“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
– H. James Harrington
As H. James Harrington’s quote suggests, people in the business world need to understand their enterprises in order to improve them and control them effectively. Otherwise it can be very hard to keep up with the competition. Measuring, then, is a tool to understand how business is progressing. Web metrics is such a tool which helps estimate a website’s success as well as its weaknesses. With this tool in hand an important step in improving the website is taken. Many web metric tools exist, some of which are commercial and some non-commercial. Google Analytics is a non-commercial tool, which, however, can be implemented with other commercial tools such as Google Adwords.
What Is Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free web analytics service that provides detailed statistics about the visitors to a website generated by Google and it can aid search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing purposes.
By using Google Analytics, the user can increase the Return of Investment (ROI) on marketing campaigns. The ROI is the result derived from the following statement:
Although this powerful service is designed for marketers and technologists, it is available to anyone with a Google account. It may be intimidating at first for beginners because of its depth, but with familiarization through use one can benefit from its properties.
Why Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics is by far the most popular web analytics tool as is indicated below by the Web Analytics usage statistics. Google Analytics is first with 72.73% for the top million sites and Quantcast Measurement follows second with 6.42%.
Because Google Analytics is constantly updated and improved, it has a simple user interface, which is easy to use and maintain. This service also offers an excellent help and training system, ideal for beginners. For instance, the Google Analytics Education Center provides the “Google Analytics IQ Lessons”, educational presentations for beginners to help them increase their knowledge.
In addition, it shows valuable data for its users answering important questions such as:
-How many visitors is the website getting on a specified time frame?
-Where are the visitors located geographically?
-Did they find the website via a search engine or were they referred by another website?
-If they used a search engine, what did they type to find the website?
-How long did they stay in the website?
-Which pages did they visit? What links did they click?
-Which web browser are the visitors using?
-What is their monitor resolution?
-What is their internet connection speed?
-What Operating System did they use?
More specifically, Google Analytics can aid businesses in certain fields, such as the marketing departments which will be able to accumulate much more information regarding their field. For instance, Google Analytics can indicate who the audience is, how more visitors can be attracted, and which keywords and ads are more effective.
Executives can benefit as well, as they get answers for which marketing strategy they should follow and what the website’s traffic trends are.
Finally, it benefits content/web developers as they are informed about how to improve the website to attract visitors, and how to determine which parts of the website are interesting to visitors.
The most important advantage of Google Analytics is its capability to provide information on keyword traffic sources. With this feature it is possible to get a list of keywords ranked by how often visitors used them to find the website. This can be used to determine how effective the search engine marketing campaign and the link building are, and what brings the most visitors to the website. With that information in hand, a successful marketing strategy for the website can be created. Another important advantage of Google Analytics is that as part of Google Services, it can be combined with Google Adwords, Adsense and Webmaster Tools. Combining these tools, one can focus a targeted website marketing strategy, as they offer additional information on how a website should be supported in terms of SEO and which keyword strategy to attend.
As with everything else in the world, Google Analytics has some disadvantages as well. It cannot track website crawlers, meaning that when spiders from GoogleBot, Inktomi, Bing, Ask, and Baidu crawl the website, the user won’t be able to derive any conclusions from the Google Analytics’ dashboard.
How It Works
Step 1 – Set Up A, Google Account
1. The first step in using Google Analytics is to set up a Google Account. Go to the Google Analytics website (www.google.com/analytics).
2. If you do not have a Google Account, click Sign Up Now located on the left below the Access Analytics button. This will take you to the sign up page for creating a Google Account.
3. If you have a Google Account, then click the Access Analytics button where you will be prompted to fill in your email and password to sign in.
4. To continue, click the Sign Up button.
The next page will ask you to provide Google with an account name and the url of the website you wish to be analyzed. Then you will be asked to set a time zone and the data sharing settings. Finally, you will have to read and accept the User Agreement if you wish to continue
5. Give the website any name you wish to remember. If you plan on using your Google Analytics account for multiple websites, naming each website will make it easier to distinguish between them.
6. Choose whether the website is a secure or non-secure website (http or https) and fill in the url.
7. Select the country that your website is based in or the country it is accounted for. Then select the corresponding time zone. If your website is based in the UK but all your visitors are from Greece, the time zone will help you figure out your needs.
For instance, you can set a Greek time zone to figure out what time your visitors access the website, or you can set a UK time zone to figure out when you need your webmasters to do most of their work.
8. On data sharing settings, choose if you wish to share your Google Analytics data or not. If you are unsure, hit the question mark button for help.
9. Then choose your country or territory to read the User Agreement in your language and if you agree, tick the box “Yes, I agree..” and hit the Create Account button below.
