How to use Google Analytics: The Definitive Guide (2020)

Google Analytics is a great tool that can help any business owner to make sense of what’s going on on their website. Also, it’s completely free.

This is a complete walkthrough guide on how to use every Google Analytics report.

Table of contents:

Why use Google Analytics

Google Analytics overview dashboard
Google Analytics overview dashboard

If you don’t track what’s happening on your website, you’re essentially leaving yourself blind and missing opportunities to make the right decisions for your business.

From everything like the countries in which your visitors are located at, the devices they use, to enhanced ecommerce reports on most popular products, revenue, and performance of different marketing channels – there is enough data gathered by Google Analytics to launch any online business into the big league.

In this guide I will go through the reports that I personally use myself, and provide explanations behind every single metric in order to help you make sense of what’s happening on your website.

Audience reports

One of the main benefits of using an Analytics software provided by Google is the audience recognition capabilities that Google can provide. These are some of the options available in audience reports:

Google Analytics report menu
Google Analytics report menu

Audience overview

One of the main reports to look at in order to get a general sense of your website traffic is the Audience overview report.

So, what is exactly seen in this report? Let’s look through the metrics one by one:

Users

This is the amount of unique visitors Google Analytics was able to identify on our website.

The way a unique user is identified is by placing a cookie on a visitor’s browser with a specific clientID for your Google Analytics property.

However, if the visitor deletes the cookie from their browser or browses your website in incognito mode, this clientID will be lost. Therefore, the next time they visit your website, a new cookie with a clientID will be generated and the same person will create a new unique User in your Google Analytics reports.

Therefore, it is important to note that the amount of Users does not equal the amount of people who have visited your website. In reality, the number of people will be much lower as visitors tend to browse in incognito mode, delete cookies, use different browsers and devices, which will all have their own cookies with unique clientIDs.

New Users

This is the amount of Users who, during the reported time period, visited your website for the first time.

Sessions

A session is simply a visit to your website. 

However, there are certain things you should know on how sessions are defined and calculated.

By default, a session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity. Any activity after this period of inactivity will be considered as a start of a new session.

Where it gets tricky:

Google Analytics views inactivity as the lack of hits being sent to its server. 

The most common type of hit is a pageview hit when a visitor opens a new page URL on your website. 

Therefore, if a visitor opens up a page on your website, scrolls through the page and reads the content for over 30 minutes, any new activity afterwards (such as opening another page on your website) will be considered as a start of a new session.

If your website contains pages where visitors may spend 30 minutes or more consuming content, you should consider sending additional event hits in order to track how visitors are engaging with your content (i.e. “pressed play on a video”, “watched 50% of a video”, etc.) and keep the session alive in order to make your reports better portray visits to your website.

Number of Sessions per User

The total amount of Sessions divided by the total amount of Users on your website.

Just keep in mind how Users and Sessions are calculated in order to better understand how people are actually engaging with your website.

Pageviews

This is the total amount of pages that have been opened on your website. 

Each page has a unique URL and every time a new page URL is opened, this sends a pageview event to the Google Analytics server.

Pages / Session

This is the average number of pages your users load during a session.

Whether the average number of pages per session is high or low depends on how you expect people to interact with your website.

Some websites are built as single-page websites and visitors rarely even have the chance to load another page.

Other websites have their content grouped in many different smaller pages and a low pages per session number may indicate that people are leaving the website before consuming the expected amount of content.

Avg. Session Duration

This is the average time visitors spend on your website before leaving.

Again, this can get a bit tricky, if you consider how exactly Google Analytics determines the end of a session.

Google Analytics determines the exact date when the last hit (i.e. pageview hit) was sent to its servers and subtracts the date of when the first hit which started the session.

Therefore, in reality your visitors may be dwelling on your website for much longer than Google Analytics will show you, simply because (by default) it will not take into account the time your visitors spent consuming the content on the page after they loaded it.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate calculates the % of all visits where your visitors only viewed a single page on your website, and did not trigger any other pageviews or events to determine further engagement.

