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1.3 How to get started with Google Analytics

If you’re new to Google Analytics, it can all seem very daunting. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting up and running in no time.

How to open and set up your Google Analytics account

It’s easy to get started with Google Analytics. Visit the website and – if you already have a Google account – click “Sign in” at the top right, then enter your username and password. If not, click “Create an account” and follow the steps to create an account.

Whenever you want to view information and reports – or if you want to change any of your account details, settings and preferences – you’ll need to sign in at the website as above. You may need to click “Access Google Analytics” before entering your username and password.Once logged in simply click the button to sign up for Analytics. Fill in the form to specify the essentials such as the site you want to monitor – there are some other settings to look at too, which we’ll cover shortly – and click the “Get Tracking ID” button at the foot of the form. This generates a custom chunk of JavaScript code, which you’ll need to paste into your site code to enable tracking.

If you have a Google AdWords account and link your Analytics account to it (see the accompanying ‘Google Analytics Playbook: SEO, SEM, Website and CRO’), then you can view Analytics information and reports by clicking the Tools and Analysis tab in your AdWords account and selecting Google Analytics. If you want to access the account options menu, however, then you need to sign in via the Google Analytics website itself.

Google Analytics data sharing settings

When you set up your Analytics account, you need to choose how your data is shared with Google. There are four settings to enable or disable – Google naturally recommends you enable them all, but here’s what each one does:

  • With other Google products: shares your Analytics data with other Google services you use, such as AdWords. This makes it possible for example to import your Google Analytics Goals into your AdWords account. Your data may also be shared in anonymous form with other Google services you do not use.
  • Anonymously with Google and others: if you enable this, Google says it will use your data for “benchmarking”, which means sharing information in aggregated form and excluding details that could identify your site or users. This is like taking your answers to a survey and using them to build up standard statistics. This makes it possible for Google to provide features such as Industry Benchmarking, which enables Analytics users to compare their own sites with others in comparable industries.
  • Technical support: enabling this gives permission for Google’s tech support staff to access your data to help find a solution if you report a technical issue with your account. This is subject to Google’s internal procedures for controlling access to customer-level data.[1]
  • Account specialists: enabling this means that other Google staff, not just tech support staff, will be able to access your data and account details.

The last option is an interesting one. Google says it wants access in order that “they can find ways to improve your configuration and analysis, and share optimization tips with you.” What this means is that if you upgrade to an Analytics 360 account, you can ask your “sales specialist” for specific tips on configuring and using your account to best advantage; if you have a Standard account, you can expect “improved marketing communications that offer usage suggestions” based on what Google has observed you are doing. Google’s support documentation makes it clear that Google staff could look at your actual site metrics information, not just your overall Analytics setup and preferences:

“Your Google Analytics sales team could help you find ways to improve your advertising spend, for example, by offering recommendations based on an analysis of your keyword performance. It is always worth considering the option to enrol on a Google Analytics seminar to ensure you’re on top of your analytics game. The Google Analytics marketing team could suggest ways to improve acquisition or other strategic improvements through a monthly email performance report.”[2]

How to tweak Google Analytics data sharing settings

1. Access admin settings

Sign into your Analytics account – you need to be the account administrator – and then switch to the Admin tab.

 

2. Select site

If you’ve set up multiple accounts, go to the Account column, and use the drop-down menu to select the account you want to edit. Click Account Settings.

 

3. Enable changes

If you make changes to any settings – see immediately below for what’s available – click Apply to save your changes.

How do you set up a Google Analytics property?

In Google Analytics, a “Property” is a website or app that you tell Analytics to track as a distinct entity – in practical terms this means it has its own unique Tracking ID. You can set up to 25 multiple Properties within one Analytics account so as to track them separately. You can also associate multiple sites or apps with a single Property ID – note that if you do, you can then use the Views and filter options in Analytics to organize and access information about them separately.

Ultimately, how you set things up depends on how your business is organized and what your long-term reporting goals are. If you have multiple sites that are part of the same business unit and share the same strategic goals (and hence the same broad measurement requirements), it can make sense to include them within one Property in Analytics. Think this through as part of your initial strategy and implementation plan.

If you wish, you can add Properties later, change a range of settings for existing Properties, or delete Properties. Note that if you delete a Property, all the data and reporting Views associated with it will also be deleted and can’t subsequently be retrieved.

You set up an initial Property when you set up your Google Analytics account. To add one later, or edit or delete an existing property, you need to proceed as follows:

How to add, edit or delete Google Analytics properties

1. Access Admin tab

Assuming you’re the account administrator, sign into your Analytics account, then click Admin in the menu bar at the top of the page.

2. Select account

If you’ve set up multiple accounts, go to the Account column, and use the drop-down menu to select the relevant account.

