Condensing the Google Analytics Academy into a single blog post (eek!)
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
As a casual user, I finally threw myself into the Academy. Here is what I learnt...
I’ve had a working understanding of Google Analytics over the years but worried that I may have been missing its true potential. So, I decided start from the beginning and write about it for anyone that has had the same niggling feeling.
READ ALSO: Everything marketers need to know about HubSpot
Starting at the beginning
Google Analytics is self described as “a platform that collects data and compiles it into useful reports”. Ultimately, it is there to help you understand how people are using your websites.
The Academy Trainers tell us, “In marketing, we have the concept of a purchase funnel” and explain that Google Analytics is a way of measuring aspects of that funnel online, specifically:
Acquisition (which relates to building awareness and acquiring user interest)
Behaviour (which relates to how users engage with a business)
Conversation (which relates to how users become customers and transact)
Simple enough... if you know what online behaviours lead to positive outcomes, you can do more of what works.
For example; if you’re a consumer brand you might discover that certain goods are popular in specific areas by analysing geographical sales data (and so increase advertising in those places).
If you better understand how users progress through their online journey, you can make changes to improve conversion. Aims and goals differ by business of course, and so do the benefits of analytics.
An example goal given for ‘a lead gen site’ is to collect user information for sales teams to then connect with potential leads.
The Practicalities: Collecting Data
The tracking code also collects the ‘Traffic Source’ (in theory at least), which is what brought the users to the site in the first place. This might be a search engine, an advertisement clicked on, or an email marketing campaign.
Each time the page loads, the tracking code collects and sends updated information. This is grouped into a period of time called a ‘Session’. A session starts when a user navigates to a page that includes the tracking code and ends after 30 minutes of inactivity. If a user then returns, a new session begins.
The Academy instructors are keen to emphasise that once Analytics processes the data, it’s stored in a database where it can’t be changed. This means that when setting up, you shouldn’t exclude any data you might want to analyse later.
The Analytics Account Structure
This is where Google Analytics gets a bit confusing in my humble opinion...
An ‘Account’ determines how data is collected. It is also the place from which to manage access to that data.
Ignore this paragraph if you’re easily bored: Multiple ‘Accounts’ can be grouped under an ‘Organisation’ (although to this day I haven’t actually seen this label used in Google Analytics). The instructors tell you that having an ‘Organisation’ is optional. The idea is that users can manage multiple accounts under one grouping (which I do, just without the ‘Organisation’ label that’s referred to in the Academy). This means that I can have access to multiple client ‘Accounts’ in one place (i.e my Account). When I login to my Google Analytics Account, I can use the drop down menu to select the one I want to go into.
When an Account is created, a ‘Property’ is also automatically created. Each Account therefore has at least one Property, but others can be added. Why add more? Properties can collect data independently of each other (but this requires using a unique tracking ID in the tracking code).
The idea is that you can collect data from different websites or mobile apps. So if you have multiple websites under one company, they can all be housed under one account.
Example: Starfleet could have a microsite for its ‘Academy’ that is separate and would benefit from its own analytics.
You cannot aggregate data from separate Properties.
As each Analytics account can have multiple Properties, Each property can have multiple ‘Views’.
Views are filtered views of data. For example, you may want to just view data from a specific region, or you may want to set filters to ensure data doesn’t include any internal company traffic. In fact, this is the first thing set-up takes you through. FYI, this stops you checking and experimenting with Google Analytics on your site yourself without going ‘incognito’.
The View level lets you set up ‘Goals’, which is a way of tracking conversions, or objectives. For example, this could be getting a certain number of users to sign-up for an email newsletter.
Views only include data from the date the View was created and onwards.
Note: You can assign permissions to other users at the Account, Property, or View level. Each level inherits permissions from the level above it.
When you load up Google Analytics, you can easily switch between Accounts, Properties, and Views. On the left hand is a navigation bar that lists the below:
Real-Time Reports: Which shows live user behaviour on the site
Audience Reports: Which shows info about users, like age and gender, where they’re from, their interests, how engaged they were, whether they’re returning users and what tech they’re using - Note: It wasn’t immediately apparent to me just how it gets this information (but I think I’ve found the answer - included later in this post)
Acquisition Reports: Which show the channels people came via (could be an ad or marketing campaign). This is separated out as:
Direct: Which usually means someone’s typed in the website's URL or accessed via a bookmark. Note: When the Source is ‘Direct’, the Medium is ‘None’
Organic: Unpaid search
Cost-Per-Click (CPC): Paid search
Referral: Traffic that comes from another website
Social: Traffic from a social network
Other: Low volume sources
Behaviour Reports: Which show how people engaged (what pages they viewed, and their landing and exit pages)
Conversion Reports: Which track website Goals based on objectives