2. On the HTML of your page, paste the code exactly before the end of head tag (/head). If you need to install it into a CMS such as WordPress, you can open the head.php file to place the code just above the </head> tag. Be sure you install it into your master template, or include it in all pages created.
Note: There are other ways of automatically implementing your GATC into your pages, two of which are Apache mod_layout and PHP auto_append_file. However, they are beyond the scopes of this research and will not be discussed at the present time. Also, several plugins for automatic implemention of the GATC in CMSs exist.
3. Once you have finished pasting GATC to every page you wish to be tracked, Google Analytics is ready to provide you with data giving you an overview of your website performance. However, it may take up to 24 hours before any data is displayed on your Google Analytics Dashboard. You can check if your account is receiving data by checking if the Tracking Status displays the “Receiving Data” message. You can find the Tracking Status on the same page you copied the GATC from.
Note: Some websites may not allow you to use Google Analytics. Check your website or hosting server if this is allowed.
The Google Analytics Dashboard
To start using the dashboard, you need to visit the Google Analytics website (http://www.google.com/analytics).
Hit the Access Analytics button and the Account Home page will appear. Here you have to choose the website you wish to view and then the corresponding dashboard will show up.
Exploring the Google Analytics Dashboard
The Google Analytics Dashboard is a great tool to give users a high level overview of the website. It can provide a great depth of details and the simple User Interface it has makes it seem rather easy; however, further research is necessary to discover all the particulars.
Standard Report tab
The landing page of Google Analytics is the Standard Report tab and the fundamentals of this dashboard are presented in (Figure 10).
1. Main Navigation Menu. Here all the links to the reports classified in categories and subcategories can be located. This changes as the user moves around in Analytics depending on which field is used.
2. Help Menu. In need, this section can be resorted to for help. A secondary help option is offered beside the Admin button on the top left side of the Dashboard.
3. Data Ranges. By default, it is set to last 30 days but it can be changed depending on the user’s needs. Data ranges can also be compared by clicking the corresponding button located in the menu which expands immediately.
4. Overview Graphs. Several options are offered to choose from such as Visits, Average Time on the Site, Pages per Visit, Bounce Rate, or Unique Visitors. An option chosen can be compared against a second metric chosen from the corresponding menu and displayed hourly, daily, weekly or monthly
5. Site Usage Statistics. A statistics overview of the website is shown here.
6. Subcategories’ Statistics. Some of the most important subcategories of the selected category can be viewed here.
7. Advanced Segment and adding new widget options are offered here as well as exporting choices are offered at this gray bar.
In the Home tab the users can fully implement their own widgets and change them as they wish. They can drag-and-drop any widget they wish and add those of their own choice. Here they can create or delete a dashboard and even share their set of widgets with others by clicking Share Dashboard. Note that no information will be passed, but only the set of the widgets in this current Dashboard.
Custom Report tab
Custom Report tab is another tab that can be seen in the user’s profile. Custom reports allow for the creation of reports that show any desired information, and organized in the preferred way. A drag-and-drop interface is offered and any report can be chosen, edited and shared with others.
Setting Multiple Profiles
Using Google Analytics is not difficult though some practice is needed in order to become a good analyst.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to create different profiles for the same account. The reason is that each profile will maintain data that cannot be changed or altered so data protection and access control are essential. Having multiple profiles is preferable and it is advisable to include three of them. The first one is the test profile which can be the experimental lab for any data results. A second test profile, though optional, may be created in case a data comparison is to be taken for estimating the different results and conclusions. Finally, the last profile has to be the master profile, the one with which the website will be accessed for any data analytics to be taken.
Measuring the audience is fundamental for analyzing the website. By clicking the Audience Category, an overview of the website’s visitors can be obtained. The first section (Figure 12) shows a graph depicting visually the choice selected from the drop down menu button.
The second section (Figure 13) depicts statistics related to the visitors of the website. Specifically, it shows Visits, Unique Visitors, Pageviews, Page per visit, Average Time on Site, Bounce Rate, and New Visits.
Visits show the total number of the website’s visitors, regardless the user. That means if the same person enters the website twice, this section will count both visits.
As the name suggests, this section depicts unique visitors at the website. However, if the same user enters from another computer or ip address, it can’t be identified and a new unique visitor will be counted.
Note: The unique visitor is counted within a defined timescale. After this expires, it will not count as the same unique visitor anymore.
The total Pageviews is shown here. That counts all the pages that were viewed regardless the user.
Page per Visit
This section shows the average pages viewed. This is a good indicator to get an overall idea about the website’s usage.
Average Time on Site
As the name suggests here, too, the average time on site is depicted here. Similar to the average of pages per visit, this section aids in understanding how long the visitors are likely to stay in the website.
