How to Use Google Analytics: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

a picture of Tom Donohoe
Written by: Tom Donohoe
Last updated: July 1, 2018

This guide has everything you need to know about Google Analytics.

So if you want to learn how to use Google Analytics, you’re in the right place.

And let me be clear about something:

I made sure that this is the most thorough guide out online. Your one-stop resource for learning everything.

Let’s dive right in.





Chapter 1

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a web analytics platform offered by Google. It’s the most adopted analytics tool on the market and considered industry standard.

Google Analytics helps you to measure traffic, engagement, and behaviour on your website. But more importantly, allows you to make informed business decisions based on data.

Want to know the best part?

It’s completely free! And it’s a must-have tool for your business.





Google Analytics Metrics, Dimensions and Definitions

When you’re starting out with Google Analytics, the keywords and jargon are overwhelming.

I’ll do my best to demystify some of the terms for you. This list is not extensive but should be enough to help get started.

Dimensions — are descriptive attributes of your data. An example from Google Analytics is ‘Page’ under this dimensions are all the pages that Google Analytics has data stored for in their database.

Metrics — are quantitative measurements. An example from Google Analytics is ‘Pageview’ which is the total number of times a page is viewed.

Sessions — is a group of interactions on your website by an individual user. A single user can have multiple sessions on the same day or over months or years.

Users — are an individual who has had at least one session within a selected date range.

Pageviews — is the total number of times a page is viewed. A page can have multiple views by a single user and still be counted.

Pages/Session — is the average number of pages viewed in a session.

Avg. Session Duration — is the average duration of a session.

Bounce RateGoogle Analytics Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page visits. Meaning a person visit one page on your website without interacting and then leaves.

Goals — are a way to measure desired actions on your website.

Conversions — the number of time the desired action is taken on your website.




Chapter 2

How Google Analytics Works

Now you know what exactly Google Analytics is.

You might be wondering:

“How does Google Analytics work?” Let’s take a look under the hood.





Google Analytics Explained

Google Analytics works by placing a piece of JavaScript code on all pages of your website.

When a person views a page, the JavaScript executes and sends data back to Google Analytics. The data is processed and then reported in the Google Analytics user interface.

You might be thinking:

“I’m not very technical and won’t be able to do this.” Don’t worry you don’t need to be. Advanced installations are complicated, but anyone can set up the basics.

Every Google Analytics installation follows the same three-step process.

How Google Analytics works - a three step process

Step 1: Data Collection

First, you need to collect data to report. You do this with the Google Analytics tracking code mentioned above.

Let’s take a look at how the Google Analytics Tracking Code Works:

The way Google Analytics collects information is very technical. Unless you’re a developer, it can be difficult to understand it.

For the sake of using Google Analytics, it’s not necessary to understand all the details. But I’ll give you the “how Google Analytics Tracking Code works for dummies.”

  1. The browser a person is using (e.g., Google Chrome or Firefox) requests a page from a website.
  2. If that page contains the tracking code, a JavaScript array is created.
  3. From here it gets pretty technical. A bunch of code stuff happens to collect all the data.
  4. Finally, the tracking code has collected all the data. It’s then sent to the Google Analytics database, where it’s processed for your reports.

I probably disgraced all the talented engineers at Google with that explanation. But for a beginner that’s all you need to know.

Why you should install Google Analytics using Google Tag Manager

Best practice is to install and deploy the Google Analytics Tracking Code on your website via Google Tag Manager.

By doing this, it’s much easier to manage long term. For Google Analytics to work, the tracking code needs to be on every page.

Placing the tracking code on every page can be quickly done with Google Tag Manager or Analytics.js tracking snippet.

The problem is when you begin to scale your tracking it’s difficult to keep every analytics.js tracking snippet on your website up to date. On the flip side, with Google Tag Manager keeping your tags up to date is a breeze.

Step 2: Data Processing

Data processing is when custom configurations to Google Analytics are applied. Google Analytics beginners skip this step. And sadly, it’s the most important.

For example, you can create Filters that exclude your internal traffic (e.g., employees) from your primary data view.

You can also configure Analytics to measure when a visitor completes a desired action on your website. This configuration is known as a Goal.