Bounce Rate meant to show you whether the traffic brought to your website by certain marketing channels is valuable.

However, what percentage should be considered high or low depends on how your website is built.

Do your visitors get all their questions answered in one page? Then a high bounce rate might be fine.

Is a visit with a single pageview not bringing any value for your business? Then a high bounce rate will be a warning sign that your visitors are leaving the site and not engaging with content presented to them.

In specific terms, a bounce is defined as a session which only sent a single hit to the Google Analytics server. 

Therefore, if your website consists of pages with large amounts of content (i.e. videos or articles), consider implementing event tracking in order to track if your visitors are actually consuming the content or simply loading the page and leaving.

All Users

This is the segment which is currently being analyzed. In this case it is All Users, but we could create a custom segment to analyze a specific audience, for example, visitors who have added items to cart, but did not complete a purchase.

If we applied such a segment to this report, all of the metrics and graphs seen in the report would show values for this specific segment.

Next, let’s get into more detail on how segments can be analyzed.

Segments

In order to add a segment to a report, simply click the “+Add Segment” button above your report:

Adding a Segment to your report
Adding a Segment to your report

This will open up a window of existing segments which you can add to your report. You can view and compare up to 4 segments at once.

If you want to create a new segment, simply click “+ New segment”:

Segment creation menu
Segment creation menu

This will pop up a menu with options on how to segment your visitors. Add any conditions you wish in order to filter through your sessions or users:

Segment creation menu
Segment creation menu

For example, we may wish to analyze traffic from Mobile devices:

Creating a Segment for Mobile devices
Creating a Segment for Mobile devices

We can segment our traffic further by adding extra conditions, for example, filtering out to include sessions from Android devices:

Creating a Segment for Android Mobile devices
Creating a Segment for Android Mobile devices

Finally, we can add this segment to our report and analyze and/or compare the metrics for this segment with other segments:

Report with an extra Segment
Report with an extra Segment

Demographics

If you’ve ever wondered about the demographic data of your website visitors, or a particular segment of your visitors, you can view it in this report.

Demographics overview
Demographics overview

Interests

Google Analytics can help you out with determining the interests of your visitors.

There are two main types of audience groups: Affinity and In-Market.

Affinity audiences determine the long-term interests of a person. For example, if you like watching YouTube videos on the latest gadgets and tech, follow tech blogs, look for reviews on the latest smartphones, etc. – you will be placed in the Technology/Technophiles affinity category.

In-Market segments determine someone’s temporary interests within the last 2 weeks. For example, you may be completely oblivious to the world of technology and not be a part of the Technology/Technophiles affinity category. But if you’ve recently started browsing through tech websites and watching video reviews for the latest iPhone, you will be placed in a “Consumer Electronics/Mobile Phones” in-market audience. Once you’ve finally bought your phone and no longer visit any tech-related websites, you will disappear from this in-market audience.

In-market audience overview
In-market audience overview

Geo report

If you run a website which attracts visitors from all over the world, you may find information on the geographic data of your visitors very valuable.

Geographic report
Geographic report

A quick glance at the map overview may already let you spot some locations of your visitors you may have not been expecting to see.

There is also a table dropdown view with a list of countries and metrics for each country:

Geographic table report
Geographic table report

You can even break these locations down further into regions, cities and even more granular location areas:

Geographic region table report
Geographic region table report

Language

Not only can you look at the location report of your website visitors, you can also check out what language they speak (or, more specifically, what language their browser is set to).

Language report
Language report

This report can help you see, if you should start thinking about translating your content in order to make your website more accessible for your website visitors.

Acquisition reports

Acquisition reports help you see the performance of different channels that bring traffic to your website. Everything from ads, to organic, to social traffic can be broken down, evaluated, and compared with these reports.

Acquisition menu
Acquisition menu

Acquisition overview

The acquisition overview report offers a masterview report where all different acquisition channels are grouped together and broken down with different metrics.

