More than 73.5 million websites worldwide use Google Analytics. But even as one of the most popular web analytics tools in existence, Google Analytics is notoriously complex, especially for beginners.
So don’t worry if you’re a little overwhelmed or confused about Google Analytics and how it works—you’re not alone.
Here’s the good news. As a beginner, you don’t need to master every detail of Google Analytics on day one. In fact, you can use it for years only using basic functionality and still get tons of valuable insights to improve your website.
That’s what inspired me to write this guide. Rather than creating an in-depth masterclass breaking down every detail of Google Analytics, we’re going to simplify everything into actionable steps and guidelines.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive right in.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool for analyzing site traffic.
It gives webmasters a holistic view of website performance by collecting data, tracking KPIs, and generating reports. You can use Google Analytics reports to learn more about how many people are visiting your site, where those visitors are coming from, and what they’re doing when they land on your site.
Google Analytics has capabilities that extend beyond your website as well. The tools can be used to track social media activity, mobile app traffic, and integrate with other data sources to help you make data-driven business decisions.
Why You Should Use Google Analytics
Do you actually need to use Google Analytics?
In short, yes. If you have a website, then you should install Google Analytics.
There are some exceptions to this rule. If you’re running a small personal blog for fun, with no intentions of scaling or monetizing it, then you probably don’t need Google Analytics. The same goes for developers or web designers creating new sites to practice their skills.
But for everyone else that has a website and plans to grow, scale, monetize, use for lead generation, create brand awareness, and otherwise attract site visitors, Google Analytics will help you achieve your goals.
Google Analytics gives you a better understanding of how well your site is performing. You can use this information to see how effective your marketing campaigns are and which sources are generating the most site traffic.
Without Google Analytics, all of your marketing efforts and spending are just a guessing game. But when you understand where your traffic is coming from, where those visitors are located, and which landing pages are the most popular, you can focus your attention in the right direction.
What Can You Do With Google Analytics?
As previously mentioned, Google Analytics can be complicated and somewhat overwhelming. So rather than focusing on the advanced custom reports and deep insights with custom integrations, we’re going to cover the basic functions that you should understand as a beginner.
The capabilities mentioned below just barely scratch the surface of what Google Analytics can do. But you can ignore 90% of what Google Analytics offers and use these basic insights for the lifetime of your website.
Google Analytics makes it easy to learn more about your site visitors. While you can’t necessarily get the personal details of specific people landing on your site, the big-picture information is still incredibly useful.
- How many visitors you’re getting
- Who your visitors are
- What visitors are doing when they land on your website
The data includes KPIs like session duration and bounce rates as well.
Why is this information so useful? Let’s look at something basic—tracking site visitors over the past year and comparing the difference between new users vs. total users:
If there are certain spikes or drops in traffic, you can try to pinpoint what caused the change.
Did you make SEO site changes? Are you publishing content at a higher frequency? Have you expanded your reach through different marketing channels?
The visitor insights can help tell you if those efforts are paying off. If you’re spending $10,000 per month for three months on a specific campaign to get new site visitors, and your numbers remain unchanged, it’s a safe assumption that the campaign is not working.
You can also see the demographic information associated with your site visitors, including their country, city, gender, age, and language.
Identifying Your Top Traffic Sources
Where should you be focusing your efforts to drive site traffic?
Some marketers argue SEO and organic search, while others are proponents of referral and PPC campaigns. Regardless of where you stand on the subject, you can use Google Analytics to see how effective your campaigns are and which sources are having the biggest impact on your site traffic.
Here’s a sample report that breaks down where users came from the first time they landed on a website in the last 90 days:
If you were also paying fixed fees to affiliates for referral campaigns during the past three months, this report would be pretty disappointing for you—as referral traffic isn’t even in the top five sources.
Monitoring Landing Pages
Google Analytics makes it easy for you to see which pages on your site are the most popular.
You can generate reports that show total pageviews per landing page, unique page views, the average time spent on each page, bounce rates, and more. Google Analytics can also help you determine the value of your pages.
This information can be found by going to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages:
These insights can tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Is there a pattern across all of your top pages?
For example, you might discover that all of your top-performing blogs are all how-to guides. Then you can focus more attention on those style posts moving forward instead of industry-related updates that aren’t getting any attention.
What do you want people to do when they land on your website? The answer is different for everyone.
- Buy a product
- Sign up for a service
- Download an ebook
- Subscribe to an email list
- Install an application
- Fill out a lead generation form
The list goes on and on. Google lets you set up different goals to monitor conversions, and all of them can be tracked in your reports.
Google Analytics tells you exactly how many goals were completed during a specific timeframe.
It also gives you details about where those goals were completed. For example, let’s say you want people to register a user account on your website as a goal. Which pages are convincing them to sign up? Google Analytics will tell you.
How to Set Up Google Analytics in 4 Simple Steps
Now that you understand the basic functions that you can use in Google Analytics, it’s time to get started and make sure everything is set up properly.
The process is very straightforward if you follow the steps below:
Step 1 — Sign into Google Analytics from Your Google Account
If you have a Google account or Workspace account, you don’t need to sign up for Google Analytics separately. Just visit Google Analytics, and you should see information related to your account on the page.
For completely new users, go to Google’s marketing platform and follow the prompts for getting started.
Google will ask you for more information about yourself, your website, and your organization before you can proceed. Again, all of this is relatively straightforward, and most of you probably have this set up already.
Step 2 — Generate Your Tracking Code
Once you’ve signed up and logged in, head over to your admin dashboard. This can be found in the bottom left corner of Google Analytics.
Then click on “Tracking Info” to expand the menu. Select “Tracking Code” from the dropdown list.
Google will generate a unique tracking ID for your specific account and website.
Step 3 — Add Your Google Site Tag Code to Your Website
You’re going to see two things on this screen.
- Tracking ID
- Global Site Tag code
Depending on what platform you’re using to power your site, you’ll be using at least one of these two things to install Google Analytics.
For example, most website builders (like Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, etc.) don’t require you to manually install the code.
Instead, you’ll just install the Google Analytics app directly from the platform’s marketplace or app store. The phrasing and steps vary slightly depending on what you’re using, but it’s all basically the same process.
At some point during this process, the site builder will ask you to either sign into Google Analytics and/or paste your tracking ID. Just follow the prompts on the page, and you’re good to go.
For those of you using WordPress or similar CMS platforms, you may opt to use the global site tag instead. This needs to be copied and pasted into the <HEAD> on every page you want to track.
Step 4 — Test the Installation
Regardless of the method you used in step #3, you need to make sure that Google Analytics is properly installed on your site.
Simply click the “Send test traffic” button in the “Status” section of your tracking information to run the test.
If Google Analytics has been installed correctly, you’ll see the number of active users changing in real time. You can also view the real-time traffic reports to verify the installation was successful.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for collecting and analyzing site traffic. You can use it to gain insightful information about your website, visitors, pages, goals, and so much more.
While there are hundreds of different possibilities you can use Google Analytics for, it’s likely in your best interest to stick with the basics.
Beginners should use the reports mentioned in this guide. As you start to grow more comfortable with Google Analytics over time, you may decide to experiment with other functions. But the capabilities covered in this guide are still good enough to last you for the lifetime of your website.