Search Marketing

Google Analytics: how it works and how to use it

Google Analytics is a web analytics service that provides Google free of charge, to analyse user behavior on one or more websites, through a tracking pixel inserted in the pages of the domain to be tracked. A typical application can be had by a company that sells books through web stores. Obviously the goal will be to increase the turnover from the online sale of books, then increase the number of books purchased. To achieve the ultimate goal of increasing online sales, you can plan a digital marketing strategy based and optimized with respect to web analytics that, in this case, are made available by Google Analytics.

Kpi, metrics and dimensions

Before going into detail about the use of Google Analytics, it is important to clarify some key concepts of data analysis, in particular, explain terms such as KPI, Metric, Dimensions.

Let’s start from the concept of metrics, which together with the concept of size, is a recurring concept even when we talk about terminology specific to Google Analytics software. Starting from the basic concept used by Google for the definition of metrics, we can define it as any data represented by a number and that serves to measure in objective terms the event we want to analyze.

For example, the navigation sessions of a site are a typical metric of web analytics, they can be expressed as a whole number and are an adequate metric to measure the flow of users visiting our webspace. The time spent on a site is another metric we can rely on since it can be expressed with numbers and in this case, it indicates the level of interest in the topics covered.

Another metric can be the bounce rate (percentage of site users who visit a single page of the site and then leave the navigation).

The metrics can then be used and processed for the definition of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), which generally populate our reports and dashboards and express the general trend of an event to be analyzed through a summary indicator.

The choice of the right metrics for the analysis of a site and the elaboration of the right KPIs to verify the progress of an ADV campaign, for example, is fundamental for an effective follow-up of changes and settings that are to be implemented.

A KPI (Key Performance Indicator) will then be elaborated with respect to the strategic objectives that have been defined and will be a precise and synthetic indicator of the trend with respect to the defined objective. Metrics and KPIs can be analyzed with respect to a specific dimension, which instead represents an attribute linked to the data of interest. The dimension is therefore the point of view from which we want to analyze the metric of interest that represents the traced event. So for example the geographical location of an event, the date of display of a page, the path of the displayed page are all dimensions with which we can display the metric page view number.

Google Analytics Overview

Now let’s see how to create a GA account and the steps to follow to track our website.

After creating an account in Google Analytics and entering the tracking code that is provided to us on all pages of the site, we will start to track the first data. The data is received in Google Analytics via the so-called Hits. Each hit represents a set of data related to a specific type of interaction that the user performs on our site (e.g. displaying a page). Each hit, therefore, represents a single interaction, a set of hits is generally called a session. A user, for example, may see multiple pages of our site, every single view represents a hit, the set of views represents the session (the duration of a basic session is thirty minutes, this value can be changed from the Google Analytics control panel).

Property accounts and views

The hierarchical structure of Google Analytics is defined as follows:

  • Account: usually referred to a company or a single business;
  • Properties and apps represents a single account property (a single website, a single app or any other data source). If the company in question has multiple sites (sito-a.com and site-b.com) these will be different properties under one account;
  • Views: is the lowest level of the hierarchy and represents the single data set where reports are then generated.

For one account we can have more properties (maximum 50) and more views for each property (maximum 25). Obviously, in case we create more properties we have to insert the monitoring code in the pages or in the site concerned. In the Administration settings, you can manage and allow access to our Google Analytics account to multiple users. At the account level, we can then manage users, insert filters to prevent certain IP “dirty” our data, view the history of changes and finally view the recycle bin. At the property level, we can manage property settings, users, monitoring settings. Here you can link Google Analytics to other Google products such as Google Ad; you can also create audience segments and even custom sizes. At the view level, you can create objectives, content grouping, channel grouping, calculated metrics (beta) and many other useful settings for creating reports.

Dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics

Size and metrics are the foundation of Google Analytics reports. Dimensions are described in Google Analytics by labels and typically appear in reports in the first columns, for example:

  • URLs: pages, host names, landing pages;
  • Traffic sources: source (all visits coming from another website), medium (mechanism that sent users to the site), keyword, campaign, content;
  • Geographical Labels: country, region, city.

Metrics are measures and values:

  • Metrics per user: users, %of new sessions;
  • Behaviour metrics: bounce rate, pages, average visit duration;
  • Campaign metrics: impressions, clicks, CTR, CPC.

