What is Google Analytics and How does it work
Over the years, internet has gone through a massive transformation and has seen an exponential growth in its user base.
It was invented for military purposes, later on it was used as a medium on communication among scientist and now it is used for multiple purposes such as
- Looking for information
- Online shopping
- Connecting with friend and family
And more. It has practically become an important part of our life.
Also, with this growth, internet has seen a rise in the number of online business. For these businesses, their website and applications are the store front and getting to know their customers is of the utmost importance.
This is where Google Analytics comes into picture.
Before we move forward, it is important to know Google Analytics can be installed on any website or application. This means whether you have any website or a blog or an app, you can use Google Analytics to measure performance.
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What is Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool or a service by Google that was launched 14 years ago in November 2005 after Urchin was acquired.
This service is currently listed under Google Marketing platform and as the name suggests, it lets you track traffic on your website. It provides you with in-depth reports that can help grow your website.
Having said that,
As mentioned before, this tool is not just for websites as Google Analytics also provides an SDK using which you can track and collect usage or performance data from your Android and iOS apps.
Google Analytics being a part of the Marketing platform family, integrates seamlessly with other Google products such as
- Google Ads
- Search Console
- Data Studio
And more. The ease of integration and the level of insight it provides is what makes Google Analytics a popular choice.
Currently, according to W3Techs– 54.9% of the websites worldwide use Google Analytics and this is almost 84.1% of the analytics tools market share.
With Google Analytics being so popular, lets understand
How does Google Analytics work
This can be done in 2 ways
- Using plugin
If you want to install Google Analytics manually then you are required to add the tracking code in the
<head> section of the web page.
The other method to do this is by using a plugin called MonsterInsights. And in this all you have to do is install the plugin in your WordPress.org website and insert the code. The benefit of using this WordPress plugin is, it makes the installation process easy and you can view your website’s performance in your WordPress dashboard.
You don’t have to visit or login to any other website or tool. MonsterInsights takes care of it for you. See all the features of MonsterInsights
Having said that,
Now, when a user now visits your website Google Analytics starts collecting data and this happens automatically. And the whole process is divided into 3 phases.
- Data Collection
Let’s understand this in detail
How does Google Analytics collect data
As mentioned above, when a user visits a web page that contains Google Analytics code, it automatically starts collecting data.
Now the data being collected comes from
- HTTP Request- This contains information such as type of browser used, language of the browser, host name and the referrer.
- Browser Used– Browsers provide detailed information about users such as Java and Flash support, device and operating system used and more.
After gathering this data, Google Analytics sets a first party cookie on users browser.
- First Party Cookie– Using this Google Analytics obtains information about user sessions. And this includes any activity a user does on your website such as browsing different pages, buying products and more.
The default session expiration time is 30 minutes of inactivity. However, if a user keeps interacting with different elements on a website then Google Analytics will automatically reset the expiration time by adding 30 minutes from the time of that interaction.
Having said that,
Once all of this information is collected, it is sent to Google Analytics servers via _utm.gif image file. This data is then processed and converted into reports that you see in your Google Analytics dashboard
Processing of Data
Once the raw data is received, Google Analytics starts processing it by organizing it based on various criteria such as
- Device used
- Type of browser
And more. After the organization is complete, Google Analytics applies filters to the data. If you are not familiar with this the let me tell you, Google Analytics lets you customize how data is processed.
This means, if in your report you want to exclude data that is not important for your business then you can do that by creating and applying filters.
Often users take advantage of this Google Analytics feature by blocking the internal traffic.
Having said that,
After the processing is over, the data is stored in a database. Now, it is important to keep in mind that once the data is stored in the database, it cannot be changed.
This meaning while configuring Google Analytics you have to be careful so that you don’t end up excluding data that you might want to track.
To check these reports, you can visit Google Analytics dashboard.
Now that you understand how Google Analytics works, the next topic we are going to discuss is
Benefits of Google Analytics
As discussed above, Google Analytics is the best analytics tool in the market to get insights to your website or application. And on top of that this tool is considered web standard. When when it comes to tracking and collecting data, I personally use and recommend this tool
And below I have listed a few reasons on why use Google Analytics
Free to use
One of the very first benefits of Google Analytics is that it is no impact on your pocket. It is completely free to use, there is no subscription model, no hidden costs or anything monetary associated with this tool.
To use it, all you need is a Google account and a code snippet that you are required to add on your website. And it will start tracking and collecting data automatically. Within 24 hours you will start seeing the reports in your dashboard.
Google Analytics tracks data in real time and using this feature you can know during which time of the day your site is getting most traffic.
And in case you are running campaigns then based on the realtime reports you can optimize your campaigns to get the most out of it. Also, you can take a note of the trends and make changes accordingly.
To grow a website, you need to know how users are finding your website. Is through search engines? or is it through a latest campaign that you ran recently or is your site starting to get consistent traffic from social media platforms.
You can get answers to all of these questions by using Google Analytics. Also, based on this information you can decide which sources of traffic you need to focus on.
Know your visitors
As mentioned before, with Google Analytics you get access to in-depth insights and these reports show detailed information about users such as age, interest, gender, country and more.
Using this data you can understand if your website or campaigns are performing well or if it needs some tweaking.
Did you know using Google Analytics you can see how your website or blog is performing for various keywords on search engines.
