Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

//Shubha Bala /November 23 / 2012

Google Analytics 101 – The what and how

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for tracking and analysing your website traffic data. By placing a small piece of code in your site, Google Analytics can then tell you where your visitors have come from, how long they stayed, and which pages they  looked at, amongst other things. This allows you to understand how different pieces of content perform and gives you insight into user behaviour so that you can improve your site, both from a technical and an editorial perspective.

Here we explain how Google Analytics works, how to set it up on your website and share it with your staff, what the definition of “metrics” and “dimensions” are, and where some of the most common standard reports can be found. Lastly there are some exercises so you can try what you’ve learned.

What is Google Analytics and how does it work?

In order for a website to use Google Analytics, it must carry a small piece of tracking code which runs when a person visits that site. The tracking code either creates or modifies Google Analytics cookies (a little snippet of information that a website stores in your browserBrowserA software program that can request, download, cache and display documents…//read more  to identity you), sending this cookieCookieA cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is a…//read more  data to the Google Analytics server.

Two things can stop this from working properly: if first-party cookies are blocked (not third-party), or if Javascript is disabled. Some estimates say less than 5% of internet users have blocked first-party cookies.

One last note is that if the code doesn’t load in time – for example the pagePageA document having a specific URL and comprised of a set of associated files. A…//read more  is loading very slowly – then it is possible the visitVisitA single continous set of activity attributable to a cookied browser or user…//read more  will not be recorded. However, Google recently changed their tracking code to an “asynchronous” code.  Amongst other advantages, this code is put in the header of a website instead of the footer, so it is more likely that the code will be run, even if there are issues with the entire page loading.

Accounts, Properties and Profiles

Before you create an account, it is useful to understand the hierarchy of Google Analytics.

An account is the topmost level of organisation for Google Analytics. It allows you to manage multiple web properties (usually a website), which can have different profiles.

The default profile should always be the entire web property (for example, the entire website or the entire domain), but you can also make other profiles which filter the data to look at a subsection of your audience, or look at specific subdomains of the website. This can be useful if your digital newsroom is separated into content silos – the editor of sports can easily see his or her web statistics separately from the editor of business.

How to create an account

1. Go to and sign in with your Google login and password. For future purposes, it is best to use the same Google account you use for AdSense or AdWords.

2. ClickClickA click can denote several different things. It can be a metric that…//read more  the Admin button in the top left. You will see an Accounts tab. Under this tab, click “New Account”.

At a minimum, name your account and add the website that you want to track.

3. Select httpHTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol)The format most commonly used to transfer documents on the World Wide Web.//read more  or https from the dropdown.  If you aren’t sure which one to use, go to your website and see what appears at the front of the URL.  You can add more websites later.

4. Select a timezone and industry category (the industry category is for Google compare to similar industries).

5. Select “Share data with other Google products”, as this will allow you to incorporate AdWords or AdSense into your Google Analytics account.

Once you have created the account, you will be shown a tracking ID.  A tracking ID always starts with UA, followed by the account number, and then the profile ID.  So an ID UA-XXXXX-Y means that XXXXX is the overall account, and Y is this particular profile.

6. To access the code you will need to put add to your website, scroll down to “Website tracking” and select “What are you tracking?”.

7. Select the website you are tracking. You will then be given the tracking code to put on your website.

How to give other people access to your account

You probably have other people in your organization that you want to be able to access the analytics.  It is important that they do not create a new Google Analytics account on their own Google account, instead you should give them rights to view the account you just created. The reason for this is that since cookies are based on a user visiting a website, it can confuse things if multiple accounts are trying to update a user’s cookies. The data will likely be incorrect.

1. Make sure that you are administering your account, not your property or profile, then click on the Admin button in the top right.

2. Underneath the menu, click either on “Account List” or the name of the account that you see directly after “Account List”.

3. Once you are in the account admin screen, click the Users tab.

4. Click the button to add a new user. You can give them user rights, or admin rights. You can also select just specific profiles in the account for the user to be able to see.

Metrics and Dimensions

Google Analytics splits its data into “metrics” and “dimensions”.  Simply put, metrics are anything that gives you numbers, and dimensions are ways in which you can categorize those numbers. For example, number of visitors is a number, so it’s a metric, but the way you want to view those numbers – by day, by month, by country, by device – those are dimensions.

