Getting To Grips With Google Analytics Tracking

Google Analytics is an impressively detailed piece of software. Used by companies to track audience activity and behaviors across their websites, it relies on sophisticated algorithmic analysis to compile reports and make recommendations.
This level of complexity seems remarkable when you consider Google Analytics is free to use. It’s become the undisputed industry leader for measuring website data, and one of its key services involves tracking individual behaviors while people are on a particular website. Even though setting up tracking is complicated, the results are highly informative. We consider both aspects in turn below:

How do I enable site tracking?

To measure audience behavior, it’s necessary to add a JavaScript library called analytics.js to the coding of your website. Mobile apps can also be tracked in a similar fashion. To use Google Analytics, you will need to have either a Google account, or convert your existing email address into a Google account..
More commonly known as the JavaScript tracking snippet, analytics.js comprises a few lines of code in the form of a basic script. Inserting it into the HTML of a website near the <head> tag initiates four simple tasks:

  • It creates a script element that downloads and activates the analytics.js library
  • It initializes a function to enable command scheduling
  • It creates a new tracker object, and
  • It sends a pageview to Google Analytics.

Although this process is the same for WordPress users, there are dozens of plugins designed to eliminate any need to manually enter HTML code. Installing one of these plugins will ensure the library loads and asynchronously executes on each web browser accessing the site.

So what data does tracking capture?

The list of information captured by the analytics.js library script is extensive. From a corporate perspective, the following metrics are among the most important ones:

  • The country a user is located
  • Their chosen web browser
  • The operating system underpinning their device
  • Output screen resolution
  • Which website referred them to this site
  • How many subpages they visited, and in what order
  • How long they spent on the site in total, and on individual pages
  • The performance of videos and multimedia content
  • Which page they departed from.


How does tracking data dovetail with Google Analytics?

Data captured by tracking.js reports through Google Analytics. Each piece of data is categorized in a particular format, such as Timing or Transaction. These values are recorded in HTTP, and sent to a Measurement Protocol that supplies data to Google Analytics for interpretation. Reports can then be run, and statistical tables assembled.
Although it’s not particularly rookie-friendly, Google Analytics does at least provide understandable analysis for basic data like visitor levels across specific time periods. Some figures are presented as percentages, while others appear in line graphs or pie charts. Information is exportable in a variety of formats including Adobe PDF, Microsoft Excel and tab delimited text files.

Why is this beneficial to my business?

Such data is of great value to webmasters, marketing managers and business owners. It’s particularly beneficial for testing the effectiveness of new inbound links or limited-time promotional campaigns, evaluating their effectiveness and accurately gauging click-through rates without having to ask every visitor to explain how they reached the site. Social websites are segregated out from direct visits (when an address is entered directly into a browser bar), organic searches and referrals.
If half a site’s traffic is referred from one location, it suggests this location should be maintained since other attempts at driving inbound traffic aren’t performing particularly well. If two thirds of site visitors leave on the Pricing page of an ecommerce platform, there is likely to be a problem with that page, for example, perhaps the product or delivery costs are too high. It’s relatively easy to interpret trends from basic figures, particularly bounce rates, as exemplified in the previous point. If everyone using the Tor Browser leaves on the first page they visit, there may be issues involving the site downloading and displaying slowly once it’s been distributed along Tor’s complex routing paths.

What can I do with tracking data?

Given the sheer wealth of data that can be recorded, every client uses Google Analytics differently. However, it’s commonly deployed to assist with these key objectives:

Measure unique visitors.

Employee activity might distort any site traffic figures if staff members have a page set as their browser’s homepage, or if they need to guide clients through subpages when creating accounts. Removing this data supports more accurate reporting of unique site visits, which may be used to attract advertisers.

Enable bot filtering.

Similarly, referral spam might suggest a site is more popular than it really is. Eliminating such traffic from page hits is as simple as turning on bot filtering in Google Analytics.

Identify audience demographics.

Perhaps your customers mostly use older versions of Windows as their OS, popular among more mature (often male) users. Maybe you get lots of inbound traffic from Snapchat, suggesting you’re doing well with millennials. It’s possible to draw specific and general conclusions alike from tracking data.

Gauge the success of advertising campaigns.

Google AdWords is a bottomless pit when it comes to digital marketing budgets. Linking it with Analytics to determine how cost-effective a particular campaign is ensures ad budgets are spent effectively.

Tracking custom goals.

Every website is created with different objectives in mind. Goals measure specific objective fulfillment, and can be customized to identify KPIs such as social media likes, keeping people on the site for a certain length of time, etc.

Earmarking site improvements.

A high homepage bounce rate might suggest slow display times, potentially caused by multimedia files. Such trends among visitors often indicate problems that could justify a partial – or total – site redesign.
If the process of interpreting tracking data sounds daunting, the Google Analytics Academy offers free online courses aimed at everyone from beginners to advanced users and ecommerce platforms. Hosted by senior Google employees, these practical walk-throughs cover many key features relating to this immensely powerful tool.