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Web Analytics: What You Should Know About Them

William 4 responses SEO

Google Analytics is the most popular on-site web analytics package for tracking and learning how people interact with your site. They have the largest market share by a mile but many of the users simply collect that data and do nothing with it. Sometimes they login and look at their traffic reports but not much else – that’s certainly not what web analytics was created for.

One of the awesome things about Google Analytics is that it’s completely free. There is a premium version available but very few people use it. The deciding factor for you needing premium or not is mostly whether you need to track more than 10 million hits per month. If you do then you need premium.

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Understanding Web Analytics

web analytics

Tracking users on your site works by placing a small piece of Javascript code on each page, known as page tagging. Every time that page is loaded the code runs and it sends information about a visit or action back to a server to be stored in a database.

Web analytics has 2 main sections: tracking and reporting. The Javascript code provided by Google tracks various things about the page loaded and the user who requested it. The second part of things is processing the data it collects into user facing reports to make it human readable.

What is Web Analytics For?

The intended purpose of web analytics products is to collect data about users and report that data for the purposes of measurement, understanding and improvement. Many people get stuck before they reach the optimizations. They either collect the data and just sit on it or they get stuck between the reporting step and the improvement step.

Web Analytics Measurements

There are various things that the tracking code sends back to the web analytics server for you to investigate. It records info about the page load & page content plus as much data as it can gather about the person who is viewing it. The measurements are often referred to as the analytics metrics.

Some of the web analytics metrics GA reports on is listed below.


  • Referer – such as a search engine, social network or other website.
  • Keyword – when a user arrives from a search engine they have normally typed in a keyword to find you, the tracking code takes a note of that when it can.
  • Browser & OS – often different browsers and operating systems show websites differently. By tracking this you can ensure your site looks like it should in the most popular broswer/os combinations.
  • New Vs. Returning – by setting a cookie on the visitors browser it can tell if the visitor is new or returning.
  • Paid Traffic – can tell if a user arrived through a paid channel.

There’s other metrics that get measured and stored too – and you can see tons of interesting stats and trends when you use the data in different ways.

How To Use Google Analytics

You simply need to sign up for an account and paste the code they give you onto every page on your site directly above the end </head> tag.

It’s actually not as hard as it sounds and if you want to use Google Analytics on WordPress, or another CMS, then there are plugins available to add it to all the pages for you, you just need to paste the tracking code into the box provided by the plugin once.

Some plugins even let you enter your just UA tracking number or just click a button and authorize it to connect to GA on your behalf and it will do the rest.

Google Analytics Reporting

The amount of data collected about the visitors through any web analytics solution site quickly stacks up. Some of my Google Analytics properties have many years worth of data collected from every visitor to my site so storing and processing it all would take a lot of resources. Thankfully Google stores and processes it all for us and have created plenty of reports that can display the data in a human readable form.

There’s a massive list of different reports available to you. Below are 2 of the most commonly used ones.

  • Content > Site Content > All Pages – Use this to see how many times each page is viewed, which ones bounce and how long people spend on each page.
  • Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic – This is how you check the way people find you. Do they arrive through search engines or directly? What other sites send you traffic and how good is that traffic? This report helps you find out.

You can drill down deeper into each of those reports or there’s plenty of other reports for you to find some actionable insights in.

Google Analytics + Webmaster Tools

If you link your Google Webmaster Tools account to a Google analytics property, which I highly recommend you do, you can access the Search Engine Optimization reports to see the amount of impressions you’re getting for certain queries in Google Search, your average position and the click through rate for that query as well as check see the geographical summary of users and compare the performance of your various landing pages against each other.

Real-Time Reporting

real time right now

One of the coolest things about Google’s web analytics tools is the ability to get real time tracking. You can actually watch the data come in for every single page view! You can see where your visitors are in the world, what page they are on, how they arrived at your site & the keyword they used find you.

One of the major advantages of this is that the data in the other reports is actually a little behind, normally around 24 hours (or 4 if you have premium). So with real time reporting you can actually watch your marketing campaigns live as they happen.

Real Time Conversion & Event Tracking

Recently they added the ability to see conversions and events in real time too. Setting up the conversions is done on in the Google Analytics Admin Dash by creating goals and you can watch as these goals convert in a graph with some info about the pages the happened on.

