Google Analytics 101: Executive’s guide to measuring business data

If you want to improve the experience of your website or app, or maybe you want to ensure the success of your business, you need to be analyzing user behavior.

One of the easiest ways to do that is with Google Analytics.

What is Google Analytics?

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Google describes Google Analytics as a web analytics service, which anyone with a Google account can use for free. It provides statistics and analytical tools for search engine optimization and marketing purposes, among other things.

Confused? No worries. Let’s start from the beginning: People purchase their goods online in stages. The last stage is known as conversions, or when visitors become customers by transacting with a business. Google Analytics can measure this behavior and other user data. It can even track key metrics of what led to purchases through traffic sources, and you and your business can use that data to make informed decisions about how to reach new and existing customers.

Imagine an online store that wants to sell more of a specific product, such as a shirt. Using Google Analytics, the store can collect and analyze data from an online social media advertising campaign to see what was most effective and then expand that effort. The store might look at geographical data to understand how people in a certain place buy shirts, and then it could run additional advertising campaigns in those areas. It can also use Google Analytics to see how online shoppers progress to their shopping carts. If it notices a user has difficulty navigating a certain part of their site before checkout, it can make changes to the site to resolve the problem.

Any type of business — not just stores — can use Google Analytics to collect and analyze user data from websites, mobile applications, online point of sale systems, video game consoles, and other internet-connected platforms.

How does one sign up?

To start collecting data from a website or mobile app, you need to create a Google Analytics account. Go to, then click Sign in Analytics, and click More options Create account. Go to Google’s FAQ page if you need further step-by-step instructions.

How does Google Analytics work?

Getting started

The initial Google Analytics setup process involves you: Defining your goals to identify the critical actions users need to take on your site to lead to more conversions; linking your Google Analytics and Google AdWords accounts to you can evaluate your marketing; and finally, viewing the reports to understand the performance of your site. However, to even begin collecting and analyzing such data like Bounce Rate, you need to add a small piece of tracking code to each page on your site. Once you do that, you will see data immediately in the Google Analytics reports.

Add tracking code

To add the tracking code to your site, open the Admin page in Google Analytics. In the property column, open Tracking Info and then click tracking code. Now, copy and paste the code snippet right before the closing head tag on each webpage you want to track. WordPress users can install an easy plugin to do the same thing.

Set up your business goals

Business Goals are also known as important events, like completing a purchase or moving up a level in game or reading five articles. Google Analytics can tell you how many users complete these activities. Open the Admin page in Google Analytics, then click Goals in the View column, and click New Goal. You can use a template goal or create a custom one.

Link your AdWords account

AdWords is a marketing platform you can use to attract new customers or retain existing ones. You need to link your AdWords account to your Google Analytics account to get a clearer picture of AdWords performance. Just open the Admin page, then click AdWords Linking in the Property column, and click New link group so you can choose which accounts to link.

View reports

Now, you can finally use Google Analytics reports to understand how well your business is performing. Use the Goals report to see how often critical actions happen on your site, or use the AdWords report to see if your AdWords campaign is resulting in goal conversions, amount of interactions per visit, exit pages, conversions, and more. You can also use the Google Analytics app for Android to view reports while on the go. Go to Google’s FAQ page to learn the main features and controls of a Google Analytics report.

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Acquisition Overview details how visitors arrived to your website. It’s broken down into ten sun-categories that can help you target your marketing at customers: Overview, Channels, All Traffic, Referrals, Campaigns, Keywords, Cost Analysis, AdWords, Social and Search Engine Optimization.

Social Overview can provide social reports that break down social traffic so you know whether or not your social media marketing is working. Assisted Social Conversions are the conversions that social media helped garner. You can use this tool to tell which social media tool is working better to bring new visitors to your website. Is it Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or another social network that is resonating best with your target market?

Bounce Rate is an important topic to understand when it comes to Google Analytics. Bounce Rate is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, like when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.

Google encourages Google Analytics users to examine their Bounce Rate:

  • The Audience Overview report provides the overall bounce rate for your site.
  • The Channels report provides the bounce rate for each channel grouping.
  • The All Traffic report provides the bounce rate for each source/medium pair.
  • The All Pages report provides the bounce rate for individual pages.

