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July 12, 2007

A beginner’s guide to Google Analytics

Google Analytics, formerly called Urchin, is a free service offered by Google that allows website owners to track information on virtually every aspect of their website. To sign up, go to Google Analytics and get a free account. You will be provided a small JavaScript code that you place on the pages you would like to track. Once this code is live on your site, Google will begin gathering information on the visitors to your website.

Types of Information Tracked by Google Analytics

The Dashboard in Google Analytics provides a concise overview of your website statistics. Using a configurable date range, you can view graphs showing the number of site visitors, pages per visit, bounce rate, number of pages viewed, the average time they spent on your site and the percentage that are new visitors.

Also included on the Dashboard is a convenient map overlay showing the countries where your site visitors originate from. A pie chart shows the breakdown percentage of how many visitors came from search engines, how many were from referring sites and how many entered your site by directly typing your website address into their browser. The final Dashboard component is the content overview which shows the website pages with the highest number of pageviews.

The Money is in the Details

The Dashboard gives a brief overview of your website statistics, but where the real gold nuggets lie is in the information accessed from the left navigation. It is broken down by Visitors, Traffic Sources, Content and Goals.

Visitors Tab

The Visitors Overview tab includes information similar to the Dashboard, but with more detail. It gives the adjustable date range line chart of your website traffic, and also information on unique visitors, total pageviews, average pageviews, time spent on your website, bounce rate and new visits.

The Visitor Segmentation options delve into the details associated with each visitor, allowing you to see visitor languages, network locations and user defined options. Also available is browser information such as browser type, operating system used, screen color depth, screen resolution, and whether or not the visitors have Java or Flash support enabled on their browsers. This information is critical in determining how your site is designed and what technologies are used in the site.

The remainder of the Overview page is dedicated to a technical profile of the visitor’s browser type and connection speed. You can see if your visitors are still using slow dialup connections and adjust your site design accordingly.

The other left navigation tabs, titled Map Overlay, New vs. Returning, Languages, Visitor Trending, Visitor Loyalty, Browser Capabilities, Network Properties and User Defined delve into the information presented in the Visitors Overview more thoroughly, giving visual and graphical depictions of website traffic. The amount of information presented is somewhat overwhelming, but it allows you to fine tune your site to maximize the user experience.

Traffic Sources Tab

The Traffic Sources tab present information based on how your site visitors found your website. The submenu options include Overview, Direct Traffic, Referring Sites, Search Engines, All Traffic Sources, Keywords, AdWords, Campaigns and Ad Versions.

The Overview tab again displays a summary of the traffic source data, with the familiar line graph of traffic amount and a breakdown of the direct vs. referring vs. search engine traffic. The page concludes with a display of the top five traffic sources and the top five keywords bringing traffic into your site via search engines.

Each of the submenus breaks down the traffic source data ever further, and the AdWords tab allows you to track any AdWords campaigns your current have on your site, showing your goal conversion rates and AdWords click-throughs. The data calculates an impressive amount of AdWords data, including cost, click through rate, cost per click, revenue per click, return on investment and margin.

Content Tab

The Content tab on the left navigation menu again has an Overview page showing a detailed summary of the traffic patterns including the pages with the top content (based on number of pageviews), a navigation analysis showing how visitors found your content, landing page optimization data and a very nice site overlay which allows you to see your page and see which links are click the most frequently. This data is important for adjusting placement of paid ads and how visitors track through your site.

The other submenus for the Content tab include Top Content, Content by Title, Content Drilldown, Top Landing Pages, Top Exit Pages and Site Overlay. Each category further breaks down the data presented in the Overview page.

Goals Tab

The Goals tab is used to set specific usage measurements for your website and customize your data for specific marketing goals. Goals can be used to track funneled traffic through your site, by setting specific page URL’s and how you want to track the path the visitor takes to get to that page. By analyzing the results of your goals, you can fine tune your site design, navigation, PPC advertising, online e-commerce, and many other aspects of your site to maximize profitability.

Conclusion

Google Analytics is an easy to configure statistics tool that provides an enormous amount of visitor information. The fact that it is a free service makes it even more appealing. By including the small snippet of JavaScript code on your webpages, you can analyze almost any aspect of the user experience and make adjustments to your pages to maximize your return. Even small website owners can benefit from knowing who is visiting their site and how they got there. Easy setup, thorough statistics and zero cost make Google Analytics a must-have addition to any website owner or designer’s toolbox.

Author:  Ryan Grabenstein operates a Nebraska Web Design and advertising busineses specializing in small business promotion and internet marketing.

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