Acquisition overview
Acquisition overview

You can see how many users each channel brought in, how many of these were new users who visited your website for the first time, and how many sessions these users generated.

Some channels may bring higher quality traffic than others. The Behavior and Conversions metrics let you compare how traffic brought in through different channels engaged with your website.

However, if you run marketing campaigns or invest heavily in a particular organic channel, such as Facebook Social, you will want to be able to see this channel separated from all other Social channels.

Specific channels can be broken down with the Source/medium report.

Source/medium report

This may be the most valuable report that Google Analytics has to offer. It is definitely my favorite report and the one I check the most often.

Source/medium report
Source/medium report

Just like in the Audience Overview report, you can see how many Users visited your website overall, how much Revenue was generated, etc.

Also, you can see a breakdown on how each user acquisition channel performed according to these metrics.

For example, looking at the report above, you can immediately see that the majority of all users come from Google organic search (9,837 users out of 17,985 total, so that’s 55%, to be exact). Also, this channel brings high quality traffic that brings conversions.

Furthermore, you can compare Google organic traffic with paid Google traffic (source/medium: “google / cpc”) and see that the conversion rate for this traffic is 0.09% – two times lower that the conversion rate of Google organic traffic. This may want to make you double-check if your paid Google campaigns are set up properly and are targeting the right audiences or keywords.

Speaking of paid traffic performance, the “Partners / affiliate” channel has not generated a single conversion and its bounce rate is the highest of all channels, which means that the traffic brought through this channel may be low quality. This may raise questions on whether your current affiliate partnerships are bringing any value for your business.

Source/Medium channel examples

Source/Medium channels can be created by anyone by simply adding utm code information on the landing page when visiting your website.

Source/Medium information is scraped automatically by Google Analytics from the landing page URL, or created automatically when this information is missing from the URL.

Referrals

By default, every website that refers traffic to your website will receive the source equal to the website’s hostname and tagged with the medium “referral”.

For example, if I put a link on my website povilas.tech to another website, that website will see the traffic generated from the link on my website as source/medium “povilas.tech / referral”.

Organic traffic

Traffic from search engines will be automatically given the medium “organic” by Google Analytics.

For example, if someone clicks on a link to my website on Google’s organic search results page, I will see this traffic with the source/medium values of “google / organic”.

Same goes for traffic sent via Bing organic search results (source/medium = “bing / organic”) or some other search engine:

Source/medium organic traffic
Organic traffic example

Some search engines may not be recognized by Google Analytics automatically. Traffic from these search engines will be simply tagged as referral traffic:

Referral traffic example
Referral traffic example

Creating a new Source/Medium channel

A new Source/Medium channel can be created by simply attaching specific UTM codes to the landing page URL. 

Google Analytics scans the URL and looks for values of:

  • utm_source
  • utm_medium
  • utm_campaign
  • utm_content

An example URL could look like this:

https://povilas.tech/?utm_source=test1&utm_medium=test2&utm_campaign=test3&utm_content=test4

That way, when Google Analytics reads the landing page URL, it will scrape the given source, medium, campaign, and content values and categorize traffic to these dimensions.

The above example URL would look like this in Google Analytics reports:

Source/medium & campaign
Source/medium & campaign

Best practices for naming Source/Medium channels

There are four main dimension levels for categorizing traffic: source, medium, campaign, and content.

Source – describes the source of traffic, such as the name of the website or search engine from which the traffic comes from, i.e., “nytimes.com”, “Google”, etc.

Medium – describes the method in which traffic was acquired from its source, i.e., “referral”, “organic”, “paid”, etc.

Campaign – describes the marketing campaign or groups similar content into a single entity, i.e. “201911_blackfriday”, “blog_promo”, etc.

Content – describes the specific message which enticed people to click on the link or banner ad, i.e. “hero_image”, “cta_button”.

The standard practice model to categorizing traffic would portray a hierarchy in this order:

Source, medium, campaign, content hierarchy
Source, medium, campaign, content hierarchy

Here’s an example what utm codes we could use for a Facebook post:

Source, medium, campaign, content examples
Source, medium, campaign, content examples

The traffic is sent to our website from Facebook, so we’ll give it the utm_source value “facebook”.