Google provides tips on its website to optimize bounce rate. If the bounce rate is high on your website, you can dig deeper to see whether it’s uniformly high or whether it’s the result of something like one or two channels, source/medium pairs, or just a few pages.

When is a paid account needed?

It doesn’t cost anything to sign up for and use Google Analytics, as long as you’re using the standard version, which is free and ideal for individuals or small businesses. If you’re a larger enterprise, you should use Google Analytics 360, the premium version.

What is the difference between a regular Google Analytics account and a 360 account?

Both versions of Google Analytics enable you to collect data and analyze user behavior from websites and apps, but the premium version — Google Analytics 360 — offers more features and granular controls, such as:

  • Native data onboarding integrations (DoubleClick Bid Manager, DoubleClick Campaign Manager, DoubleClick for Publishers, and DoubleClick Search)
  • More native marking integrations (DoubleClick Bid Manager)
  • Integration with Google BigQuery
  • Advanced funnel reporting and data-driven modeling
  • Cross-property roll-up reporting
  • Up to 400 views per web property and 200 custom dimensions and metrics
  • Access to raw data
  • Implementation services
  • Enterprise-level support and services.

Go to Google’s FAQ page for a comparison chart and help on deciding which is for you.

What are the different ways to configure Google Analytics? How should you configure analytics for different circumstances?

First, let’s go over the hierarchy of Google Analytics accounts. Click Admin in Google Analytics. There are three columns in Admin: Account, Property, and View. Use the drop-down selector to select one, and then click the links in each column to proceed with configuring them.

An account is the highest level of organization — and you can have more than one. An account contains one or more properties, which represent a specific website or mobile app. Properties display views, subsets of reporting data for the property. You can configure your Google Analytics account to fine tune access to your data.

For instance, as we mentioned earlier, you can set up goals to identify the actions you want users to take on your site or app, and to give a monetary value to those actions. Aside from that, you can modify your tracking code to collect additional data, like user interactions with links, buttons, video controls, and other elements of your site or app. You can even modify the tracking code to collect ecommerce activity like user engagement with product lists and internal promotions.

Go to Google’s FAQ page for more information on how to configure Google Analytics.

What are some common issues people run into when using Google Analytics? How do you troubleshoot these issues? What resources are available?

Common problems with Google Analytics can range from issues with setup, tracking, discrepancies in goals, transactions, and AdWords conversions, and more. To begin troubleshooting any of these issues, just go to the official Google Analytics Solution Community, where you can connect with other business owners and product experts and get help. You can also take free online courses via the Analytics Academy. The Analytics Help Center even documents all aspects of using Google Analytics including how to get started and best practices.

How accurate is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics must be accurate enough if it can count Mercedes-Benz, Progressive, TransUnion, American Cancer Society, Airbnb, Buzzfeed, Domino’s, Zillow, Orbitz, and dozens of other well-known businesses as its clients to track metrics. Go to Google’s Success Stories page for user testimonials.

What are some advantages or disadvantages to using Google Analytics?

  • Advantages: The standard version is free, and you can use it analyze data all in one place in order to get a deeper understanding of your customers’ experience.
  • Disadvantages: The premium version isn’t free, and whether you use the standard or premium version, there is a steep learning curve for the average user.

How do you block Google Analytics tracking?

Easy. Use an ad blocker, like AdBlock Plus, as long as it allows you to disable tracking, or you can use a browser extension, like Block Yourself From Analytics in the Chrome Web Store.

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How can you track downloads in Google Analytics?

Clicks on links to downloadable files can be tracked as Events (it counts the clicks as event hits) or virtual pageviews (it tracks clicks on a link as page hits).

To track clicks as Events:

To track clicks as pageviews:

Are their certifications available?

Google has a Analytics Certified Partner program, in which you can become a partner or find companies with expertise in Analytics Solutions. Go to Google’s Certification page to learn more about the program.

How is Google Analytics different from other analytics tools?

Unlike many other analytics tools, Google Analytics is free (the standard version is, anyway) — and it works with your Google account and integrates with key Google products, such as AdWords, AdSense, and Search Console.

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