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Google Analytics: hands-on statistics

October 03, 2016

How to find pure online marketing gold on your website

Google’s internet measuring tool has become a de facto standard, and that’s largely due to the pricing model. Google Analytics (GA) is free. Every Google account user can log into their account and start analyzing right away.

While the free version is indeed a powerful tool, the premium version offers even deeper insights into visitors’ behavior. Costs depend on the number of monthly impressions, the most important difference lies in delivery time and amount of analyzed data: While GA premium offers real-time insights based on all visitors, free GA delays some of the data for a couple of hours and might, according to Google’s usage terms, analyze only samples instead of all data.

Features and reports are still quite identical. Even the free versions enables webmasters to track website visitors on a very detailed level.

Google Analytics and privacy

European privacy advocates have been criticizing Google for years. As all data is transferred to US servers, EU citizens’ rights might indeed be violated. Google has reacted by offering a so called “opt-out” cookie as well as the option to anonymize IP addresses by obfuscation their last couple of digits. So far, only few users have taken advantage of these features.

Different data protection laws in different EU countries further complicate the situation: While Germany has imposed comparatively strict rules for using GA, Austrian officials have declared IP addresses as “non-personal” data, thereby allowing non-concealed usage. (See www.datenschutzbeauftragter-info.de/fachbeitraege/google-analytics-datenschutzkonform-einsetzen and www.promomasters.at/blog/google-analytics-in-osterreich)

Google is basically handing over all responsibility to webmasters. For international corporations, implementing GA usually involves the IT as well as the legal department.

Google Analytics – a quick introduction

There are two ways of gaining access to a GA account: Either you register your account yourself or someone else grants you access to his/her account. After agreeing with the terms of use, GA takes you to an overview of all “properties” (websites) you have access to.

Clicking on one of these properties opens the overview screen. Note the date shown in the upper right corner: GA remembers the time period set across all report views and adjusts the time respectively.

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Naturally, isolated statistics themselves do not say very much. The “delta” or the differences in figures, in comparison with earlier time periods, is what makes GA such a valuable tool. Please note the checkbox “compare to” located below the date picker:

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Understanding the basics variables displayed on the overview screen of GA is key to interpreting data in a meaningful way. These variables include:

  • Sessions
    Visits to your page. A sessions ends after 30 minutes of inactivity or at midnight. One user can start/end various sessions throughout one day.

  • Users
    Unique users who visited your website.

  • Page Views
    Overall number of single pages visited.

  • Pages/Session
    Average number of pages surfed during one session.

  • Average Session Duration
    Average time spent on site per session.

  • Bounce Rate
    Percentage of users who leave the page without any interaction. A low BR indicates a page catering exactly the kind of information the user is looking for.

These parameters are quite easily explained, but interpretation remains nothing less than a form of art. For example, while most webmasters try to increase session duration, in the case of an online shop, too much time spent searching might indicate that potential customers are not finding the objects of their desire.

“Behavior” in the left menu helps answering such questions: GA displays various reports on popular subpages and user behavior. “Events” offers powerful ways of tracking interactions. After integrating the corresponding tracking codes into your content management system of choice, “event tracking” enables you to analyze various goals such as a user filling a form or closing a pop-up window.

Where do my visitors come from?

It’s a key question, which GA answers very effectively: Clicking on “Acquisition” in the left menu takes you to an overview of all your traffic sources.

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Google Analytics splits visitor sources into five different “channels”:

  • Organic Search
    Visitors who enter your page after doing a search on Google (without AdWords).

  • Referral
    Visitors referred by other websites, such as news portals.

  • Direct
    Users who directly type your URL into their browser or who click a bookmark.

  • Social
    Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

  • E-mail
    Links in newsletters or e-mail signatures.

Clicking on a channel opens a detailed list of each traffic category. AdWords visitors are displayed on their own tab.

Finding online marketing gold

Again, take a look at the menu on the left side and click “Search Console”. Do not, by any means, overlook the inconspicuous menu entry named “Queries”: It lists all search queries that took Google users to your site. This list is pure online marketing gold.

These out-of-the-box overviews are just the tip of the iceberg, as all reports can be customized, connected with your own tracking parameters and almost freely mixed to generate custom reports. If Excel is your home base, note the export function on each subpage.

If you want to dive deeper into the secrets and mysteries of Google Analytics, the official help is a good starting point. (See https://support.google.com/analytics/) Still, always keep in mind: No matter how elaborate a tracking tool might be, algorithms cannot meaningfully interpret of all the data alone.

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