Getting Started with Google Analytics

As I've shared before, I love to count things and tracking analytics is honestly a lot of fun for me.  In a previous post post I shared my use of both StatCounter and Google Analytics to track web traffic on my blog, but Google Analytics has been my go to when it comes to all of the sites that I track.  It is important to understand the platform, what you can track, why you should track, and how you should track the traffic on your website or blog.  Before I get into the how to of Google Analytics, let me answer a few FAQs about the platform first: What can you track?

You can track how many total visitors are visiting your site, how long they are on the site, how many pages they look at, where they live (city not address), how they got to your site, what device they are using, and much much more that I will get to later.

Why should you track?

It is important to know who your audience is, what content they're engaging with, what drives your traffic, etc.  Without this understanding you can waste a lot of time creating content that no one engages with or in promotional efforts that are ineffective.

How often should you track?

I recommend checking Google Analytics at least once a week for 15 minutes and once a month for close to an hour.  Honestly I check multiple times each day, but that's not necessarily healthy and the best use of your time.

So let's get to the meat of the post: where to start.  Here are the practical 1st steps if you don't yet have a Google account.  If you like many people already have a Gmail account you can use your Gmail credentials to setup your Google Analytics account as well.  Here are the steps:

1) Go to http://Google.com/analytics and setup your account

2) Add your website or blog as a property: Instructions here.

3) Install your tracking code into your website or blog: Instructions here.

With these 3 simple steps, you're all set and ready to start tracking traffic on your site.  Know that Google Analytics can only track traffic from that point on and can not track back traffic.

Now, what should you begin tracking first?

When you first open your Google Analytics report for your blog or website make sure that you are in the "Standard Reporting" section and this should be what you see on your screen:

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 12.42.37 PM
Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 12.42.37 PM

1) Check the Graph: The first thing that I always look at is the graph checking for spikes or dips in traffic.  I want to know what might have caused a spike or dip in web traffic.  You can put your cursor of the tip of the dip or spike and it will give you the specific day that this took place.  We will discuss later how to dig into these peaks in more detail, but you will likely be able to pinpoint it to a specific post or link that led to the spike.

2) Visitors: The next thing I look at is the Total Visitors number to see how many people all together have seen the site.  The total number will count people multiple times if they visited your site multiple times through the designated time frame.  I then look just below it the Unique Visitors to see how many different visitors came to the site (everyone is only counted once in this number).  The pie graph just to the right of this will display then how much of your traffic is new visitors vs. returning visitors.  It's important to see if your audience is primarily the same people or if you have a great amount of traffic that are new visitors.

3) Time on Site: The other very important thing to look at on this page is Avg. Visit Duration which will tell you how long people stay on your site on average.  You can also see if they browsed your site looking at many pages or primarily just looked at the 1 landing page.  These numbers will tell you how engaging your content is and how appealing the other links/pages on your site are to visitors of the site.

These quick tips will get your started and tell you a great deal about your web traffic, but know that this is just the beginning of all that you can track and all of the value that you can gain from understanding the behavior of those who visit your website or blog.  Google Analytics can be an incredible tool if you learn to use it wisely.  I look forward to sharing with you all that I am learning and would love to hear from you as well.

Please share how often you use analytics and what questions that you might have about Google Analytics specifically.