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In Chinese culture the number six represents wealth, and it is thought to be good for business.

For this reason I chose the six most important actions you should take in order to get Google Analytics up and running properly.

I tried to provide tips on both configuring and using the tool, as both are extremely important. 

By the end of this post you should be able to answer the following six questions:

  1. How well is my website performing and why?
  2. Which marketing campaign is working for me?
  3. How well is my website progressing when looking at different metrics?
  4. What are my most important numbers and how they are performing?
  5. Is something important changing significantly in the website?
  6. What do my customers like and dislike?

Let’s start!

1. Track all your conversions

This might sound like a basic request, but you would be surprised at how many companies don't take the time to set goals in their accounts, let alone configure ecommerce tracking. And this is the single most important setting in Google Analytics. 

Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman philosopher, said that "a room without books is like a body without a soul;" I like to paraphrase him and say: A Google Analytics account without a goal is like a body without a soul.

Goals are essential to measure business objectives, which is what digital analytics is all about.

Let's look into the three main conversion tracking capabilities available in Google Analytics: ecommerce, standard goals and AdSense clicks.

Standard Goals can be used to set four different types of goals:

  • Destination: it is triggered every time a page loads. Useful when you have a thank you page after completing a registration form, or reaching an important page of the website (e.g. store locator).

    Can be used as an alternative to ecommerce tracking to track purchases, but it is less powerful. 

  • Duration: triggered when a visitor stays more than a specified amount of time in the website. Useful to track how engaging is the content.
  • Pages per visit:  triggered when a visitor views more than a specified number of pages during the visit. Useful to track how deep visitors are going on the website.

    Especially interesting for publishers since they monetize pages and want to have visitors viewing as many pages as possible.

  • Events: triggered every time an event is fired. Useful to track interactions within pages such as a click on an add to cart button or on a mailto and download links.

You can learn how to set each of them in this help center article.

Ecommerce tracking will help you understand what visitors buy in the website or app in a detailed way. The following information should be collected:

  • Products: products purchased, in what quantity, and the revenue associated to them. 
  • Transactions: revenue, tax, shipping, and quantity information for each transaction. 

To learn how to set ecommerce for Google Analytics check this article.

The AdSense integration provides a wealth of information about the performance of advertising showed in websites. It helps website content publishers to increase ad revenue by identifying which traffic sources, geographies, pages, and other segments bring the highest value users to their websites.

It empowers website owners to understand who clicks (or not) on an Ad, enabling a data-driven approach to optimizing websites for AdSense revenues.

To learn how to link and analyze your AdSense and Adwords (section below), check this eBook on integrating other Google tools into Google Analytics.

2. Tag all your marketing campaigns and upload Cost Data

Google Analytics (GA) automatically detects when visitors reach a website through a search or website referral, but it won’t know a visitor came from a newsletter unless you tell it.

The same happens to AdWords campaigns: you need to link AdWords to Analytics in order to receive detailed reports about its performance.

If you are sending newsletters, doing banner campaigns or even offline advertising, it is important to use campaign tags properly.

Basically, Google Analytics will tell you the source of a visitor only if she/he comes through a click on another website or on a search result. All other medium must be tagged in order to appear on your reports.

That’s why Google Analytics developed a system called UTM parameters. Basically, the system allows marketers to construct links that convey specific information about how the visitor arrived at the website.

Using the UTM method we can create links that include five variables which, taken together, help Google Analytics see how visitors arrived at the website:

  • Source describes the origin of the visitor. Since every visitor must come from someplace, this is a required parameter. It is usually the URL of the website where the campaign is running, such as bbc.com, econsultancy.com, newsletter or others.
  • Medium describes the channel used by the visitor. It is also a required parameter. It could be cpc, banner, social, email or others.
  • Name describes the name of the campaign. It could be a special campaign, such as Halloween_2013, an ongoing campaign, such as Product_x, or a newsletter edition, such as newsletter_oct2013.
  • Term describes the term clicked on a campaign. For example, if you create a cpc campaign on Bing you might want to use this parameter to differentiate between clicks on each search term.
  • Content describes the version of an advertisement on which a visitor clicked. It is usually used to analyze the effectiveness of banner design or copy in a campaign.

