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Best free SEO tools #4: Google Analytics tutorial for beginners

As part of our ongoing series on the best free SEO tools, today we look at a beginners’ guide to Google Analytics. We aim to introduce you to what the service is and what it can do for your business, even with just a simple explanation.

You can also find guidelines on setting up your Analytics account. So, get yourself a cup of tea to enjoy over the next few minutes, as we delve into the world of data.

What is Google Analytics?

Simply put, it is the most widely used analytics service on the market and is estimated to be in use on more than half of all websites. Google Analytics allows users to find out how frequently their site is visited in a given range of dates. The service also monitors the source of traffic to give an idea of from where traffic originates.

Users can view an extensive range of statistics in a variety of different dashboards to reveal everything from social media traffic to shopping cart behaviours. This gives small business website owners the potential to learn more about how their content and site structure is helping (or hindering) the company sales efforts.

Setting up a Google Analytics account

To get a proper view of your website analytics data, you will need two things: a Google account and the ability to add tracking code to your website. The first is fairly routine: if you’ve been following our series for a while now, you will already have an account set up to access Keyword Planner or Webmaster Tools.

If you haven’t been hanging on our every word – at which point, we will look hurt and ask why you don’t love us – then get yourself over to Google’s account setup page and start filling in the fields. Once you’re finished, move over to the Google Analytics page and they’ll give you guided instructions to help you get started.

Setting up a Google Analytics account

How to add Google Analytics tracking code

You should now be on the “New Account” page. Fill in all the fields with relevant information. Please note that “Account Name” is intended for the Google Analytics account, while “Website Name” refers to the name of your website. Each Analytics account can manage up to 100 websites (or “properties”) initially, so it’s important to make a distinction.

How to add Google Analytics tracking code

You should also choose your “Industry Category” carefully, as you can compare your site’s performance against an average performance for that particular industry. This can show you patterns in weekly, monthly, or yearly customer behaviours. In turn, you can understand why there was a peak or a drop-off in customers if they follow certain patterns of behaviour across your entire industry.

You should remember to set your “Reporting Time Zone” to UK so that your calendar and clock aligns with local time for clearer reporting. Finally, check your Data Sharing Settings to ensure that you don’t share or receive more information than you’d like – but remember that sharing info with Google will give your more insights.

Then simply “Accept terms”, and you’ll be presented with your unique Tracking Code. It will look a lot like this example.

Unique Tracking Code

To add Tracking code to a Trendzer site, you simply need to paste your profile ID and site’s unique tracking code into the field on your dashboard as below. If you’re using a different platform, you’ll need to refer to any instructions or help guides for more details.

To add Tracking code to a Trendzer site

Beginner’s guide to Google Analytics

So your account is set up and you’re ready to go. What next?

Well, your Analytics dashboard has dozens upon dozens of different views and applications. For today, we’re just going to look at the basics, so you can start to gain an understanding of how your site is performing. That means looking at two areas:

  • Audience Overview
  • Acquisition Overview

Audience overview

The Audience Overview does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin: it gives you a summary of your website’s actual audience. You can get an idea of your potential audience by investigating Search Analytics, which we introduced in our article on Webmaster Tools.

Audience overview

If you have just set up your Analytics account just now, then you will not have any data to study at the moment. You’ll need to come back at least 48 hours later, but ideally you should wait at least a month before reviewing your stats, which default as displaying the last 30 days.

Once you have some data to analyse, if you hover over the various headers, you’ll receive an explanation of what that particular statistic represents. We’ve summarised each one below:

  • Sessions: number of individual times that your website was visited (by human user or web crawler) – this figure includes repeat visits
  • Users: number of unique users who have visited your site at least once - multiple visits by one User reflect any difference between this figure and Sessions
  • Pageviews: the total number of pages viewed in the Date Range – the more, the merrier
  • Pages / Session: the average number of pages viewed during each session
  • Avg. Session Duration: the average amount of time that each session lasted
  • Bounce Rate: the percentage of single-page visits with no other interaction (people or crawlers who “bounced” away) – a rate higher than 50% indicates that work on content may be required
  • % New Sessions: estimate of the percentage of first-time visitors during the Date Range

Take note of the date range at the top right of the screen: the figures on display correspond to that time frame. Clicking on this field will allow you to alter the window of time that you are examining and also compare two similar periods against one another. The screenshot shows us choosing to compare “Last 30 days” versus the “Previous period” of 30 days.

compare “Last 30 days” versus the “Previous period” of 30 days.

Armed with your new-found knowledge of these fields an how to view different Date Ranges, you will now be able to compare traffic from one month to the next. Now, we’ll take your analysis one level further and show you how to see where your traffic is coming from using Acquisition Overview.

Acquisition Overview

This part of your Analytics dashboard displays the various sources of your traffic broken down into “Channels”. Each channel carries the same fields as the Audience display, and you can alter the time frame in the same fashion as before. The five areas are:

  • Direct: site visits that came from your URL being typed direct-ly into a browser window – this can often include repeat visits from other channels
  • Organic: traffic that came through Google search queries like we examined in our keyword research article
  • Referral: site visits that originate from a link on a third-party website including backlinks to articles or directory listings
  • Social: traffic that originated from social media such as Facebook, Google+, and TripAdvisor
  • Email: site visits that came through a linked email message or signature

Acquisition Overview

Each of these sections can therefore tell you further important information about the origins of your traffic. In the example below, we have clicked on the Direct channel.

Direct channel.

As you can see, we receive a breakdown of the names of the specific landing pages that people typed into their Google browser. The backslash in entry 1 refers to the home page, which typically accounts for a large percentage of traffic for small business websites. But as you can see, some “interior” pages have attracted Direct traffic as well.

Each of the other channels will give you added insights into your website visitors. A summary of all four reports looks like this:

  • Direct: individual pages that were typed into browser
  • Organic: the search terms were used by visitors who clicked through to the website (NB – many results will display “Not provided” due to browser privacy settings)
  • Referral: the names of the websites that have linked to your website (NB – do not be tempted to investigate any site names that promise better traffic or a bigger audience: they are frequently “black-hat” SEO companies trying to get business through means that will likely harm your rankings in the long term
  • Social: displays the names of the social networks that people were on when they clicked through to your website

How does Google Analytics help me?

As you develop your knowledge of Analytics, you can find out much more about user behaviour and set up unique Goals based on tracking how users convert from “maybes” into “paying customers”. But for beginners, the areas we’ve looked at can tell you a few things – they will:

  • provide evidence that your website is being found even if the contact form hasn’t had many (or any) inquiries
  • help you to understand how your website converts traffic and where the main strengths and weaknesses of your website’s user interface lie
  • potentially show which pages apart from your home page are popular
  • reveal which particular search terms have resulted in actual traffic
  • indicate whether social media posts are encouraging website traffic (you can link to your website from posts more often if this isn’t the case)
  • suggest whether your visitors are finding the information they need (if your Bounce Rate is above 50%, and your Average Session Duration is very low, then you may need to add more engaging content)

Stop by again for the next part of this series when we’ll look at Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider: an invaluable free tool that lets you view and manage your website meta data and much more.

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