Google Analytics: back to the basics

Since I started writing in 2008, not always I did the right things. It took me a couple of years to learn how to create hight quality content, to know how often should I post or how to write SEO-friendly posts. This happened because nobody taught me how to run a blog. I learned by doing and seeing what others were doing. I’ve read books and tons of blogs and during the process I’ve learned. Nevertheless, there’s a lot I don’t know yet as well. And this is what happened to me recently with Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an extremely useful tool I didn’t use for ages, and when I started using it I learned it from the scratch. This happened back in 2013. I used to work at an SEO agency, and one of the first things I realized was that my blog didn’t event have a Google Analytics code installed. Man, that’s like 5 years of lost data!

Once I learned that lesson, I installed Google Analytics. By doing this, I would have the chance of tracking how users were using and finding my blog.

In case you don’t know, Google Analytics is a technology anyone with access to the HTML code of a website can install. You just need a Google Account and set up separately a Google Analytics account. After setting up your account, you will have a Javascript Google Analytics Tracking Code (GATC) that will look like the one below. This code will be able to recognize some events when a user loads a page. For example, this code may identify the time that a user passed in a single page before leaving our website or before visiting a new page, and there are tons of events and useful information Google Analytics will provide us about our users.

  (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
  ga('create', 'UA-00000000-1', 'auto');
  ga('send', 'pageview');

(As Google Analytics works with Javascript and it works with websites built with HTML, I found this post in the MOZ blog that explains how do HTML, CSS and Javascript work. Totally recommend it!)

This code should be installed in every page of your website. The simplest way of doing this is installing it in the <header> of your page, that will be present in all pages. And you can know if your code is correctly installed by going to the real-time reports in Google Analytics. This report will tell you what’s going on at this moment on your website, so it will tell if there is an active user visiting your website right now. Just open your website in a new tab, after installing the code, and see if there are any changes currently happening. The number should pass from 0 to 1 as you are online. If you are not sure of this part of the process, just leave a comment and I will take a look.

In this post, I want to explain some basic concepts I wish I had known the first time I installed the code back in 2013. This was possible because recently I took the Google Analytics Platzi professional course. Before being approved in the course, I knew just a couple of things I was able to do with Google Analytics. Today I haven’t used at all each and every function, but now I can deeply analyze some insights that have always been there and I was not seeing. Needless to say that this is not an advanced guide.

ABC – Acquisition, behavior and conversion reports in Google Analytics

If someone asked me what can I do with Google Analytics, I would answer with the ABC. This is an easy way to remember Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions. Yes, with Google analytics you can measure your user acquisition efforts, how are your users behaving while they are in the website and if they are taking the actions you want them to take, call it conversions (filling a form, purchasing a product or visiting a specific section of the page).

When opening Google Analytics for the first time, it will look like this:

In my case, my Google Account has access to a bunch of websites I’ve worked with in the past and my personal websites. One recommendation for you to avoid confussion among personal and client projects would be to setup separate Google Analytics accounts. For example, use your personal Gmail account for your own projects and use your corporate email address to manage your client accounts. In our case, in the screen above we will choose, that is the name of the blog I am currently working at.

Once we click in the Website Data of our website, we will be redirected to a dashboard similiar to the first one above. This screen is new. It used to be like the second one. In this dashboard, we can see information based on a period of time that is shown in the top right side of the screen. We have an overview with a graphic in which we will be able to see different KPIs for the chosen period of time, such like Pageviews, Pages, Users or Sessions among others (defined below). This information can be organized by hour, day, week or month, and as we can see in the second picture above, we can see some additional information related to audience data as well (demographics, behavior, interests, OS and Mobile, among others).

These are some of the KPIs we see frequently while working with Google Analytics (definitions by the plaform it self):

  • Sessions: A session is the period time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc. All usage data (Screen Views, Events, Ecommerce, etc.) is associated with a session.
  • Users: In order for Google Analytics to determine which traffic belongs to which user, a unique identifier associated with each user is sent with each hit. This identifier can be a single, first-party cookie named _ga that stores a Google Analytics client ID. You can read more about in this Analytics Help article.
  • Pageviews: Pageviews is the total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted.
  • Pages / Session: Pages/Session (Average Page Depth) is the average number of pages viewed during a session. Repeated views of a single page are counted.
  • Avg. Session Duration: The average length of a Session.
  • Bounce Rate: The percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page. A bounced session has a duration of 0 seconds.
  • % New Sessions: An estimate of the percentage of first time visits.