    For example, if you advertise on BBC and use two different banners, you would use the same parameters for source, medium and name, but would add a unique value for each banner on the content UTM; this would enable you to learn which banner is better at bringing high converting visitors.

In order to build links using the UTM parameters check the URL Builder. Below is a screenshot of how your data will appear in Google Analytics and which type of insights you will be able to extract from it.

In the last two rows, you will notice that Facebook is now separated into two: referral and social. Referral visits are the ones coming from people sharing your content virally, while social is the content that this site is sharing as a marketing initiative.

Note the difference in conversion rates!

google-url-builder

If you have existing campaigns tagged with link parameters different from those GA uses, there is a way to translate them into UTMs without physically changing the campaign links; but this would require an addition to the GA tracking code.

For technical implementation details on the codes to be added, check the following section on the GA code website.

But adding UTM tags is just the beginning! This will ensure that all your incoming traffic is being properly measured and that you can learn how much revenue they brought.

However, you also want to know how much you spent in each campaign so that you can compare your campaigns ROI. In order to do that you will need to upload your cost data to Google Analytics, this way you will be able to view all marketing spending in one centralized place.

3. Add context to your data

One of the biggest causes of failed analyses is that analysts are not given all the information needed. For example, there might have been an offline campaign 6 months ago, a change in the Google Analytics settings, or a server failure; all of them would be forgotten quite fast.

That's why Google Analytics Annotations is a very important feature, because it provides the necessary context for the analyst to do his/her job. 

Here are a few occasions where you should certainly use them:

  • Offline marketing campaigns (e.g. radio, TV, billboards).
  • Major changes to the website (e.g. design, structure, content).
  • Changes to analytics configuration (e.g. changing the tracking code, adding events).
  • Changes to goals or filters.

In addition, there are ways to add context to the charts themselves. My preferred technique is to use the comparison chart as shown below, it is a great way to analyze your data in a very visual way. 

As you can see in the image below, it shows how a specific dimension (e.g. traffic source, landing page, browser) is performing as compared to the website average.

Using the same report as shown above, the All Traffic report, you can see how each of the sources is comparing to the average in terms of conversion rates. You can visit any report (e.g. All Traffic Sources) and click on the icon shown as number one below, then choose the metric you want to analyze (number two).

google-analytics-comparison

4. Invest in dashboards

A dashboard is a great way to keep track of websites: they can save a lot of time when monitoring the day-to-day performance of a website. However, it is important to plan the information that is included in it and to know its purpose: create it in a way that makes the data actionable.  

Google Analytics provides a very rich interface that allows us to customize dashboards in several ways. We can have several different types of widgets in several different sizes, we can segment them using any available dimension; we can share, email and download them.

And since we share, we can also download dashboards into our accounts! Here are a few links to three interesting downloadable dashboards from the Solutions Gallery (clicking on the links below will lead you to your Google Analytics account to save the dashboards).

  • Social Media Dashboard - This dashboard gives you a view of off-site activity, on-site activity, and Conversions/Outcomes, making it easier to evaluate user activity throughout the conversion process.
  • Publisher Dashboard - Bloggers can use this dashboard to see where readers come from and what they do on your site.
  • Site Performance - This dashboard contains various speed metrics to help identify issues with your pages or servers.

5. Build smart Custom Alerts

Custom alerts are triggers that happen when a condition you specify in your account is met; you will see them either inside GA or you can set emails or mobile text messages to be generated by Google.

For example, you can set a custom alert to be triggered when traffic from USA decreases by more than 15%, or when the revenue decreases, or when the load time raises. One custom alert that I would recommend every website owner to set is a 404 alert.