Google Analytics Filters

Google Analytics filters are used to refine your data to be more meaningful. You can use them to include or exclude data to only see specific groups of your website traffic.

You set Filters on the View level of your account, and you can have up to 25 views, which makes them useful.

For example, you can create different views by filtering out Mobile vs. Desktop website traffic. Another example is if you’re a global company you can set a view for different countries.

I’d recommend that every Google Analytics account at least use a filter to exclude your IP address.

Google Analytics Goals

Setting up Google Analytics Goals is the most crucial part of your configuration.

If you don’t set up goals, your data can be pretty useless.

You might be wondering:

“Why are they so important?” Well, Google Analytics Goals let you measure the most critical business KPIs on your website.

For example, if someone buys a product, fills out a contact form or whatever is most important KPI in your business.

I’ll go through how to set up goals later in this guide.

Step 3: Reporting

Reporting is the part of Google Analytics your most familiar with, the user interface.

Google Analytics user interface

Custom Reports (Dashboards)

In Google Analytics, there are standard built-in reports that are super useful. But to get customised insights for your business you need to build custom reports.

For example, if you’re a content site with many authors, you might create a report that shows which authors content performs the best.

This report could lead to decisions about who you should encourage to write more. Or even authors you might want to stop posting content.

Google Sheets & the Google Analytics API

The Google Analytics API is very powerful. It lets you send your data through to other tools, like Google Sheets and Google Data Studio.

You can access any data that’s available in Google Analytics via the API. As you can imagine, the API makes setting up automated reports in Google Sheets very easy.

If this is something, you want to try out, here is Google’s official Google Analytics Spreadsheet Add-on documentation.

Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio is Google’s data visualisation tool that lets you build custom reports and dashboards that update in real time.

Google Data Studio user interface

You can fully customise the reports to aesthetics (e.g., to include in your brand color).

It gets better:

The reports work like any Google G Suite products, and you can easily share them with anyone. And it’s 100% free to use!




Chapter 3

Why You Should Use Google Analytics

Other than the fact it’s free, there are plenty of other reasons to use Google Analytics.

This chapter aims to cover why you’d be crazy not to use Google Analytics.

Let’s cover Google Analytics key benefits for business owners.





Key Benefits Of Using Google Analytics

There are a plethora of benefits to using Google Analytics. But in this guide, I’ll share my top 3 benefits why you should use it.

Benefit #1: Make informed decisions based on data

If you’re making a decision on gut-feelings, it’s time to stop. In today’s digital world you can track every interaction with your website. And better still, understand what works and what doesn’t.

Google Analytics helps you paint a clear picture of your website’s performance. Use analytics to drive your digital strategy and media buying.

With the correct tracking in place you should never ask these questions again:

  • Is social media working?
  • Did our email campaign drive any new leads?
  • What was the return on investment from our Google Adwords campaigns?
  • Is our blog content help achieve business goals?

Benefit #2: Track ad performance from other platforms and vendors

If you’re running ads on Facebook, Google, Instagram, and others then you’ve seen the inbuilt reporting. And if you haven’t, it’s probably because you’re using a vendor for your digital marketing.

Do the numbers in the reports add up?

You can’t always trust third-party sources. By monitoring ad performance from other platforms in Google Analytics, it will give you the ability to hold these platforms and your vendors accountable for digital marketing results.

Benefit #3: Identify problems with your website before they appear in your sales reports

If you’re not monitoring Google Analytics for trends and anomalies in your website’s performance you miss two things:

  1. Identifying issues with your site before they blow up
  2. Opportunities to boost your conversion rate.

First up, you can flag any declines in performance early. Then fix them before you notice them months down the track in your sales reports.

On the flip side, you can identify high performing channels or pages on your site. Then double down to reap the benefits on your bottom line.




Chapter 4

Setting up and installing Google Analytics

Setting up Google Analytics is pretty easy even for non-tech savvy people.

If you have a Google Account, you can sign up and get started in under 5 minutes.

Let’s take a look at how to sign up and ways to put in place the tracking code.





How to sign up for Google Analytics

Step 1: Visit the Google Analytics sign up page, and click “Sign Up For Free”:

Google Analytics sign up page

Step 2: Next you’ll be prompted to sign in to a Google Account. I’d recommend that you create a new Google Account for this. For example, analytics@yourcompany.com.au or analytics.yourcompany@gmail.com. By creating a new account, you’ll find it makes it easier to manage long term.

