want a basic, free, Analytics account. It does everything you need and if you ever want more, then you can add extra features.
For now, just click Analytics in the navigation bar at the top of the page and then click the SIGN UP FOR FREE button.
Google Analytics requirements
You need a Google account. This is the same as Google Mail, Calendar, Docs, YouTube, and so on. One Google account gets you into everything the company does. Sign in with your Gmail username and password for example.
If you don’t have a Google account, there is a link to create one.
Unlike Google AdSense, which has strict rules and requirements for membership, Analytics is much more open and pretty much anyone can sign up as long as your website doesn’t do anything illegal.
Create a property
After signing into Analytics, select Admin in the sidebar, click the menu under Account and select the account to use.
The simplest way to use Analytics is to have one account and if you have just joined you will have only one, but it is possible to have up to 100 and they can be created using the Account menu. (Some people have more than one website.)
In the middle column is Property. If you don’t have a property, use the menu to create one.
A property has a name and URL and these should be the website name and URL that you want Analytics to collect data about.
Click Property Settings to continue. At the top is the Tracking Id. This is a unique code that identifies your website.
Get your tracking code
Click Tracking Info to expand it and there are a number of options. Click Tracking Code and new information appears.
At the top is the Tracking ID. Below Website tracking is some code in a box. You need one or the other.
Track your WordPress site
If you are using self-hosted WordPress, you need a plugin to insert the Google Analytics code. There are many different ones and it might be all that the plugin does or it could be just part of another plugin.
For example, the popular All-in-One SEO plugin will insert Google Analytics code for you. Select All-in-One SEO in the WordPress sidebar and click Settings. Scroll down to the Google Analytics section.
Enter your Tracking ID and domain name. That’s it, the plugin will automatically insert the Google Analytics code into every page on your website.
If you don’t already have a plugin that inserts Google Analytics, like All-in-One SEO, Google Analytics Dashboard for WP is a popular one that has a high rating on the WordPress site.
Slightly less popular and with slightly lower ratings are Google Analyticator and Google Analytics plugins.
Tracking other sites
The Website Tracking code listed in the Google Analytics Tracking Info (2 screen shots back) can be copied and pasted into web pages created manually or into plugins that can insert code into the header of web pages.
Other content management systems like Joomla and Drupal have plugins that can automatically insert the code, and with hand coded pages you can copy and paste the code just before the <body> tag.
The setup is now done. Wait a couple of days to allow Google Analytics to record some visitors, then go to the website and analyse them
View All Web Site Data
Google Analytics enables you to analyse your website traffic in many ways and parts of it are quite complicated. It would take a dozen articles to go into every aspect of Analytics, so let’s just take a quick look to get you started.
It is simpler if you have just one website and the overview may appear automatically if there are no other sites. If it does not, click All Web Site Data in the top left corner, select the account, the property and the view like this.
The chart shows the number of users by day, week and month. The time period can be selected at the top of the page, such as day, week, month, or custom.
Users: The number of unique visitors to the website. If the same person comes back tomorrow or next week, they are counted only once.
Page Views: Some users might view several pages or even refresh the browser and view the same age again, so the Page Views is always higher than the Users.
Sessions: This is the number of times users have interacted with your site, such as viewing pages. A user might return tomorrow, next week and so on, so the Sessions is higher than Users. It is lower than Page Views because several pages might be viewed in a session.
Pages/Session: When a user visits your site, it is called a session. This is the number of pages they view during that session.
You should aim to increase all of the above figures. You need more Users, Page Views, sessions and Pages/Session.
The following figures should be as low as possible
Bounce Rate: The number of visitors that take one look at the page and leave without interacting with it, like leaving comments, clicking links and so on. High numbers are often a bad sign, but it depends on the nature of the site. A site that provides answers to questions or problems might have a high bounce rate because people read the answer and leave. The page has done its job.
New Sessions: This is the percentage of people visiting your site for the first time. Ideally you want people to keep coming back and reading more articles, so lower percentages are better.
Your most popular pages
Which pages on your website attracts the most visitors? Google Analytics can tell you.
In the sidebar, expand Behaviour > Site Content and select All Pages. A list of pages ranked by number of views is displayed. It shows the most popular pages at the top and the number of views each one got.
Set the date
All the statistics in Analytics are for a specific date period. You can set the date range at the top of the page and see daily, weekly and monthly views. Select Last 30 days or Last 7 days in the Date Range for example.
Google Analytics problems
Problems can occur with Google Analytics and a common one is that you have zero visitors or double the usual visitors.
It is almost always a problem with the Google Analytics code.
Check that only one plugin is inserting the Analytics code. If there are two then problems occur.
Some people like to install an ad blocker or privacy extension into their web browser. This can block Google Analytics. It is not known how many of your website visitors are doing this, but it could be a significant number.
This means that the numbers Google Analytics reports are probably less than the true figures. There isn’t anything you can do about this. You just have to work with the data you have.
Alternatives to Google Analytics
There are several alternatives to Google Analytics and some of them have great features. However, none of them has a search engine that is used by a billion people every day.
Is Google Analytics data shared with Google search? I think it is highly likely and there could be benefits when it comes to appearing in search results.
Analytics isn’t going to get you onto the first page of search results, but it at least lets Google know that your site exists. It is therefore recommended for new sites.
If you have a well established site that Google already indexes then alternative analytics services that are easier to use or have more features might be preferred.
Clicky: This is free for up to 3,000 page views a day and it makes basic analysis of visitors easy. The paid service has extra features not in Google Analytics. For example, it monitors your website and lets you know if it goes offline, it displays heat maps showing the parts of the web page that visitors are most interested in.
StatCounter: This is free for up to 9.000 page loads a day, which makes it useful for small to medium size websites. It not only enables you to analyse website visitors, there is an option to display a page views counter on your site to show off your stats to visitors. There are useful configuration options.
Heap: Google Analytics has some amazing features, but parts of it are complicated and difficult for non-technical people to use. Heap aims to make tracking and analysing visitors easier. It captures user interactions and you can even see every action a user has taken on your site. Heap is free for up to 50,000 sessions a month.
W3Counter: There is a free plan that offers basic analytics, but it only stores the last 30 days of data. The dashboard is so simple that anyone can understand it and this is its strength (check out the demo on the website). It is brilliant for beginners and non-technical users.
- Create an account at google.com/analytics
- Create a property
- Get your tracking ID or code
- Insert it into your website using a WordPress plugin
- Wait a few days then visit google.com/analytics to analyse your visitors