A Beginner's Guide To Google Analytics

Google’s Analytics package could provide you with valuable insight into your site’s performance.
The word ‘analytics’ can send a shiver down the spine of even the most hardened IT professional. For a fledgling company owner or small business manager, it can freeze their blood. Yet prefix ‘analytics’ with the word ‘Google’, and more positive connotations are quickly formed about the centuries-old process of examining data for trends and future predictions.
Over the last eleven years Google Analytics has become the world’s leading method of studying a website’s performance and visitor behaviour. It has achieved market supremacy ahead of rival platforms from Yahoo and Bing, as well as smaller companies like Kissmetrics and StatCounter. Its success is such that Google now offer a Premium version alongside the Standard package, with round-the-clock technical support and a dedicated account manager, plus a variety of consulting and auditing services.
Since Google Analytics Premium costs roughly $150,000 per year, most people will settle for the pared down Standard option. Even this free version provides an exhaustive array of website measurement tools, enabling company owners or webmasters to identify patterns in visitor behaviour. From customized Analytics reports, it’s possible to establish strengths and weaknesses, which in turn can optimize the site’s overall effectiveness or performance. The technical term for this is ‘on-site analytics’, as opposed to the off-site alternative that concentrates on wider pan-internet analysis.
Google Analytics has succeeded largely because it offers everything people need without overly complicating matters. Beginners can learn what to do from the Analytics Academy tutorials, while more advanced users proceed with the business of generating reports about conversion percentages and the order in which visitors typically navigate a site. Google Analytics can provide information on which web browsers people are visiting their site through, helping them to optimize for mobile devices or make decisions about browser compatibility. It can track the origins of traffic patterns, enabling, say, a US manufacturing company to identify what percentage of first-time visitors are from as far afield as Europe. More specifically, it can record the average amount of time spent on particular pages – a short average for one page may suggest its content or layout is deterring people.
Another reason Google Analytics enjoys such popularity is its seamless integration with Google’s AdWords sister package. Analytics can report which social media link or advert certain percentages of visitors arrived from, enabling more effective expenditure and better targeting of adverts. Advertising budgets can easily spiral out of control, so knowing more about the audiences viewing (and responding to) them represents a practical way to squeeze additional value from every pay-per-click advert.
While Google Analytics can provide a wealth of data, it’s up to individuals to determine how they deploy the results for optimal impact. If a company notices that a large percentage of traffic occurs between 6am and 8am, for instance, it can ensure that daily updates are applied before 6am to catch the attention of visitors. If a third of traffic arrives through a link from an academic site, it’s clearly worth making more effort to establish links to other academic platforms. Analytics can also be particularly effective when planning a new website, by determining which elements would be most effective and how they should be constructed or presented.

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