In Google Analytics you can also create a custom report by adding different sizes and metrics.

Reports

After selecting a view we have on our left a set of reports that you can view:

Real-time: This report allows you to monitor activities on the website when an action is performed. The reports are updated in “real time” and every hit made by the user is monitored and represented in a few seconds. For example, you can see how many users are visiting the website at a given time, on which pages it is located, with which device or from which geographical area in the world they are connected;

  • Audience: this type of report provides in-depth information on the characteristics of the various audience segments. It covers all data about users, i.e. their location, language, device used to connect, browser type, behavior (whether they are new or returning users). To these can be added demographic data and interests to get very detailed information about users;
  • Acquisition: This section allows you to understand where website visitors come from, such as search engines, social networks, advertising campaigns or other websites. This is a key section to determine which online marketing channels are bringing the most visitors or results to the website.
  • Behavior: This report allows you to understand how users interact with the website. It can be used to monitor, for example, the total number of pages viewed per session, the duration of an average session, or even the order in which the various pages are viewed. You can also see all the pages that are present within the website, and the users’ behavior within them, or, which pages carry the most conversions.
  • Conversions: this is the most important report to control the progress of business objectives; i.e. control the actions taken by the user that will define the success or otherwise of our campaigns, the so-called “conversions”. There are basically two types of conversions: economic, i.e. transactions (which can be monitored through advanced Google Analytics settings); or contact acquisition, even in this case, the choice of what to monitor depends on the type of business and the activities carried out. They could consist in viewing a page, subscribing to a newsletter, filling out a contact form or simply viewing a video. For both types of conversion, it is possible to trace which (or which) channel(s) the user used before arriving on the website and convert and how the same report would result analyzed with different attribution models.

Interactions and conversions

A conversion corresponds to the completion of action on our site that we want you to perform. This action may correspond, for example, to the purchase of one or more products for e-commerce, filling in a form on a specific page, subscribing to a newsletter, subscribing to the site, and so on. In Google Analytics we can track the conversions in different ways, for e-commerce we can enter the e-commerce settings directly from the Administration > Views > E-commerce Settings section (you must still send the events concerning for example the addition to the cart or the purchase of a product), for conversions not belonging to e-commerce we can instead implement objectives.

In this way, we have full control of our site and how users interact with it.

Basic Google Analytics does not track targets. Target tracking is related to tracking events on a website. You can create a target in the Administration > Views > Targets section. You can also associate an economic value to each goal. We can say that a target is an index of how many times a conversion action is performed per session. Some advantages of having a target to track a conversion are:

  • Google Analytics automatically calculates the conversion rate for targets;
  • Target metrics are displayed in many reports;
  • They appear as metrics in multi-channel reports (reports that allow in-depth analysis of the value that promotional channels bring).

So, what actions should be tracked as targets?

It is of paramount importance to track all the non-e-commerce actions of micro-conversion (subscription to the newsletter, download of an ebook or pdf, request for a contract). However, remember that a maximum of twenty targets can be used for each view.

As already mentioned, the objectives are closely linked to the events. The events are hits that Google Analytics, basic, does not track. Each event is composed of four components:

  • Category
  • Action
  • Label (optional)
  • Value (optional)

Let’s take as an example the download of a PDF, we could say that:

  • Category: “Download”
  • Action: “PDF”
  • Label: “/form/example.pdf”.

Events can be sent to Google Analytics via a javascript call:

ga(‘send’, ‘event’, [eventCategory], [eventAction], [eventLabel], [eventValue], [fieldsObject]);

Going back to the pdf example then: ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Downloads’, ‘PDF’, ‘/form/example.pdf’);

The event can be sent on the click of a button for example, using the OnClick javascript event, as follows:

<a href=’/form/example.pdf’ onclick=”ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Downloads’, ‘PDF’, ‘/form/example.pdf’)”>Download the PDF </a>.

You immediately realize, however, that to be able to do this:

  • You need to know HTML;
  • You need to have access to the site code;
  • You need to know how the platform is structured and how the pages are structured.

Usually, the events are also tracked through Google Tag Manager, which sends the hits to Google Analytics through a series of specially created Tags and Activators.

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