Sign in to your google account page

Step 3: Now you’ll see the 3-step process to setting up Google Analytics. Click “Sign Up”:

Graphic of the 3-step process to setting up Google Analytics

Step 4: The final step is to enter your business information and time zone:

The business information and time zone form for google analytics sign up

Then choose what data sharing settings you’d like. I always check all the boxes, but that’s your decision. Then click “Get Tracking ID”:

 data sharing check boxes in the google analytics sign up process

And there you have it; a fresh new Google Analytics account ready to install on your website!

Now let’s dive into the three most common ways to install Google Analytics.




Chapter 5

How to install Google Analytics Tracking Code

There are three common ways to install the Google Analytics Tracking Code:

  1. Hardcoding the code snippet into every page on your website.
  2. Using Google Tag Manager.
  3. Using a website plugin or built-in analytics feature.

I would only ever do it through Google Tag Manager unless for some reason this wasn’t an option. But to keep this guide comprehensive, I’ll run through each option.





Hard Coding the tracking snippet

If you want to hardcode your Google Analytics tracking (you shouldn’t) here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: Go to the Admin Section, under your Property go to Tracking Info then Tracking Code and copy the Global Site Tag (gtag.js) code.

where to find your tracking code in Google Analytics

Step 2: Go to your website content management system. If you’re using WordPress (See below for other platforms), you’ll want to go to Appearance -> Editor and find the header.php file. Here you want to paste the tracking code inside the section:

where to paste your Google Analytics tracking code in WordPress

And you’re done!

How to install Google Analytics with Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager is the best option for installing Google Analytics. It gives you the most flexibility and makes advanced customisations simple.

First, you need to have a Google Tag Manager account (it’s free). Go to their sign up page, and log in with the same email as you used for Google Analytics.

Once you’re in the GTM interface follow these steps:

Step 1: Create a constant variable for your GA Tracking ID.

Go to variables tab.

Google Tag Manager variables tab

Create a new ‘user defined variable.’

Google Tag Manager creating a user defined variable

Choose constant variable

Google Tag Manager creating a new constant variable

Put in your GA tracking ID

Google Tag Manager paste your GA UA-ID into constant variable

Save the variable with a solid naming convention

Saving constant variable with good naming convention

Step 2: Create your Google Analytics core tracking tag

Go to tags tab

creating a new google tag manager tag

Click on tag configuration and select Universal Analytics

creating a new universial analytics tag

Leave the first two settings as is and press the variable button

adding in the UA-ID variable in new google tag manager tag

From here select the Constant – GA Tracking ID variable

choosing a our GA tracking ID constant variable in google tag manager tag

Next click on ‘select a trigger to make this tag fire’ and choose All Pageviews

choosing an all pages trigger in google tag manager tag

Your tag is ready if it looks like this:

complete Google ANalytics tag in google tag manager

Finally, save the tag with proper naming convention. For the tag to be live on your site you need to click on, publish.

Save a complete Google Analytics tag in google tag manager with proper naming convention

Using a plugin Insert Headers and Footers Plugin

This method is not as not as good as Google Tag Manager because you will not be able to do advanced tracking configuration. But it will get the job done.

First, install and activate the Insert Headers and Footers plugin.

Upon activation, visit Settings » Insert Headers and Footers page. Paste the Google Analytics code in the header section.

installing Google Analytics tracking code via Insert Headers & Footers Plugin

You can copy the code snippet from in the Google Analytics admin section. Go to Property then Tracking Info and finally Tracking Code.

Click save changes button to store your settings.




Chapter 6

Configuring Google Analytics Admin Settings

This part is vital to ensuring you get the most out of Google Analytics.

And the worst part:

Most people skip it (or don’t know how to do it). In this section, you’ll learn how to configure your Google Analytics account correctly.

Let’s power up your analytics.





Google Analytics Admin Settings

You can make setting changes to Google Analytics on three levels:

  1. Account
  2. Property
  3. View

Google Analytics on three levels where you can make settings changes

Account level groups all your businesses websites together. The property level is a standalone website that doesn’t need to be crossed tracked with other sites. Finally, you can have view level which is a different configuration of a property.