Common Metrics

  • Visits (Sessions) – The number of times that anyone visited your website. One thing to note is that a visit is considered over if someone leaves your website, closes their browser, is inactive on your site for over 30 minutes (the 30 minutes varies by analytics tool and can be customized), or when it hits midnight in your timezone. This means that if someone is interacting with your site and they go get lunch for over 30 minutes, when they come back and start interacting again it will count as 2 visits.  For more detailed information –
  • % of new visits (or returning visits) – When a user visits your website, Google Analytics will see if they already have a cookie for this site, indicating that the user is a return visitorVisitorIndividual or browser which accesses a Web site within a specific time period.//read more . This means that a visitor may also be considered new if the user has cleared their cookies, or if the cookie has expired (after two years for Google Analytics)
  • Average visit duration – Adds together the length of time of every sessionSession1) a sequence of Internet activity made by one user at one site. If a user…//read more  and divides it by the total number of sessions. Google calculates “length of time” by calculating the time between when a user came to your site, and the last thing the user does on your site.  Unfortunately, leaving your site is not something that Google can get a timestamp for – it does not count as an event on your site. Therefore, the length of time the user spends on the last page before exiting is usually not included in the Average visit duration calculation. Also a user that only visits one page, does nothing, and then exists will have a length of time of zero even if they spent 15 minutes reading that one page. Therefore, the average visit duration will always be an underestimation. It is worth noting that not all Analytics tools work this way and that there are ways, through coding, to change this functionality. However, since Google Analytics is one industry standard, it is perfectly acceptable to use this value for time on page or average visit duration.
  • Bounce Rate – The number of users who only visit one page and leave. Sometimes the bounce rate is a good indication of whether or not the “right” people are visiting your website and whether or not it’s easy for them to find what they need. However, if you have a blog for example, you would expect a high bounce rate since all the articles are on the homepage anyway. Even if someone spends 5 minutes reading your blog, they will still be considered a bounced user unless they click on a page or have an event.
  • Pages/visit (or average page depth) – This is the average number of pages that are viewed in a session.  Repeat visits to the same page during a session will be counted as separate page visits.
  • Pageviews – This is the total number of pages that were seen. Repeat visits to the same page are counted as separate page viewsPage ViewsWhen the page is actually seen by the user. Some platforms, like Facebook cache…//read more .
  • Unique pageviews – This is the number of unique pages viewed, aggregated by all the visitors.  If you see the number of unique pageviews for a specific page, it would count the number of sessions during which that page was viewed at least one time. The total number of unique pageviews tells you how many pages people visited, but not including their repeat visits to the same page during the same session.
  • Unique visitors / Visitors – The number of different users, or at least different cookies, that visit your website. Of course, if a user comes from a new browser, different computer or device, they will be counted more than once. Also, when people clear cookies and appear as new visitors, they will be counted more than once. Since people often clear cookies manually, the industry standard for reporting unique visitorsUnique VisitorsUnique individual or browser which has accessed a site or application and has…//read more  to your site is to report by month, and not any longer like by year, where many users may be counted more than once.

Common Dimensions

  • Visitor Type – New or returning
  • Medium – The way someone came to your website. (none) refers to a direct visit where someone typed the URL in or used a bookmark; organic refers to a search engineSearch engineA website that provides a searchable index of online content, whereby users…//read more ; and referral is if they clicked on a link other than a search engine or campaign.  Also, for campaigns, Medium could be a custom parameter or ppc if it is an AdWords campaign using autotagging.
  • Source – This is the more specific source of the referral to your website. It is most often the domain or URL where they clicked the link to your site. It can also be a campaign custom parameter, or Google if they came from AdWords with autotagging.  Again, if the visitor just came directly it will say (direct).
  • Continent, subContinent, Country, Region, Metro, City – Google Analytics will try to source the location of the visitor based on the IP addressIP addressAn IP address is the numerical address assigned to each computer on the…//read more .  If it cannot determine the location it will use (not set). Unfortunately in some regions of the world this can happen quite frequently – in fact the majority of users may be from not set.

Standard Reports

Reports are where Metrics meet Dimensions.  For example, you might want to look at the behaviour of new vs returning (dimension) visitors. You could compare the number of visitors (metric) who are new and the number who are returning, or the number of unique pageviews (metric) for new visitors compared to those for returning visitors.  Perhaps you want to see the bounce rate (metric) for the visitors from your country vs from other countries (dimensions).

In the standard reporting view, which is one of the buttons in the main menu, there are some useful reports that you can pull up from the sidebar:

  • Location, under Audience > DemographicsDemographicsCommon characteristics used for population or audience segmentation, such as…//read more 
  • Mobile, under Audience > Mobile > Overview
  • Sources, under Traffic Sources
  • Search terms, under Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic
  • Social Network overview under Traffic Sources > Social > Sources
  • Pages visited under Content > Site Content > All Pages
  • AdWord Campaigns under Advertising > AdWords > Campaigns (note this must be enabled)
  • AdSense Overview under Content > AdSense > Overview (note this must be enabled)

For every report in Google Analytics, you can set the date frame and the range.  To set the date frame select the arrow in the top left-hand corner beside the current date frame and choose a start and end date.

You should immediately see your graph change dates. By default, you will notice that the analytics graph reports on the metric by day. You can change this at the top of your graph by toggling the day, month, or year buttons.

You can also compare to a previous date range by clicking “Compare to” when you select your start and end dates.


  • How many unique visitors did you have yesterday, last week, three months ago for the month?
  • How many visits in the last week were from mobile devices? What were the top three mobile devices used?
  • What are the top three countries, based on number of visits, to your site?
  • For the people that are from your country, what is the bounce rate?
  • How many visits to your site were from referrals?  What were the top three domains that they were referred from?
  • Compare the sources of visits to your site between this month, and last month. Is there a significant difference? Why do you think that is?
  • Compare the number of visits in general between the last week of this month, and the last week of last month. If there is a difference, then why?
  • What were the top five pages visited in the past week? Does that surprise you? If so, how could you use that information to change your editorial flow for next week?

Article by Shubha Bala

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