This shows percentage of visits where the visitor enters and exits at the same page without visiting any other pages on the website. This is depicted in a percentage.
New Visits gives the number of visits from people who reached the website for the first time. This is also depicted in a percentage.
The third and last section (Figure 14) includes three standard subsections; Demographics, System, and Mobile.
Each of the subsections contains important data about the website’s visitors such as the country or city they visit from, the operating system or the browser they use. From that point, by clicking each section more specific details can be acquired. For instance, the version of Internet Explorer or the screen resolution can be viewed. The fact that a Macintosh and Chrome user who visited the website from Memphis is another detail which can be concluded by investigating further.
In order to get a measure of how much a website’s pages are viewed, check the total number of views per page. Thus, by clicking the Content category and Overview subcategory the user can check the pages that visitors view or like most. The Page Views is obvious at the Page widget as the picture below (Figure 15) depicts.
For instance, the above picture shows 38 Pageviews for the first page. Then the second page which follows has 31 Pageviews and it continues.
Landing and Exit Pages
Landing (or entry) and exit pages are those pages that the website’s visitors arrive at from another domain and exit for another. It is important to evaluate these pages to determine how the website can be improved and be more valuable to readers. The value of popular landing pages can be increased if links and other interesting information are added to those pages. The exit pages are the pages that visitors leave from, because they may find them uninteresting. Improving those pages by making them more valuable for visitors may decrease the exit odds and thus keep them in the website for longer.
On the main navigation click Content Category and then Site Content subcategory. Landing and Exit pages are shown here.
Looking for Referrals
The main contributors to a website’s traffic are the referring sources from where visitors came to the website.
On the main navigation click Traffic Sources for an overview and then click for the submenu Referrals located at Sources subcategory. All the referring sources can be seen here and, upon clicking each, more details can be revealed such as the location the visitors came from.
Setting a goal for the website will be helpful in watching results for a certain value action that visitors are encouraged to perform. A large range of goals can be set. It could be a newsletter subscription, a completion of a checkout process or a specific time that the visitors remained in the website. For setting up goals, click the Admin button and then under the Profiles tab, choose the Goalsubmenu. There is a limit of four sets of five goals in each. If more sets are needed, a new profile has to be created. For setting a specific goal such as downloads or on-page actions, some extra code has to be used, the “_trackPageview” function. For more information check http://support.google.com/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=55597.
The analytics data of the goal settings which were previously defined can be viewed under the Conversions Category at the corresponding Goal subcategory.
Education Center – Support Center
Google Analytics offer a robust educational center for beginners and advanced users that help them develop their analytical skills. The educational center offers seminars, videos and qualification tests for its users.
Google Analytics also has a support center which covers an increasing number of problems.
Alternatives to Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the dominating analytics tool on the market; however as some criticism has arisen against certain privacy policies that claim that Google may be collecting data from a website’s visitors, many seek for other alternative web analytics tools. Many other commercial or non-commercial Web Analytics packages exist.
Some of them are presented below.
Piwik is one of the most prominent web analytics tools and it is an open source which is why many users favor Piwik apart from its simple dashboard. It is developed using PHP and MySQL which is downloadable and possible to install on the web servers. It has a large range of plugins and this gives Piwik extensibility and customization allowing users to use any plugin they wish.
Clicky, another web analytics tool, is suitable for small websites and blogs. It is easy to implement and incorporates advanced features, some of which are important for social media such as the “Twitter follower” feature. This can aid users in finding any relation between page views and social media hits.
Yahoo! Web Analytics is an enterprise-level, web-based third-party web analytics solution. It has an easy-to-use interface and has a great potential for multiple user groups. Yahoo! Web Analytics is credited in exceeding Google Analytics in several areas such a larger page view limit and competitive web page traffic data.
Mint targets small budget users with little technical background. It offers data security since it allows users to keep their websites private unlike Google Analytics. It comes with great support and it can be purchased at an affordable cost. Also, Mint offers a server compatibility suite which aids in determining whether or not the hosting server entails the necessary technology and whether the database user has the necessary permission required to install and use Mint.
Twitter and Facebook Analytics
Using Twitter and Facebook Analytics is not exactly an alternative method to Google Analytics, however, such an approach can prove to be dramatically helpful for increasing the number of a website’s visitors and examining its impact on them.
Twitalyzer is such a tool for measuring your account’s impact on customers or users. It is free and it is similar to Facebook Insights. It gives a high view of retweet and reply levels. It is easy to use as it gives instant information by just looking up a Twitter username.
Seven months ago Twitter announced its intention of releasing the official Twitter Analytics; however it is not yet available.