3. Add or select Property

In the Property column, use the drop-down menu to select the Property you want, or add one by selecting “Create new Property” and continue as below.

 

4. Edit or delete Properties

Edit a Property by clicking Property Settings, then tweaking the settings you want. To delete a Property, click Property Settings followed by “Delete this Property” and confirm when prompted.

 

When you’re setting up a Property at any time, you must first specify whether it’s a website or a mobile app before giving it a suitably identifiable name – this is used exclusively within Analytics, so make it as descriptive as you want. For a website, you then enter the homepage URL, making sure it’s formatted correctly as follows:

  • http://www.example.com

 

Make sure you include the http:// or https:// and don’t add a trailing slash or any other characters afterwards.

Next, select an Industry Category. Finally set the Reporting Time Zone, which simply determines when Analytics treats each day as beginning and ending: if you choose GMT, for example, then a visit to your site at five minutes past two GMT on Monday morning is recorded as a visit on Monday even if the visitor is located in New York, where it’s 9:05pm on Sunday night.

Any new Properties you create will be Universal Analytics Properties, even if your account is an old-style Google Analytics account (more about this shortly).

Where to get Google Analytics tracking codes

When you’ve entered all the details for your web Property, click “Get Tracking ID” to generate a chunk of JavaScript (“analytics.js”), which will collect the required data on the site and send it to Google Analytics flagged with the Property’s unique identifier. You need to add this JavaScript to your site code, either manually or using Google Tag Manager.

The manual approach is straightforward enough for anyone familiar with HTML, but the code does need to be added to every page of the site. If you manage your site using some form of CMS or generate pages dynamically from templates using a technology like PHP, then it’s relatively simple to add the script to your master page headers.

A snippet of JavaScript that sends information to a third party like this is known as a tag, and Google Tag Manager is worth using if you include (or plan to include) a number of such tags in a site. It also makes it easier to add other supported tags to the site, such as AdWords Conversion Tracking and remarketing tags, and comScore tags, as well as allowing you to customize your Google Analytics tracking. You still have to add some code to your site pages, but only a single “container” tag instead of all the separate ones that would otherwise be required, and you then use the Google Tag Manager web interface to configure everything, for one website or several. It includes features to make the task easier for the less technically minded, such as built-in error checking and debugging, and works across mobile devices as well.

How to set up and use Google Tag Manager

1.       Go to Google Tag Manager to create an account (or to access an existing account).

2.      Create a container for your site in the account.

3.      Add the container snippet to your site.

4.      Migrate any hard-coded tags (such as AdWords or DoubleClick tags) from your site’s source code into Google Tag Manager.

 

In the case of apps, you need to download the Google Analytics SDK and use its Developers Guide for iOS or Android to learn how to integrate the SDK in your app. Google Tag Manager can be used to manage and update your apps, and its container-based paradigm is particularly useful if you’re producing apps that might be configured differently according to screen size, device or language. In the case of other digital devices – such as information kiosks, games consoles or appliances – you use the Measurement Protocol to collect data. Google advises that “Only experienced developers should set up the Measurement Protocol.”

After you complete the basic setup, you can customize your tracking code to collect data that isn’t tracked automatically, such as transactions and product purchases (e-commerce) or user behavior across primary domains and sub-domains (cross-domain tracking). Google also recommends setting up Event Tracking, which enables you to track interactions like videos and button clicks.

What is Universal Analytics?

Universal Analytics is Google’s new standard protocol for data collection and reporting. It was introduced on a trial basis in October 2012[3] and declared “out of beta” in April 2014.[4]

Universal Analytics delivers some significant advantages over its predecessor (usually referred to simply as “classic Analytics”):[5]

  • Track a user across multiple devices and sessions using User ID, giving you a more accurate measure of real user numbers and engagement.
  • Customize your tracking code more easily. Cross-domain tracking for websites, in particular, is dramatically simpler and more accurate.
  • More configuration options, including custom dimensions and custom metrics. Among other things, you can for example change how long a “session” is from the default 30 minutes to whatever duration suits your site, and customize how organic search sources (search engines) are treated.
  • Set up Enhanced Ecommerce reports to analyze users’ shopping and purchasing behavior, evaluate the success of internal and external marketing, and measure the economic performance of specific products.

If you create a new Property in Google Analytics, the tracking code that’s generated now automatically uses Universal Analytics. If you have older Properties and tracking codes, you can check to see whether they’re using UA.

If you’ve been using Google Analytics for a while and they’re still using the older codes, simply follow the two-step Universal Analytics Upgrade process to upgrade from classic Analytics: you first transfer the Property to UA (in some cases Google might do this automatically) and then (but only then) upgrade the Property’s tracking code.

