How to get started with Google Analytics

Google Analytics can provide valuable online insights for marketers and website managers. Unfortunately, GA has a bit of a learning curve. Here's a beginner's guide to the basics.

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Google Analytics Behavior

The Behavior tool helps you understand what visitors do on your site. For example, clicking Reporting > Behavior > Behavior Flow can help to understand the paths your site visitors take from the pages they land on to the next pages they visit. And Behavior Flow helps identify content that keeps visitors engaged or causes them to leave.

google logo REUTERS/Mark Blinch

GA Landing Pages (Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages) can identify the pages your site visitors land on most often and show how the traffic on each of those pages "behaves," according to Cuk.

For example, you may notice a particular blog post is your top landing page, and that the post has a low bounce rate and high average session time. That means the topic of your post resonates with visitors, and you should consider doing more posts like it.

Google Analytics Conversions 

Conversions are the lifeblood of GA, according to multiple sources interviewed for this story. "A conversion happens when someone clicks your ad and then takes an action that you've defined as valuable to your business, such as an online purchase or a call to your business from a mobile phone," according to Google. 

GA's Conversions feature lets you track goals you assign to website visitors, says Clint Henderson, founder of Wired SEO. Typical goals include e-commerce sales, newsletter signups, and contact form submissions. 

[Related: 12 questions to ask marketing automation vendors (before you buy)]

Tracking conversions is extremely important when trying to measure the success of your website as a whole, according to Henderson. "You can see where your goal conversions are coming from, which will help you make important business and marketing decisions." For example, by tracking goals, "you may discover that you have a much lower conversion rate on mobile devices compared to PCs," he says. "This might lead you to take a look at the mobile version of your site and discover ways to improve mobile conversions."

To get started with Conversions, go to Reporting > Conversions, then select Goals, Ecommerce, Multi-Channel Funnels, or Attribution.

Help with Google Analytics is always available — for free 

New GA users might benefit from the Google Analytics Academy, a series of free online courses designed to educate people and test their GA knowledge. The Google Analytics Help Center (click the Settings cog icon when logged into GA to find it) is another helpful resource for beginners and experienced users alike, says Beth Bridges, vice president of digital identity at J-I.T. Outsource.

Begin with the end in mind

It's important for new GA users to set out with a specific goal, or "begin with the end in mind," as renowned author Stephen R. Covey put it in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. "Document what you want to learn about your website so that analytics can help answer those questions," says Ryan Ruud, CEO and founder of Lake One Digital. "When you have a clear understanding of what you're trying to accomplish, GA will be a lot easier, and much more fun."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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