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The beginners' guide to Google Analytics reports

If you’re new to the tool, our beginner’s guide will give you all the basics for understanding, setting up, and tracking reports in your Google Analytics dashboard.

Figuring out where your sales and conversions come from is like trying to find something in the dark.

Unless you know exactly where to look, you’re out of luck.

This key info can make or break your business (or a toe). 

To help you turn the lights on, we’ll walk you through a very powerful free tool -- Google Analytics. 

You don’t have to be a webmaster fluent in HTML and Javascript to benefit from all that Google Analytics has to offer. 

In fact, if you’re a tech novice or just starting a business from home, you can glean insights from the free tool.

And today, we’ll show you how and why you should.

Our Google Analytics guide will give you all the basics for understanding and tracking helpful reports in your Google Analytics dashboard.

Without further ado, let’s get to your beginner’s guide to Google Analytics.

What is Google Analytics?

In case you’re unfamiliar, Google Analytics is Google’s marketing and web analytics tool that helps you understand your website traffic. 

It’s a key digital marketing tool that shows you how your visitors find and interact with your site content.

If you learn how to understand the right metrics and web analytics, the data from Google Analytics is gold. It helps you find ways to nudge visitors to take action on your site, and eventually convert to paying customers.

A big reason why Google Analytics offers rich data is that it tracks over 200 metrics throughout your site content.

If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry -- you don’t need to track all the metrics. That’d be overwhelming and overkill. 

Just focus on the top ten most commonly tracked metrics, which, courtesy of Databox, are:

  1. Users

  2. Bounce rate

  3. Sessions

  4. Average session duration

  5. Percentage of new sessions

  6. Sessions by channel

  7. Pages per session

  8. Goal completions

  9. Pageviews

  10. Pageviews by page

Sure, you can overwhelm yourself with tons of metrics and Google Analytics reports. 

But, instead of getting lost in rabbit holes, we’ll keep the web analytics simple in our tutorial today.

And if you do ever get lost, you can always find your way out with this Google Analytics glossary

Even if Google Analytics isn’t a walk in the park, it’s worth taking the time to glean key metrics from it. We’ll show you some Google Analytics reports worth tracking, too.

But first, a bit more on the power of Google Analytics, so you know it’s worth the effort.

Why should I use Google Analytics?

The Google Analytics dashboard gives you a more thorough view of your visitors’ behavior than almost any other analytics tool. 

Google Analytics is also a powerful customer research tool because of how much data it collects. 

So, if you’re a small business owner, you can enjoy some of these Google Analytics marketing benefits:

  • Learn about your audience’s demographic, background, and interests

  • Break your audience into segments for more focused analysis 

  • Identify ways to optimize your marketing campaigns and site content

  • Analyze and enhance your checkout funnels 

Of the many benefits of using Google Analytics, the end goal of segmenting and converting your audience into customers is something a lot of marketers prioritize. 

In fact, 69% of marketers say that converting contacts and leads into customers is their 12-month priority.

One way Google Analytics helps digital marketers and business owners reach their goals is by providing multiple reports. 

If you use them right, these reports can show you where to improve your site content, whether on landing pages or other specific pages on your site, for higher returns.

Check out some of the key Google Analytics reports that help you reach your business goals:

When you have this type of info in hand, you can send more relevant ads or create site content that resonates strongly with your audience.

For instance, research reveals that competitive prices are very influential for shoppers in the U.S. and U.K. As opposed to Brazilians, who tend to value product information, product specs, and reviews more than shoppers in the U.S. or U.K. 

As a marketer, what can you do with these insights? 

Figure out how to design your landing page, so it better suits your specific audience. Or write more compelling copy on your web pages based on where your active users are from. 

When jewelry brand BAUNAT expanded into new international markets, it used Google Analytics and Google Ads to identify audience segments in the new markets. 

BAUNAT’s marketers then tailored their marketing approach to each new niche, and now has customers in over 45 countries, largely due to help from Google Analytics and Google Ads (not to be confused with AdSense). 

As far as your ad campaign goes, Google Analytics also shows you which campaigns are working or not.

Tastemade, in another instance, had little trust in their website data and data from marketing platforms. Their distrust was partly due to a lot of the tracked data being useless for informing marketing decisions.

After refreshing their Google Analytics setup, Tastemade evaluated their campaigns more accurately and confidently. And, as a result, they were able to make better business decisions with better data.

If this sounds like something you want to get in on, here’s how to set up your Google Analytics. 