In order to understand all we can analyze with these KPIs and with the ABC, let me explain a little about what are my goals with my own blog. As I am not a business, selling products should not be an indicator of success. Instead, being sure that users are reading my content should be a valid indicator. Some KPIs that may help me in this case would be, for example, having tomorrow more returning visitors  or users, than I had today. I also should be sure that users are passing more time in the website, while reducing the bounce rate. So the importance of the KPIs is that they will help us to better define our objectives.

One very insteresting thing we can do at this moment is to compare any of the KPIs above within two different periods of time. You can, for example, compare the first three months of the year of 2017 within the first three months of 2016. By doing this, you will be able to know if you you are getting better results (or not), according to what you’ve doing recently. You can do this by clicking in the calendar in the top right side of the screen, and checking the Compare checkbox as seen below: 

See that in the left side of the creen we have access to different type of reports. We already mentioned Real-Time Reports, when talking about if the Google Analytics code was correctly installed, and Audience Reports was the first one I mentioned. In addition to what we’ve mentioned, Google Analytics will show us insights on acquisition, behavior and conversions or ABC.
In acquisition reports, you will be able to know where are your users coming from. In my case, most of the traffic depends on Google Search organic results, but there are some people finding me via social media channels, mailing or referrals. For example, if I created a Facebook Ads campaign with the objective of driving traffic to my blog, the amount of users from social media would increase. Or if I was more aggresive with the email marketing, this could be a more relevant source of traffic than currently is.

In referrals, for instance, I can see from what page I was linked from and how much time users coming from that channel passed in my website. Here’s an example: in the last 30 days, I got two new users that found my blog via, from the URL Google Analytics identified as:


This was a post about Airbnb and they linked my post on my family experience with the platform. According to the information tracked by Google Analytics, these users passed 05:33 minutes and visited three different pages on average:

See that Google Analytics removes the domain of the source. This happens because it is shown in the previous screen.
One thing I could do with this information would be to reach more bloggers writing on tourism or airbnb and show them what I’ve wrote so they link my blog, then see if new users increase. We call this as link building and Google Analytics will tell us if it’s working (or not).
When talking about behavior reports, we can see what are users doing in our website. For example, in the screenshots below we can see the pages with more pageviews in the last 30 days. In the second picture, we can see what pages are visiting the users that don’t abandon the website after the first page viewed. By understanding these flows we can easily see if users are visiting the pages we want them to visit and what is happening before and after that event:
In the overview we can see the pages with more pageviews
In the behavior flow, we can see the path followed by users after visiting some of the pages with more traffic

And at last we have the conversion reports, that we can setup when some specific events happen. For example, I created a goal measuring when users pass more than 5 minutes in the website or when they reach the About or Contact pages. When these events happen, it says to me that there were users more than interested in the blog. If the average  session in my blog is 01:00 minutes, 5 minutes indicates that there are users helping me to reach my goals. Or for example, if you had an eCommerce, you could setup a goal everytime a user reach the confirmation screen after purchasing a product. Like in other reports, we can compare or look how have been the last X days related to that objective.

As you can see, with the different reports Google Analytics can create from our website, we can measure the success or the failure of our online activities. Two important things to consider when analyzing reports is to find out correlationships between what’s going on in our website with what we actually did at some moment. For example, if at some moment I posted an amazing piece of content and after published this generated tons of traffic, new users and more time spend in our website, we should try to identify what is working or not, repeat similar actions and see if users visited more pages when this happened. Nevertheless, consider this post as an introduction to Google Analytics. If you want to know more, start by setting up your account and installing the code. And then you can start doing experiments just like I do with my blogs.

Questions? Please leave a comment and I will be happy to answer! Feedback? I would be happy to know what can I do better the next time! If you liked this post, please share it with someone may be interested.