Account Level Settings

Account settings are the highest level. The primary purpose is for managing user permissions.

User management

Are there people in your business who you want to give access to all your properties? User management is where you do it. Be very careful of what permissions you give to others.

If you give someone ‘Manage User’ permissions they can add users, delete users, and change user permissions. That means they can boot you off your account.

All Filters

Here you can create filters that are applied to all views.

Change History

Change history is as it sounds. A log of all the changes made by every user. It will tell you the date of a change, who made the change and what the change was.

Trash Can

The trash can is where accounts, properties, and views are stored that have been marked for deletion. You have 35 days to restore items from the Trash Can before they are permanently deleted.

Property Level Settings

There are several necessary settings to configure under the Property Level. I believe Google should have set some of these to ON as a default. But unfortunately that’s not the case, so I’ll run through them now.

Property Settings

You can select the default view that you want to see when you open Google Analytics. Default views are pretty useful if you have a lot of views set up.

If you want to get profound insights into the people visiting your website, then you have to enable demographics and interests reports.

If you have Google Search Console (you should), here you can connect it to Google Analytics. By joining search console, you get organic search data in your reports which is super powerful.

Tracking Info

There quite a few settings for Tracking Info. To be honest, they are not super necessary until you get into advanced customisations.

But, it’s imperative that you update your Referral Exclusion List. You’ll want to exclude your domain from referrals, and any third party tools such as your shopping cart.

Product Linking

If you’re using any other Google Products, you should link them up to Google Analytics. It will allow you to get a more holistic view of how your advertising drives visitors to your website.

Custom Definitions

Custom Definitions contains Custom Dimensions and Metrics. Both are very powerful customisation of your analytics reports. I’ll cover these in more detail later and share some resources to help you get started.

View Level Settings

There a lot of settings on the View level, but only a handful you need to be aware of and I’ll cover these below.

View Settings

Within this tab, you can set the time zone for your country and the currency, which makes reporting more accurate.

But, more importantly, you should activate Site Search Tracking. Site Search will show you what keywords people are searching for in your internal search function. Here’s a quick guide from Google to set up site search.

User Management

We’ve discussed this above, and it’s necessarily the same, but you can give users access only to specific views.

Goals & Filters

Goals and filters are a super important feature to power up your Analytics account. I dedicated the entire next chapter to discussing them in more detail.

Calculated Metrics

Calculated Metrics are compelling, they are a bit more advanced, and I’ll discuss them later in this guide. But you should look at using them.




Chapter 7

Google Analytics Goals and Filters

Moving from a beginner to an intermediate user of Google Analytics boils down to using Goals and Filters.

It’s pretty simple to set them up, but they will make your analysis and data much more powerful.

In this chapter, I’ll cover the basics that you need to know to get started.





Google Analytics Filters

As mentioned earlier, Google Analytics Filters are used to refine your data to be more meaningful.

To cover all the Google Analytics filters is out of the scope of this article. But, I will include the most common filter, which is excluding your internal traffic from your website.

For a comprehensive rundown on filters in Google Analytics check out basic Google Analytics Filters for every site by Lunametrics.
A quick note on filtering and view best practices

In your Google Analytics account you should always create three views:

  • Unfiltered View – this view is your raw data. Your unfiltered view should never be touched or modified.
  • Main View – this is your production view. Use this view for all your analysis, segmentation and reporting.
  • Test View – this is your testing environment. Use this view to test new goals or filters before pushing them to the Main View.

If you follow this process, it will allow you to keep your data clean and reliable to base decisions off.

How to exclude internal traffic with Google Analytics Filters

It’s crucial that you remove any website traffic that comes from with your own company. Usually, you’ll spend a lot of time on your on site, and this can mess with your numbers. It’s even more critical if you have a lot of employees!

It’s a pretty quick process to set up the filter. If you don’t know your IP address, search “what’s my IP” on Google. If you have a static IP address, you’re in luck. If not, it’s a bit harder.

First, Go to admin under the view you want to filter click Filters. Then click add filter.

creating a new filter in Google Analytics

Then give it a name, select predefined > exclude > IP Address > equal to >your IP address.

creating a new IP exclusion filter in Google Analytics

Click save, and you’re done.