And with the help of this you can further optimize your web page to perform better on search engine results page.
This is one of the most underused feature in Google Analytics and it helps you understand the traffic flow and also using this feature you can track the improvement of your online business.
I will highly recommend using this if you are serious about growing your website because by setting goals you will know which elements of your website or campaign needs improvement in order to meet the goals.
As your website starts to grow, you will notice some of your pages or posts performing better than others during certain occasion, events or time.
And with the help of historical data available in Google Analytics, you can create strategies in advance taking into consideration what has worked for your website or campaigns in the previous years.
This will help you achieve your targets in the current year.
Now that you know some of the reasons to use Google Analytics. The next step is to create a Google account and for that you can follow our in-depth guide on how to add Google Analytics in WordPress
Once you are done installing Google Analytics, its time to understand the meaning of common terms associated with it.
Common terms in Google Analytics
As the name suggests, a user is a person that visits your website. Each user in Google Analytics is identified under a unique user ID which is stored in the browser cookie. A user can visit a website multiple times and browse different pages. And this will not add to the user count.
As explained earlier, every time Google Analytics tracking code is executed or in other words some one visits your website, Google Analytics looks for the browser cookie first.
If not found then the user is attributed as new and it sets a new browser cookie. And if found the user is categorized as returning.
A session is a combination of page views and interaction on your website by a single user in one visit. As mentioned above, the default session duration is 30 minutes of inactivity.
This means if a person visits your website, consumes the content you have published, leaves the browser open and does not engages with content for 30 minutes then the session will expire.
And if the page receives engagement from the same user after 30 minutes, it will be counted as a new session.
Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of sessions with only single page view. This is a very useful metric as it lets you know if visitors are browsing through other pages on your website or not.
Also, with the help of this you can get an idea on how your site’s performing across other devices. For example, a higher bounce rate on mobile as compared to tablet and desktop will suggest that mobile version of the website might need some improvement.
However, before you start making any changes you will have to take into account other factors as well.
Session duration is also known as Average session duration and it is the time that users are spending on your website. The formula for calculating average session duration is Duration of session over a specific period of time divided by number of sessions.
For example, if on a given day
Total session duration= 100 minutes
Number of sessions= 20
Average session duration= 100/20 = 5 minutes
In Google Analytics at times certain visits attributed as Direct. And it is referred to as people who visited your website by either typing the URL directly or the source of the traffic couldn’t be determined.
Organic traffic or visits is defined as the people who are visiting your website by clicking your site’s link listed on the search engine results page. These visits can be from Google, Bing or any other search engine.
When a user visits your site using a link on some other website, the traffic is attributed as referral. Using this you can see which websites are sending you traffic.
As the name suggests, people visiting your website from social media platforms such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or any other platform are categorized under social.
When adding Google Analytics to your website, you may have noticed the code fragment containing an identification number which looks like
UA-xxxxxx-x where x is a number.
As you can see the above identification number has 3 parts
- UA- User Account
- xxxxx- Unique identification number of the analytics account
- x- The last number is for the property in that specific analytics account.
A property in Google Analytics can be a website, blog or an app that has a unique tracking ID. A single Google Analytics account can have multiple properties.
And each property will contain data from a specific tracking ID.
As you know Google Analytics collects and tracks data in real time. In this report you can see how many people are currently browsing your website.
You an find Active user reports under Audience and it lets you know how many unique users initiated sessions on your site. You can customize this report on daily, weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
Just below where you can see Active users on your Google Analytics homepage, you can also see which pages are people currently browsing or landing on your website.
Once the browser is closed or the user navigates to another page, the page will be removed from the reports.
As we have discussed before Google Analytics displays and records data in real time and in these reports you can monitor how visitors are interacting with your pages, which page they are landing on, location of the user, source of traffic and more.
These reports are updated continuously and every hit is reported after a few seconds of its happening.
As the name suggests, under audience you will find insights that will help you understand you audience better. Here you will find reports related to
- Technology used
- User flow
Also, under audience you can create custom reports based on the data that is useful for your business. Using this you can understand how your campaigns are performing for a specific set of audience or users.
If you want to know how people discover you website or blog then you will have to see the Acquisition reports. This report will help you understand which sources are driving most traffic and which need your attention.
Also, under this you can find dedicated reports for
- Google Ads, in case you are running paid campaigns
- Search console, if your analytics is connected to search console
- Social for any traffic that is coming from social media channels
- Campaigns for traffic coming from any custom campaigns that you are running
In Google Analytics, Behavior reports show a journey of a user from the start till the end. These reports give you an insight into user experience which will help you improve conversion rate.
Along side Behavior flow chart you will also find below listed reports
- Site Speed
- Site Search
You can use the information from these reports to fill the gaps and improve user experience which will help reduce bounce rate and improve conversion rate.
As the name suggests, under these reports you will find how you are performing against the goals you have set in Analytics.
To track how your site is performing, the first thing you need to do is set goals in Google Analytics. Once you have set goals, you can see the journey of a visitor from entering your website till conversion.
And this will be a visual report.
Every time a user completes a goal, a conversion will be reported in Google Analytics. Using these reports you can understand which stage of the funnel needs improvement and this will help you achieve better conversion rate.
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And with that said
I hope that you have found this post helpful and are able to understand What is Google Analytics. If you have any queries related to this feel free to let me know and I will be happy to answer them.
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