There is nothing more frustrating than browsing a website and getting a 404 page. In order to make sure you will be the first to know when a link is broken, you can create an alert to tell you when 404s raise above a certain threshold. Here is how:

  • Login to Google Analytics.
  • Click on Admin on the top-left navigation (orange bar).
  • Click on the profile you want to create the alert.
  • Click on Custom Alerts and create a new alert following the steps in the image below.

google-analytics-404

6. Experiment with your content

All the techniques mentioned above are important and effective, but the icing on the cake is A/B Testing. Using Google Analytics we can test different versions of a page and learn what our customers prefer.

It is important to remember that while a test may yield an increase in conversion rates, the most valuable insight from a test is not the winning version, but the learning experience about the customer: website testing teaches us what our customers like.

Testing is not limited to landing pages or campaigns, it should be implemented across the website, wherever abandonment is high and money is being left on the table. To create your first test use this step-by-step guide.

Concluding thoughts

Can you answer the questions I mentioned in the intro now?

  1. How your website is performing and why? [conversion tracking].
  2. Which marketing campaign is working for me? [campaign tagging].
  3. How well is my website advancing when looking at different metrics? [data context].
  4. What are my most important numbers and how are they performing? [dashboard creation].
  5. Is something important changing significantly in the website? [custom alerts].
  6. What do my customers like and dislike? [content experiments] 

Happy analyzing!

Daniel Waisberg

Published 12 November, 2013 by Daniel Waisberg

Daniel Waisberg is Analytics Advocate at Google and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can also find Daniel on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.

2 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Pieter Vereertbrugghen

TX.
This is a very good introduction if you are not so familiar with Google Analytics.
In my experience (I am working in a content agency) 6 is crucial, and very difficult to "sell" to clients.

almost 3 years ago

Ajay Prasad

Ajay Prasad, Founder & CEO at GMR WEB TEAM

Hi Daniel,
your all steps for get up and running with Google Analytics is useful and informative. Now I have remembered your steps Track all your conversions,Tag all your marketing, campaigns and upload Cost Data, Invest in dashboards, Build smart Custom Alerts, Experiment with your content. Thank you so much.

almost 3 years ago

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Perry Bernard

New users of GA will also find the Google Analytics Academy link very helpful - a self-paced learning tool to get you up to speed. It's very detailed for a beginners' course, so don't be surprised if getting a little 'bogged-down' with it. Best if used with an active account, but still OK if used as a 'sand-box', but of course you don't get any real data to play with.

almost 3 years ago

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Ron Lum

Daniel,

Thank you for this wonderful and helpful article. Analytics, upon first glance, is just a bunch of random numbers. But when you know what you're looking for GA is such a great tool.

I'm primarily a designer and developer for websites, but I look forward to reading and digesting this article in order to help grow my business scope.

Thank you again.

-RON

almost 3 years ago

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Andrew Bruce Smith

I agree that lack of goals is one of the most common omissions from most GA set ups. Even that tiny handful companies that do have goals created often don't have these explicitly tied to top level business or organisational objectives.

I'd say a more fundamental question to ask is: why does your website exist in the first place? If you had to single out its key purpose in life, what would it be? Answering that question in a concrete fashion should help dictate what kind of goals to create and what values to associate with those goals.

With goals and values defined in GA, you unlock some of the more meaningful metrics such as per visit value, as well as attribution analysis. Being able to understand the contribution - direct and indirect - of different elements of the mix relative to a goal with a real economic value is surely what most marketeers ought to be interested in?

almost 3 years ago

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Simon

Goals Goals Goals! For small business especially, it's so easy to get locked down in delivering, and whilst that's really important to get beyond that you have to measure if what your doing is having the right impact.

Using Google Analytics properly can be overwhelming as it has some powerful features, but defining a few basic metrics and setting up a basic dashboard can really help measure your impact. It's often an overlooked tool for small business owners.

almost 3 years ago

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Emily Lawley, Digital Marketing Specialist at Smith & Nephew plc

I know I am 2 years late commenting on this but I think the page would be useful to share with my colleagues. Is there any way to update it with images again or is there a more up to date version of the article? Thanks.

12 months ago

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