Setting up Goals in Google Analytics

Google Analytics goals are a must-have in any account setup. You can create up to 20 goals per view, but you should only use Goals for your most important KPIs. Setting up too many goals becomes overwhelming and useless.

I recommend setting up one to five goals depending on your business. In most cases, I would measure a contact form and/or purchase and another critical KPI. For example, newsletter sign-ups.

How to create Google Analytics Goals

To create a Google Analytics goal, you need to navigate to the Admin section of your account. From there under the view settings go to Goals and click “+New Goal.”

Creating a new goal in Google Analytics

First, you must decide on how you want to set up the goal. Select custom setup.

Creating a new custom goal in Google Analytics

You have four options for setting up a Goal:

  1. Destination
  2. Duration
  3. Pages/Screen per session
  4. Event

4 types of goals in Google Analytics

Let’s dive a little deeper into how to set up each goal type.

Destination Goal

Destination goals are the most commonly used by many companies. In most cases, they will be set up to fire when a visitor reaches a thank you page on the website.

For example, in B2B this will likely be after a lead form is completed. On the flip side, in e-commerce, it will fire when someone purchases an item.

Setting one up is easy. You will need to put in the path URL on the page that you want to fire the goal. You can select this with Equals to, contains or use Regex.

Example of a destination goals in Google Analytics

If you’re stuck, you can always refer to the Google Analytics documentation for destination goals.

Duration Goals

I haven’t found many use cases for duration goals where they provide much value. But if you’d like to set them up, it’s very straightforward.

All you need to do is choose a time to fire the goal that is greater than a specific time in hours, minutes and seconds. For example, fire the goal when someone is on the website for greater than 4 minutes.

Example of a duration goals in Google Analytics

Pages/Screen per session Goals

Pages per session can be quite a useful goal for publishers who are making money of ad placements on their site. Obviously, the more page viewed per session will result in more revenue.

Pages per session goals are easy to configure, you just put in a greater than the number that you want to fire the goal. For example, if a visitor visits more than four pages fire the goal.

Example of a pages per session goal in Google Analytics

Event Goals

Event goals are very useful and allow you to take tracking via destination to the next level. For example, if your lead form or sale never redirects to a thank you page it can be difficult to track.

When you can’t use a landing page is where event goals are beneficial. You can track almost anything with an event, so you can fire an event when your server validates a form submission. Then you can use that event to fire a goal.

To set up an event goal, you need to put in the at least one of either the Category, Action or label. Say you had an event Category for “Form Completions” which had several different forms as the labels. If you want to track all of those form completions you would only need to enter in the Category.

But if you wanted to track a single form, you need to include the Label as well.

Example of an event goal in Google Analytics




Chapter 8

Advanced Google Analytics Techniques

This guide is for Google Analytics beginners, so I won’t deep dive into how to set up these features.

But, I will give a brief overview of what they are and their capabilities. I will share some resources for further reading if you’re interested in learning more.

Let’s jump in.





Event Tracking

Events are user interactions on your website. For example, clicking a link, scrolling down the page or playing a video. You can track these interactions and many more through Google Analytics event tracking.

Custom Dimensions and Metrics

Custom dimensions and metrics are the same as the default dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics. For example, a dimension like a Source / Medium or a metric like Page Views. But with custom dimensions and metrics you can collect data that is unique to your business that Google Analytics doesn’t automatically track.

Calculated Metrics

Calculated metrics are a very exciting feature that Google Analytics has recently added. They are exactly how they sound, metrics that you define based on formulas of existing metrics in your account. If you wanted to combine two goals, you could create a custom metrics to achieve that.

Segments

Segments are powerful and let you undertake the advanced analysis. When you use them to their full potential, they take you to an advanced Google Analytics user. A segment is just a specific subset of your data. For example, people who came to your website from organic search. But you can go more advanced, such as people who came to your site stayed for over 10 minutes and then bought three products.




Over to you

And there you have the complete guide to using Google Analytics.

I tried to make it the most comprehensive guide on the internet. If I missed anything let me know below in the comments.

Goodluck with your Google Analytics implementations.



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