How to set up Google Analytics

To add Google Analytics to your website, create a Google Analytics account, and then add the tracking code to your website. 

Next, find the tracking code by heading to the “Admin” menu in your Google Analytics dashboard. Navigate to “Tracking Code” under “Tracking Info”.

The tracking code will follow a structure that looks like this, which you can add to every page you want to track -- or to the header of your site if you want to track it globally:

Within 24 hours, you can analyze your visitors’ data. 

Simply adding the tracking code with your tracking ID won’t yield the rich data and reports you’re hoping for yet, though. 

You need to set up a few other features, too, for more accurate data -- like your Google Tag Manager and goals within your Google Analytics dashboard. 

Here’s what your Google Tag Manager will look like if you’re using a WordPress site:

Don’t worry about figuring it all out on your own -- Hootsuite has a step-by-step guide on how to set up Google Analytics. And you can’t go wrong with Google’s guide to Google Analytics.

It’s worth mentioning that setting up your Google Analytics dashboard can be time-consuming, especially if you want to do it accurately. So, consider outsourcing the task if you need to. 

After all, there are countless stories of brands that gathered inaccurate data with Google Analytics because they didn’t outsource or set up Google Analytics properly. 

Like this veteran support nonprofit, which experienced a few problems with their Google Analytics setup -- one being incorrect attribution for their website conversions. 

The nonprofit heavily relied on email marketing and social media traffic to drive conversions. But, with their Google Analytics misattributing their conversions to other traffic sources, their marketing campaigns seemed to be underperforming. 

So, to clear out the confusion, they hired an agency to set up Google Analytics the right way.

The nonprofit immediately saw more accurate numbers and a clearer picture of the marketing campaigns and how they were impacting their conversions. 

The moral here is inaccurate Google Analytics reports can misrepresent your website performance and muddy your marketing campaign results. 

But accurate Google Analytics reports can do the opposite and seriously boost your conversion rate.

For example, another business saw its SEO conversion rate rise from 6% to 10% over two months just by tidying up their Google Analytics setup and Google Analytics reports. 

Because of the high margin for error, Benson SEO recommends having someone test your Google Analytics, especially if you did the setup yourself. We’re inclined to agree.

It’ll probably cost you a few hours of a Google Analytics expert’s time to do the admin part right, but when it’s the foundation of how you measure and make decisions in your business, it’s worth it.

Now, let’s switch gears and talk about the key reports you should be tracking once you’re set up. 

5 Google Analytics reports worth tracking

#1. Demographics and interests reports

This one’s more of a two-fer, and an audience report worth checking regularly -- demographics and interests reports show your visitors’ ages, gender, and affinity, among other things. 

Though demographics are a broad metric, they’re still helpful for sending targeted ads and messages. 

61% of consumers don’t mind ads that target them by demographic.

And on top of that, 65% say they like that social media ads can expose them to products they’re interested in and otherwise may not have found on their own. 

To find your demographics report and interests reports, just head over to the dropdown options under your left “Audiences” menu in Google Analytics.

In the interests report, you can drill down into details like the number of users, number of visitors, and number of sessions within affinity categories.

If you’re wondering about affinity categories, they include shoppers, technology, media and entertainment, lifestyles and hobbies, and travel, to name a few.

This means you can get pretty detailed about understanding your website visitors’ demographics and their interests, which is super helpful for matching them to your ideal customers.  

In fact, any of the audience reports can reveal who your active users are or how much lifetime value (LTV) a user has for your business. 

The main point is when you better understand your audience reports, you have a better handle on whether or not you’re attracting the right visitors to your web pages. 

If you do attract the right visitors, your conversion rate thrives, which is very helpful if you have an ecommerce site.

Speaking of ecommerce, if that’s you, head to our next report.

#2. Ecommerce reports

If you have an ecommerce site, the ecommerce reports are especially helpful. 

With ecommerce reports, you can see the average order value and other product and transaction information. 

This ecommerce report from Sumo gives you an idea of the metrics you can track with an ecommerce report.

Without wading too far into the weeds, in Google Analytics’ ecommerce reports, you can track things like your audience’s shopping behavior, checkout behavior, and product performance. 

The ecommerce report breaks down the number of sessions by new visitors and returning visitors, which can help inform whether or not your retargeting or repeat marketing messages are resonating, for instance.

OK. With or without an ecommerce site, the next report is helpful for tracking your conversion rate. 

#3. Multi-channel funnels reports

Under your “Conversions” report tab, multi-channel funnel reports show you which marketing channels refer a paying customer to your site. 

