I’m ending this month-long series with a two-part special about Google Analytics.
Today I present part one. Everyone who owns a domain name needs to know about Google Analytics (or “GA” for short). GA is a free tool that is available to pretty much every website. (The one caveat to this is large websites experience slower processing times of some data, which sometimes delays your data for about 24-48 hours. You can still see data in realtime on the Realtime tab, but other data come through after the fact. If that’s you, getting real-time in your reports can be achieved by upgrading to a paid product called “GA 360”).
When I say everyone who owns a domain I mean you: If you have a domain (or set up a new one) always remember to set up your Google Analytics right away. Google collects information about your site traffic as soon as it is installed. However, it does not know anything about the site traffic from before it was installed.
Always install Google Analytics right away on new websites and domains.— Jason Fleetwood-Boldt
Today I’m going to cover a basic set of what might seem like boring operational stuff that you should start with up-front.
We’ll mostly be in the Settings area, but you must know these settings are available to understand what you will be looking at when you get to the analytics.
Accounts, Properties, and Views
An Account is a Google account, always associated with an email, like @gmail.com or any other domain name that is using G-Suite For Business (Google’s paid business tools.)
A Property is your website or app. You should create a unique property for each project, however, if you have subdomains, you have a choice of whether or not to have multiple subdomains in the same property or to create a new property for each subdomain.
A View is a “reporting view” — it says so specifically when you create one. For the purpose of this series, I will cover reporting views only lightly at the end of tomorrow’s post. A view is a special way to look at the data collected— you can set unique filters, e-commerce funnels, attribution models, and more. Views are best used by different stakeholders in your organization: i.e., the marketing team gets a separate view from the accounting team because they rely on different filters, funnels, or attribution models, or and they care about different data points. (Or, more accurately, they analyze the data differently.)
Add A Property
Your first choice is between:
• App & Web
For the purpose of measuring websites, we’ll choose Website.
Next, you enter your fully qualified domain name. (That’s the domain where your web server primarily operates. If your website or server redirects users from, for example, www.mygreatsite.com to mygreatsite.com, then you operate at what is known as the apex of your domain. This simply means it has no subdomain and no “www.” in front of it.) If your website does operate at www., however, you ‘ll want to include it here.
What you don’t include is the
https:// part. I highly recommend you use https, which requires correctly installing/configuring an SSL/TLS certificate (SSL and TLS are technologies from separate eras: the old SSL standard is being phased out because of two vulnerabilities known as Heartbleed and Poodle. Most of the time you see “SSL” on the internet, it refers to a technical concept that implements both of SSL, the old standard, and TLS, the newer standard.)
In the old days, an SSL certificate was optional if you didn’t have a checkout, collect a payment, or a login area (for example, a publish-only new site or blog.) However, in 2014, Google publicized a movement called “Always SSL” which effectively means that all websites should now have SSL/TLS certificates and that all web websites should redirect traffic from HTTP to HTTPS immediately if they visit the non-secure site. Not only should websites have SSL/TLS, but doing so actually gives you a small preferential treatment in Google’s search algorithm. (Although Google’s algorithm is proprietary and highly secretive — and changes — I’ve heard from experts the presence of https on your website counts approximately 1% of the total picture of all the things Google uses to rank your website. This number is not insignificant but also it is not monumental. That is, while everyone should put SSL/TLS on your domain the lack of it will marginally but not dramatically affect your search ranking.)
To do this, you need to configure an SSL certificate which is beyond the scope of this post.
Be sure to choose “http://” or “https://” below when creating your GA property.
Then you come to the screen where you can first get the GA tracking code & find the GA Tracking ID.
All GA tracking ids begin with UA-
They follow a format:
The Xs will always represent a number associated with the account where this property was created. The Y number will be sequential: the first will be 1, the second 2, the third 3, and so on.
You will want to copy & paste this code into your “site editor.” Look for a place where you can modify the header, also known as the content inside of the <head> </head> tag section.
If you are working with a content management system, you will want to find where you can modify the <head> tag. Look for this:
<head> tag will already contain much content: Do not modify this. Instead, insert the GA code, copied & pasted directly out of the GA interface box above.
Verifying GA On Your Website
When you’ve made this change live on your website, you now need to install a Google Chrome extension called GA Debug.
Once you install and activate the extension, visit your website.
Look for this icon in your Chrome window:
First, hover over the GA Debug icon, but don’t click it.
If as you hover over it you see “GA Debug: OFF” (as shown above), then click on the icon once to turn it on.
When GA Debug is on, the icon changes to blue-ish, like so:
Now that it is on, open the Chrome debug console under View > Developer > Developer Tools. (Or Option-Command-I).
Once you are in the Console pane, you’re going to want to go back to your main browser window and go to your website. Then, you’ll want to quickly switch (as it loads) back into the debugging console window in the background to look for the giant “text-art” that spells out “google analytics.” It looks like this:
Look for a line that says “Initializing Google Analytics” followed by some code-like output that contains your GA property ID:
If you don’t see this, go back and confirm that the GA script has been correctly added to the
<head> tag of your website and confirm that this code change has been published and is live on your website.
Before we leave the Properties settings, be sure to note some more features in the Properties area of the Admin settings:
Excluding URL Parameters
Important: If you are advertising on Facebook, you must do this
Go to Settings >View > View Settings
Under “Exclude URL Query Parameters” add
fbclid (as shown below) and be sure to scroll all the way down to click Save.
When you are done with settings, click on a tab in the left column (note in the settings view it is probably collapsed like you see here.)
The Home Screen
The GA Home screen shows you a few things. It is primarily designed to show you the last 7 days of traffic, with a blue box on the right that is showing you real-time traffic. (That’s how many people are on your website right now.)
In tomorrow’s post, I’ll cover a visit, session, session duration, and other terms you’ll need to be familiar with to understand what you’re looking at. For now, scroll through this page and see some of the quick insights it gives you: traffic by day over the last 7 days, how you acquire and retain users That means, what site they come from and how well you retain them, shown by cohort. For example, a week-by-week cohort, shown here, show of the people who visited Jun 21-Jun 27, how many of them first came less than 1 week ago (that’s “Week 0”). For everyone who came 1-2 weeks ago, those people are in the “Week 1” cohort.
A month-by-month cohort is typically more useful and helps you measure the quality of your traffic over time. Specifically, it lets you see if a lot of the people who were introduced to your site in a given month keep coming back: If not, perhaps you brought bad qualities leads to the website that month. (Hopefully, you use this to correct the quality of your leads, focusing only on the highest-quality traffic that wants to re-visit your website.)
You get a quick view (and preview) of the time of day your visitors visit, the geographic breakdown by country, and a breakdown by desktop, mobile and tablet.
Conveniently, the Home screen has links which take you to other parts of GA to let you explore all of these more in-depth.
I’m going to skip over Customization because it is out of scope of this basic introduction.
Next, we’ll examine the Realtime tab.
Realtime lets you see in real-time: that is, what/where/how people are visiting right now. Remember, GA knows a lot of things: The device, the IP address, the traffic source (that is, if they came from an ad or clicked from another site), and if you hook it up, events & conversations (I will go over that in tomorrow’s post.)
So realtime is showing you a lot of the data that the rest of GA show you but only for traffic right now. This is critically important if you are on the news, or are affected by cyclical or media-related events that drive people to your site all at once.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to Google Analytics. Tomorrow I’ll cover some key concepts in traffic analytics and also the Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion tabs in GA.