This is the best -and only- tool for analyzing Facebook data and it provides detailed information such as follower counts, likes, or comments on posts. There exist two different types of Facebook insights and they are based on users and their interactions with Facebook business content.
- Hit – A request for a file from the web server. Available only in log analysis. The number of hits received by a website is frequently cited to assert its popularity, but this number is extremely misleading and dramatically over-estimates popularity. A single web-page typically consists of multiple (often dozens) of discrete files, each of which is counted as a hit as the page is downloaded, so the number of hits is really an arbitrary number more reflective of the complexity of individual pages on the website than the website’s actual popularity. The total number of visitors or page views provides a more realistic and accurate assessment of popularity.
- Page view – A request for a file whose type is defined as a page in log analysis. An occurrence of the script being run in page tagging. In log analysis, a single page view may generate multiple hits as all the resources required to view the page (images, .js and .css files) are also requested from the web server.
- Visit / Session – A visit is defined as a series of page requests from the same uniquely identified client with a time of no more than 30 minutes between each page request. A session is defined as a series of page requests from the same uniquely identified client with a time of no more than 30 minutes and no requests for pages from other domains intervening between page requests. In other words, a session ends when someone goes to another site, or 30 minutes elapse between pageviews, whichever comes first. A visit ends only after a 30 minute time delay. If someone leaves a site, then returns within 30 minutes, this will count as one visit but two sessions. In practice, most systems ignore sessions and many analysts use both terms for visits. Because time between pageviews is critical to the definition of visits and sessions, a single page view does not constitute a visit or a session (it is a “bounce”).
- First Visit / First Session – (also known as ‘Absolute Unique Visitor) A visit from a visitor who has not made any previous visits.
- Visitor / Unique Visitor / Unique User – The uniquely identified client generating requests on the web server (log analysis) or viewing pages (page tagging) within a defined time period (i.e. day, week or month). A Unique Visitor counts once within the timescale. A visitor can make multiple visits. Identification is made to the visitor’s computer, not the person, usually via cookie and/or IP+User Agent. Thus the same person visiting from two different computers or with two different browsers will count as two Unique Visitors. Increasingly visitors are uniquely identified by Flash LSO’s (Local Shared Object), which are less susceptible to privacy enforcement.
- Repeat Visitor – A visitor that has made at least one previous visit. The period between the last and current visit is called visitor recency and is measured in days.
- New Visitor – A visitor that has not made any previous visits. This definition creates a certain amount of confusion (see common confusions below), and is sometimes substituted with analysis of first visits.
- Impression – An impression is each time an advertisement loads on a user’s screen. Anytime you see a banner, that is an impression.
- Singletons – The number of visits where only a single page is viewed (a ‘bounce’). While not a useful metric in and of itself the number of singletons is indicative of various forms of Click fraud as well as being used to calculate bounce rate and in some cases to identify automatons bots.
- Bounce Rate – The percentage of visits where the visitor enters and exits at the same page without visiting any other pages on the site in between.
- % Exit – The percentage of users who exit from a page.
- Visibility time – The time a single page (or a blog, Ad Banner…) is viewed.
- Session Duration – Average amount of time that visitors spend on the site each time they visit. This metric can be complicated by the fact that analytics programs can not measure the length of the final page view.
- Page View Duration / Time on Page – Average amount of time that visitors spend on each page of the site. As with Session Duration, this metric is complicated by the fact that analytics programs can not measure the length of the final page view unless they record a page close event, such as onUnload().
- Active Time / Engagement Time – Average amount of time that visitors spend actually interacting with content on a web page, based on mouse moves, clicks, hovers and scrolls. Unlike Session Duration and Page View Duration / Time on Page, this metric can accurately measure the length of engagement in the final page view.
- Page Depth / Page Views per Session – Page Depth is the average number of page views a visitor consumes before ending their session. It is calculated by dividing total number of page views by total number of sessions and is also called Page Views per Session or PV/Session.
- Frequency / Session per Unique – Frequency measures how often visitors come to a website. It is calculated by dividing the total number of sessions (or visits) by the total number of unique visitors. Sometimes it is used to measure the loyalty of your audience.
- Click path – the sequence of hyperlinks one or more website visitors follows on a given site.
- Click – “refers to a single instance of a user following a hyperlink from one page in a site to another”. Some use click analytics to analyze their web sites.
- Site Overlay is a technique in which graphical statistics are shown besides each link on the web page. These statistics represent the percentage of clicks on each link.
“Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics”, Brian Clifton, SYBEX
“Head first Web Design”, Ethan Watrall, Jeff Siarto, O’ Really Media
“A Beginners Guide to Google Analytics”, Ben Barden (quickblogtips.com)
“Google Analytics, Understanding Visitor Behavior”, Justin Cutroni, O’Reilly