In the early days of the internet, it might have made some sense just to establish a web presence without worrying too much about how well it worked. Simply being there was the vital thing. These days, however, every business is on the web, from the biggest corporation to the tiniest start-up, and the competition for clicks is fierce. You can’t rely on luck to attract visitors, let alone convert them into buyers. That’s why you invest in SEO, social media and other modern forms of marketing. But are you taking the next step and analyzing the effectiveness of all these? If you’re not, then you’re still just guessing – still just throwing it out there and relying on luck.
That’s why you need Google Analytics: to measure and analyze the effectiveness of your sites and apps, along with the marketing associated with them.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a service from Google that enables you to track and analyze a wide range of activity across a range of online platforms: your website, iOS/Android app and even internet-connected devices such as point-of-sale systems and games consoles. To begin, you simply sign up and enter the details of the website or app. The system generates a tracking code, which you need to add to the code of your site or app. (There’s a custom Measurement Protocol that needs to be implemented on other platforms and devices, but the principle is the same.) The tracking code collects usage data from your site or app and sends it to Google Analytics, where it’s processed and made available in a range of versatile reports, which you access online. 
The scope of the reports in Google Analytics is breathtaking.  Not only can you can find out how many users or visitors you’ve had, but what browser and OS they used, where they were located, what their interests are (based on their previous browsing history) and what brought them to your site: paid or organic search, referral from another site or a social network, an email campaign or newsletter, and so on. You can track exactly what they did on your site – which pages they arrived at, which pages they visited next and – with the implementation of some optional custom code in your tracking code – what interactions they had with elements within a page like Flash content, Ajax or embedded video. For e-commerce sites, you can track a customer’s entire path from initial visit through to checkout – or if they drop out along the way, you can see exactly where, so you can identify any trouble spots in your purchase funnel.
That’s the point, really: Google Analytics gives you the information you need to analyze your site or app, identify any weak spots and take informed action to improve its performance. On the marketing side, in addition to audience characteristics and behavior, Analytics can also report on which marketing campaigns and channels are driving the most traffic to your site, and which are eventually delivering the most successful outcomes. These are determined by the goals you define for the site, including such objectives as lead generation, newsletter sign-ups, brand building and so on, in addition to purchases. It means you can make an informed decision on where to direct your media spend most effectively.
Google Analytics can also assist you with search engine optimization to attract more new visitors and remarketing campaigns to entice previous visitors to return and complete a purchase or purchase again. Analytics can even make it simple to conduct content experiments to test whether changes to your site produce better outcomes: you simply set up variants of a page and Analytics takes care of the rest, redirecting visitors randomly to each variant, tracking what happens next and presenting the results in easily-digested reports so you can make your decision.
Sounds amazing, right? It doesn’t end there: Google Analytics enables you to configure your data and customize reports to suit your specific business needs, to share information and collaborate with colleagues, and integrate your Analytics account with other services such as Google AdWords and AdSense so you can analyze the results of your marketing activities in depth and get the best from your ad spend. Even more amazingly, all this is free of charge (although there is a Premium version offering additional options). 
Web analytics trends and statistics
With all this on offer, it’s perhaps surprising that not everyone is using Google Analytics. According to an early 2014 survey of American marketing professionals, only 32.5% of projects use any kind of marketing analytics at all.  Against this, however, W3Techs conducted a web technology survey of the top ten million websites as determined by popularity rankings provided by Alexa (an Amazon.com company). It used an average ranking over three months and found that Google Analytics is used by exactly 50.0% of all these websites, which equates to a traffic analysis tool market share of 81.6%. 
In a mid-2014 survey of business executives, managers and analysts from around the world, 66% of respondents claimed to have gained a competitive advantage from their use of analytics.  It must be noted that often these professionals have undertaken training from a Google Analytics workshop. In another survey, marketing professionals (mainly senior ones) were asked how important new marketing technologies were to their group’s overall effectiveness and performance: 29% described them as “essential” and 38% “very important”. When asked why, 66% of respondents said their investment in such technologies enabled them to achieve a more targeted, efficient and relevant customer, and 54% a greater return and accountability of marketing/advertising spend. In addition, 29% claimed increased productivity, while 26% cited improved rates of conversion, closure and deal value.
The greatest challenges they identified were the integration and centralization of increasingly fragmented data (54%) and figuring out what to select and how to integrate (48%).  It’s not too much of a stretch to speculate that the power of Google Analytics to pull together and organize disparate types of data could assist you to achieve some of the impressive benefits mentioned.
Looking ahead, a wide-ranging international survey in mid-2014 – covering marketers, advertisers, service providers, technologists and publishers across 17 markets – found broad agreement across those markets that the value of data-driven marketing and advertising (DDMA) is growing, and almost three-quarters of respondents expected to increase their spending on DDMA in the following year. Correspondingly, two areas were identified as most likely to experience the greatest rise in spending: digital campaign execution, very closely followed by audience analytics, measurement and attribution. 
Can we use Google Analytics to measure return on investment?
Audience analytics is on a rising trend, therefore, and Google Analytics is by far the market-leading choice for the job. Managers and marketing professionals believe it has the potential to deliver the right customers and improve the focus of their marketing and advertising spend. The detailed data Google Analytics provides can help you make informed decisions to improve the performance of your site or app through better-targeted content, user flow improvement and conversion rate optimization. It can help you to assess the whole range of your marketing activities, including SEO, SEM and online display advertising, so you can direct your spend where it does the most good and hence increase the return on your investment.
The costs of implementing and using Google Analytics can be very modest – anything from a few hours of your time for “DIY Analytics” to the ongoing cost of hiring an Analytics expert – but the return on this investment could be a significant boost to your business. Putting a figure on it could involve a lot of complicated and subtle calculations – one expert has devised a complex formula “full of specific computations of revenue incrementally delivered for various analytical efforts”  – but your actual gain will depend to a large extent on how wisely you use the information Analytics gives you. It boils down to this: to make informed business decisions, you need solid data. Let’s take a look at what Google Analytics can deliver for you and your brand or business.
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