Universal Analytics works differently in some respects from the old system, so if you’re upgrading Properties there are some usage guidelines to be aware of. You might need to update your site terms and conditions or privacy statement, and ask users to give fresh consent.

For long-term Analytics users, Google has provided answers to some FAQs about upgrading.

How to build your analytics team

We’ve mentioned that you should develop a Google Analytics strategy, measurement plan and implementation plan before actually plunging into using Analytics. The bigger your business, the more people are likely to be involved in all of these steps. In its support documentation, Google talks about “the skills you need on your analytics team”:[6]

You need someone who understands what the business objectives are and the strategies used to support those objectives. You also need someone who understands what analytics can do. Finally, you need someone with technical skills who can implement an analytics tool.

In a small business, you might have just one person – possibly even yourself – who combines all these skills. Even in the largest organization, it will be enormously helpful if there’s an overlap of skills, so that for example the IT team responsible for deploying Analytics into your sites and apps all have a personal understanding of the business’s objectives and can therefore appreciate at every moment that what they do must align with those objectives and serve them.

In practical terms, the biggest challenge seems to be finding staff with a technical grasp of implementing and using Google Analytics. In a US survey conducted in early 2014, marketing organizations reported that their biggest “digital marketing talent gap” was in analytics: 76% felt that analytics was an important or very important skill for applicants to have, but only 39% said that their current team was stronger in this respect than their competition, which means that the “talent gap” is a huge 37%.[7]  This was by some way the biggest digital talent gap in all the areas of expertise mentioned, despite the fact that – more than any other skill – analytics was rated as important or very important by the most respondents.

Should I hire Google Analytics Staff

If you’re not lucky enough to have a Google Analytics expert on staff, you might need to recruit one. In roughly the last three months of 2104, under 1% of all permanent IT jobs advertised across the UK specified Google Analytics skills, although over 7% of jobs in the Business Applications category did, which represents a fairer indication of the demand. For permanent positions citing Google Analytics, the average salary offered was £37,500. Some 10% offered a salary of more than £55,000, but the average excluding London was £32,500.[8]

Analytics consultant Michael Loban advises that interviewing for an analyst is an art. “There are plenty of people who are good at using tools or printing out charts,” he says, “but this is not what you are looking for. You are looking for the person who can do all of that before lunch and then focus on maximizing outcomes.” [9]  He suggests that you test whether the candidate can explain web analytics to the least analytical person in the office: “Analytics and insights have no value if the person who has them lacks the ability to share them.”

Test their familiarity with the specifics of Google Analytics: ask what their favorite reports are, or what features they don’t like. Give them a report, a chart, a graph or an analysis and ask them to explain it: “It is one thing to crunch a report, a vastly different thing to analyze it.”[10]

Should I outsource to a freelancer or consultant?

Instead of hiring, Analytics requirements are often outsourced – particularly by smaller firms.  This ideally gives you access to someone up-to-date with the rapidly evolving tools used in the industry and “experienced in separating the signal from the noise.” [11]  It can also be less expensive than taking on a permanent employee when your needs are relatively modest – however, we’ve seen that identifying your measurement needs requires close familiarity with the objectives and technological infrastructures of your business, which only someone within the business is likely to have. With this in mind, you’ll likely need to keep analytics strategy and planning in-house.

 

How to decide if to outsource Analytics

  • Local or offshore: business reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions are common in offshoring operations, so you might sign on one company and find it’s taken over by another associated with one of your competitors. Ask also about the outsourcer’s analyst retention rate – you don’t want a continual turnover of analysts working with your data.
  • A matching culture: this helps ensure a productive relationship. If you’re a small local company, will a large outsourcer used to working on a global scale be the best fit for your firm?
  • Data security: understand what the outsourcer will do to protect your data, from encryption to internal access policies. Is there any risk of your information leaking to your competitors?
  • Exit strategy: think ahead to the possibility that your business will grow (thanks in part, no doubt, to good decision-making informed by good analysis) and you’ll want to bring business analytics functions in-house.
  • Relationships: just as if you’re outsourcing IT, you need both specialist skills and a productive relationship. Even if you’re a smaller business, it might be wise to have an in-house expert or independent consultant as the relationship manager.

How to connect Analytics to Google Webmaster Tools/Google Search Console

Google Webmaster Tools/Google Search Console is a completely separate free service that enables you to analyze how Google Search views your site, optimize the site’s visibility to Search and consequently help get the best possible ranking in Google Search results. Webmaster Tools can identify internal and external links and alert you to broken ones. Perhaps most usefully, you can view what keyword searches led to the site being listed in Google’s search results, and the click-through rates from these.

