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Summary: In this article you will learn what Google Analytics is and what kind of information it stores. This is an overview for marketers who are using Google Analytics for the first time and want to learn a little before they get started. This article is also useful for markets who already know what Google Analytics is, but would like a better understanding of how it all works.

Getting Started

Google Analytics is a powerhouse of information about what is happening on your website. It captures a wide range of information about what your visitors are doing on your website and how they got there.

Google captures information about each of your website visitors in cookies (a data file associated with your browser that websites use to store data about your visitors). This means that when the same visitor comes back to your website again you will be able to also identify what they did on your website in the past.

When you visit a website with Google Analytics enabled, your browser sends the information about your visit to the Google Analytics central servers. Over on their servers the data is stored in a database and this data is delivered to you when you log into your Google Analytics account and request reports.

What do the reports tell you?

The Google Analytics account you sign into has been set out with predefined reports that you can use to quickly access your data. These should cover the majority of your needs if you want to log in and check out your metrics, but you can do more if you need to.

Essentially, Google Analytics lets you pull down the information that it has stored about your visitors over a time frame of your choice. It automatically adds up the numbers for you so that you just see the total number of any given piece of information. This is called aggregation.

The tables in Google Analytics are made up of Dimensions which is the type of information and metrics which is the value, or number assigned to the information.

Dimensions are defined by a unique piece of text. So this might include for example your page URL, the URL of the website your visitor was at when they clicked a link through to your website (referrer URL), or the country that your visitor is located in.

There are many more standard dimensions available in Google Analytics, and you can also make up your own.

Dimensions can include any piece of text information that you add into Google Analytics yourself, such as the name of a PDF you have available for download or an activity that a visitor did when they went to your website.

These bits of information that you add to Google Analytics yourself are extremely useful for finding out how your website is performing. They are often created in a specific format of Google Analytics information called an event. An event is a piece of information that Google Analytics stores when a visitor does a particular action on your website that you want to capture and measure later.

Metrics are displayed as a number and are an aggregate (added up total) of all the values of each unique dimension over the time period chosen.

Metrics often relate to specific dimensions and can be summed up as “quantity of X” most of the time and can be displayed as a number, percentage, a dollar amount etc.

So as an example, lets say you want a very simple report with the dimension being Page Name and the metric being the Number of Page Views then Google Analytics will automatically add up the Number of Page Views for each unique Page Name over the time period that you request.

The time period enables Google Analytics to know what values to include when it adds all the numbers up.

What information does Google Analytics store?

There are a lot of different types of information you can get from Google Analytics. Here’s an example list of what can be stored in Google Analytics, depending on your settings:

  • Information about the pages viewed by your visitors
  • Geographical data about where your visitor is located
  • Data generated by your Adwords campaigns
  • Data about your app if installed as part of a mobile phone app
  • Details about your visitors’ demographics
  • Ecommerce data such as product name, price, tax, shipping, category etc
  • Custom events that you add to your Google Analytics from your website
  • Data about where your traffic originated, including different social media and referral sources
  • Data about what your visitors searched for and where they searched for it
  • Information about the type of device used by the website visitor
  • Data about whether visitors have performed behaviors that you have specified as being important to your business (this is called a Goal in Google Analytics)

How is the information displayed?

The next thing that Google Analytics can do is show you the information that you want to know about (a dimension and a metric and a time frame) as a graph.

Google Analytics very quickly creates graphs of your data and these make it easier for marketers to spot trends and unusual activity.

What can you do to use this information?

Google Analytics enables you to see which marketing and website features deliver you results. To use all the information stored in Google Analytics, you can identify what you want to have happen on your website and then identify which marketing and website features are leading to that occurring.

So the first thing you can do with the information is to specify an outcome that you want to see happen on your website, such as product sales for example. Then you can work backwards to identify any factors that are contributing to that outcome.

Sometimes when there is a lot of data you need to apply some more techniques to find out which factors are contributing to your specified business outcomes.

Google Analytics can aggregate your data differently if you apply view filters, segments, secondary dimensions or advanced filters. These are all different ways to restrict the aggregation of your data depending on the conditions you set.

This enables you to restrict, compare and contrast, or change the data so that it is more useful for you to interpret which factors are leading to your business goals being met. I’ll go into more in-depth training in another post.

What’s next?

If you are responsible for digital marketing you will need to know how to collect and read numbers. This will improve your results and help you to generate more revenue from your online presence.

If you would like even better digital marketing results then I guarantee that I can help you with that. Getting started is simple – just subscribe to my free web analytics training by filling out the form below.

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