These reports can also reveal what previous referral channels helped with the conversion.

This means you can use Google Analytics to figure out which marketing platforms and digital marketing tactics are working. Those are the ones you should double-down on. 

Check it out:

Let’s say your multi-channel funnel report reveals that the bulk of your customers are referred by individuals. 

In turn, you could create a referral or affiliate program to reward word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. You could also do some influencer outreach and work with micro-influencers, who tend to have engaged audiences, to tap into more WOM power.

The micro-influencer path is a pretty solid digital marketing idea, especially if your referral channel is already strong. 

Influencers with less than 1,000 Instagram followers had a 7.2% engagement rate. Compare this to a more modest 0.3% engagement rate for influencers with over 100,000 followers.

Digital marketing tactics aside, multi-channel funnel reports give you further insight into where your conversions are coming from, so you can invest more in the high-performing channels and boost your conversion rate.

Another report that helps with your conversion rate is our next Google Analytics report. Rather than analyzing your traffic channel, it analyzes your site pages.

#4. Site content reports

Another set of super helpful behavior reports in your Google Analytics dashboard is your site content reports.

Site content reports include metrics on all pages, content drilldown, landing pages, and exit pages, and looks like this:

These reports basically uncover the specific pages that perform the best and worst, which means you can optimize your site content so it resonates with your audience and lifts your conversion rate.

For instance, if you find that a specific page has a high bounce rate, you can update the page with more compelling copy or a better user experience. 

(Assuming that the goal isn’t a high bounce rate. With landing pages, it can be a positive indicator.)

Aside from optimizing specific pages, you can also set up prompts that guide your visitors to specific pages nudging them to take action. 

BootCuffsSocks is a great example. They noticed their homepage received a lot of organic search traffic, but visitors were leaving without joining their email list or making a purchase. 

To combat the problem, BootCuffsSocks created a couple signup pop-ups, the first pop-up offering a discount code and encouraging visitors to join their email list to receive the discount. 

They also created a pop-up to encourage cart abandoners to complete their purchases. 

The result of installing these pop-ups? 

BootCuffsSocks generated 601 new transactions and shrank their cart abandonment rate by 17.13% compared to the same time the year prior.

Not bad, right?

The moral here is your Google Analytics site content data can tell you what you need to do to guide more people through your sales funnel and increase your conversion rates.

On the topic of nudging people through your sales funnel, without our final Google Analytics report today, it’d be difficult to move people through any funnel.

#5. Site speed reports

You can also use Google Analytics to understand how well specific pages of your website are mechanically performing. 

Site speed reports, another type of behavior report, can reveal how quickly users are able to interact with your site content. 

I’m sure you experience this first-hand (and often), so I’ll keep it simple -- site speed matters. 

Not only do one in four visitors abandon a site if it takes more than 4 seconds to load, but your conversion rate is impacted, too. 

In fact, 45.4% of consumers are less likely to make a purchase if a website had a slower load time than they were expecting. 

So, improving site speed and keeping an eye on this behavior report should be a priority, especially if you notice a high bounce rate where you don’t want one. Site speed reports are one way to reveal the specific page that may be the culprit.

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Leverage Google Analytics to help grow your business

If you’re a small business owner, side-hustle, entrepreneur, or solopreneur who does any form of digital marketing, you’ll want to leverage the insights that Google Analytics gives you.

Here’s the low-down on Google Analytics for beginners:

  • Google Analytics is a free tool that helps you understand your website traffic and how your visitors engage with your site content.

  • The reports in your Google Analytics dashboard reveal insights about your audience and their behaviors, so you can pivot your marketing strategy and update your site content to improve your conversion rates. 

  • Navigating your Google Analytics dashboard is as easy as heading to the Home, Customization, and Reports (Realtime, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions) menus in the left bar and adjusting the filters in the main window. 

  • Five Google Analytics reports to consider watching regularly are: demographics and interests reports, ecommerce reports, multi-channel funnel reports, site content reports, and site speed reports. 

Now that you have this beginner’s guide at your fingertips, head to your Google Analytics dashboard to figure out how to boost your conversion rates.

P.S. Speaking of dashboards, if you want a simple dashboard that makes running your entire online business an easy streamlined process, you won’t be disappointed by the dashboard on the other side of this 14-day no-obligation trial. It’s truly an all-in-one platform.

About the author

Cyn Meyer is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites – alongside their creators – thrive. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.