The Events are a little more complicated to set up. They require changes to the ga.js tracking code on the page that you would like to track the event. If you use a CMS, like WordPress, there there are plugins available that can set up event tracking for you for things like outbound clicks and downloads.

Advanced Segmentation

Segmenting your visitors is one of the most powerful ways to learn about different groups of people. The only drawback about using segmentation is that you need to have a much larger dataset to make each segment statistically significant. By that I mean that you need to collect a large enough set of data using your web analytics service for it to accurately reflect the group at large.

When you segment your data you’re looking at a smaller set of it and thus it becomes less statistically significant than the whole dataset – you need to be sure that the segment still contains enough data for you to make predictions based on the data.

advanced segment graph

Often the case is that you don’t have a large enough dataset to make every segment statistically significant. In those situations what you can still do is look at the segment in comparison to other segments and get a bigger picture of things – then base your assumptions on that. Be aware that this is part guesswork and you are making predictions based on incomplete data source.

There are many different advanced segments built into GA and they can be applied to most of the reports. If there’s anything else you would like to segment the dataset by then you can also create custom segments to do that. For instance you may want to create a custom segment that shows only the people who arrived at your site using longtail keywords (keywords of 3 or more words in length).

Return Value

new vs returning pie

One of the most important segments that you should be looking at is return visitors. Why? Because these are the people who bring the most value as an audience. They share things, tell people about your site and interact with the content you create. They are the people who promote your site because they love what you do with it. The more of these kind of people you can find the better.

One of the things you should note is how return visits are counted. When a person visits your site a cookie is placed, if the user does not accept that cookie, or deletes that cookie then returns later they are considered a new visit again. Only visits that have accepted that cookie and left it in place will be counted as returns. So some returns count as new visits even though they are not.


Repeat visitors do wonders for your brand awareness. The more people recognize the brand they more they trust the people behind it, the products it provides and the services it offers. If people trust you they are more likely to buy from you.

You can track brand terms using web analytics by doing a search for your branded keywords in any of the reports that uses keyword as a metric.

Finding Your Top Performing Pages

Now you know what web tracking is for and how it works the next thing you probably want to do is look at your top performing pages, right? But how do you define top performing? Well that depends on how you do business online and what context you are looking at the pages in but without having a web analytics solution set up then you’ll never know.

Your best performing pages might be the ones that drive the most revenue, the ones that get the most social shares or the ones that get the highest traffic but it really depends on what your site goals are. The way you measure this is by looking at the metrics your site cares about – these are called your Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs – and it’s what you judge performance on.

For example: If a page gets 1000 views in a month and none of them buy from you, sign-up to an email list or share the page then those 1000 visits have little or no value. On the opposite side what if you had a page that only got 10 visits in the same month but 3 of them signup to your mail list. The page that gets 100x more traffic than the other one is actually the lower performing page because, although it only received 10 visits, the lesser trafficked page converted at a massive 30%! If you have a page with 1000 visits a month and this happens to you then you should be looking at ways to improve that page, because there’s probably an easy win there.

When you look at your analytics reports you have to be aware of your KPIs and look at each metric in context or pair them with other metrics to determine their true value to your site.

Just getting traffic isn’t enough, that traffic has to convert. Using Google’s free web analytics solutions you can identify anywhere you’re underperforming then use the information about that page, and other pages, to help you improve it.

If you struggle with using Google Analytics or want some help finding some good actionable insights in your reports then just drop me a note in the comments section with your problem and I will try my best to help you out.

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  1. Arindam Dutta

    This is great and will be very helpful. Web analytic software can also be used to monitor whether or not a site’s pages are working properly. Web analytics provides these site administrators and publishers with data that can be used to streamline a website to create a better user experience.

    1. Will Patton

      Arindam I couldn’t have put it any better. Find problem pages and streamline the whole website’s user experience. It’s all for the benefit of the end-user but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the more you benefit the user the more money you tend to make ;)

  2. Hi William,

    I appreciate this post because I learning how to use google analytics whenever I get a chance every week. The more I become familiar with it, the more I can make use of the information it provides. These tips are definitely a bonus to me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Will Patton

      Hey Sherman,

      Definitely do keep learning how to use Google Analytics. I would even say that it’s probably one of the best time investments you’ll ever make for your business. The more you know about your customers the better.