 

Webmaster Tools is much more modest than Analytics, but does complement it: for example, by listing traffic from each keyword separately. Note, though, that Webmaster Tools covers Google search only, not other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo. Plus, as we’ve noted, Analytics covers apps and other devices as well as websites.

They’re both Google services, so it’s not really surprising that they can work together. If you want to add a site to Webmaster Tools, you need to verify that you own the site. Two possible ways to do this are by using your Google Analytics tracking code or Google Tag Manager container snippet.

That’s not all, though. If you’re using Webmaster Tools in addition to Analytics, you can integrate the two services, which means you can view the data from Webmaster Tools in your Analytics reports and vice-versa. Not only is it convenient to see complementary information in one place, but integrating the two services enables useful new functions, such as using Analytics filtering capability to filter by a keyword string. More importantly, you won’t see any reporting data under the Search Engine Optimization section in Analytics (Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries) until you enable Webmaster Tools data sharing for your web Property in Analytics.

There are a couple of limitations to bear in mind. You can only connect one Webmaster Tools account to one Analytics Property, and a Webmaster Tools account can handle only one sub-domain. So if your Property includes several sub-domains – or for that matter several domains, multiple sites or even mobile apps – then your Webmaster Tools data is going to relate to only a part of the Property you’re tracking. Conversely, if you have multiple Webmaster Tools accounts to monitor multiple domains or sub-domains, it’s not possible to feed the information from more than one of these into one Analytics Property.

In addition, if you connect Webmaster Tools with Analytics, you cannot view Search Query data by landing page. If this is a metric you often use, then integration might not be worthwhile for you.

Linking Webmaster Tools/ Google Search Console to Google Analytics Web Property

1.      Log into Webmaster Tools, go to the home page, and click “Manage site” next to the site you want.

2.      Now click “Google Analytics Property”, and select the web Property you want to associate with the site.

3.      Click Save and you’re done.

Note that there might be some discrepancies between the data from Webmaster Tools and the data from Analytics. For example, Analytics records visits only to pages that have the tracking code correctly configured and embedded in them. This should be all the pages on your site, but accidents happen.

On the other hand, visits to pages without the Analytics tracking code will still be tracked in Webmaster Tools if users reach them via search results or if Google crawls or otherwise discovers them. Finally, be aware that the two services define “keywords” differently: the Keywords page in Webmaster Tools displays the most significant words Google found on your site, while Analytics uses the term “keywords” for both search engine queries and AdWords paid keywords.

How to use Google Analytics for mobile apps

We’ve mentioned that Analytics can deal with apps as well as web Properties. Google has its own step-by-step guides to setting up Analytics for mobile apps, but be aware that doing so requires some tweaking of your app code.

What data can Google Analytics Report?

  • Audience report: user location and languages, devices used, app versions, how often users continue using your app.
  • Acquisition: how many are new users, what marketplace they got the app from. Google Play Referral Flow tracks a user’s entire path through Google Play, while the AdWords report traces how users interact with your app if they started by clicking on your AdWords ad.
  • Behavior: explore in detail how users interact with your app including the total number of screens seen per session, how often users return to the app and for how long, and much more. Note that many of the Behavior reports require additional setup in the app tracking code that should be completed by your developer.

 

Take note of Google’s advice on Best Practices when implementing Analytics for mobile apps: if you have different apps – or the same app on different platforms – use separate Properties to track them. However, you should track updates and versions of the same app in the same Property – Analytics can distinguish them, so can report on them separately if required.

How to set up Google Analytics mobile app analytics

The process for setting up Mobile App Analytics is straightforward enough: first set up a new app Property in your Analytics account, then download the Google Analytics SDK for iOS or Android and implement the app tracking ID. If you’re using Google Tag Manager, set up the new app Property, then create a container for your app in Tag Manager. To do so, download and implement the Google Tag Manager for Mobile SDK, and finish by adding the Analytics tag to your container.

 

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References:

[1] http://www.google.com/analytics/learn/privacy.html?hl=en_US

[2] https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1011397?hl=en-GB

[3] http://analytics.blogspot.com/2012/10/universal-analytics.html

[4] http://analytics.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/universal-analytics-out-of-beta-into.html

[5] https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2790010?hl=en-GB

[6] https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/course01/unit?unit=2&lesson=4

[7] http://www.marketingcharts.com/online/digital-marketing-talent-lacking-in-key-areas-large-enterprises-say-38026/attachment/onlinemarketinginstitute-digital-marketing-talent-gaps-nov2013/

[8] http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/uk/google%20analytics.do

[9] http://content.infotrustllc.com/infotrust-blog/bid/370986/How-to-Interview-Your-Next-Web-Analytics-Superstar

[10] Ibid

[11] http://www.techvibes.com/blog/data-analytics-to-outsource-or-not-to-outsource-2014-12-31

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