Depending on whether a user clicked a link to your website in the organic social feed or on a promoted ad, the utm_medium values can be either “social” (for organic traffic) or “cpc” (for paid traffic).

Notice how the campaign values can be the same for both “social” and “cpc” medium. If the message of the post is the same, then the major difference for categorizing traffic will be the way it was acquired – either organically or through promoted advertising.

If a campaign has more than one post, each post can be given a utm_content value, which will let us know which posts had the most success.

Use Source/Medium only for external traffic

A common mistake that web developers make when they learn about UTM codes is placing these codes on buttons and internal links in order to track how visitors move within a website.

This is a mistake which will cause traffic data in your Google Analytics reports to become fluttered.

Each time a page URL link is given source/medium or campaign values, this will start a new session in Google Analytics. Therefore, if UTM codes are used to track button clicks for internal website traffic, this is inflate the amount of sessions started by users and make it difficult to track what actual external traffic sources brings high quality website to your website.

Tracking how traffic moves within your website can be seen in Behavior reports which we’ll cover next.

Campaign report

Campaign report
Campaign report

Similar to the Source/Medium report, the Campaign report groups traffic according to the “utm_campaign” values of their sessions.

Behavior reports

Behavior reports help you understand how people act and navigate within different pages of your website. It can show you which pages on your website are performing well or where your visitors are getting stuck and leave your website.

Behavior report menu
Behavior report menu

Behavior overview

The behavior overview report lets you take a quick glance at the performance of the most popular pages on your website:

Behavior report overview
Behavior report overview

Behavior flow report

The behavior flow report visualizes how people move within your website. 

For example, here we can see that people who come to our website through the source/medium “google/organic” usually start their visit on the “/home” page, then they click through to the “store.html” page from where the move to different pages, such as the “/google+redesign/apparel” page.

We can see other popular pages in the interaction list. We can also see a red bar which indicates the amount of people who dropped-off and exited the website once they visited a certain page within their journey.

Behavior flow report
Behavior flow report

We can highlight or filter the report by clicking on a certain interaction card and selecting “Explore traffic through here”:

Explore traffic through here menu
Explore traffic through here menu

Selecting “Group details” gives more detailed information on similar pages which may be grouped together in the report.

We can select different starting point criteria, such as landing page or a certain marketing campaign:

Criteria selection menu
Criteria selection menu

If our website uses event tracking, we may want to look at not only the pages our visitors opened, but also the events they triggered. We can add these events by selecting the “Pages and Events” view in the behavior flow report:

Content grouping
Content grouping

This will add event interaction cards to our report:

Behavior flow interaction report
Behavior flow interaction report

In order to not cramp too many interactions into our report, we can choose a specific page as our start value:

Select page
Select page

Landing pages report

The landing pages report is one of the most valuable places in your Google Analytics account.

It shows how your website visitors behave when they start their session on a specific page on your website.

If your website has several pages which bring in traffic and generate revenue, I recommend checking the landing pages report regularly.

This report can also help you identify which landing pages perform well and which landing pages should be optimized.

Exit pages report

The exit pages report can reveal problem pages on your website which lead to visitors leaving your site.

Exit pages report
Exit pages report

The report consists of three metrics for each page:

Pageviews

Pageviews shows the number of times the page has been viewed. Repeated page loads are included in the total count.

Exits

Exits shows the number of times people left your website while they were on that particular page.

Exit %

Exit % shows the difference between the number of time someone left your website while on a particular page and the number of times visitors viewed that particular page.

The formula for this metric is quite simple:

Exit % = Exits / Pageviews

Site Speed report

The Site Speed report can help you find problematic pages on your website which take a long time to load.

Site speed report
Site speed report

Slow pages on your website may lead to visitors leaving your website. Sometimes visitors may leave your website even before the page loads.

If you would like more information on the importance of page speed, check out this article: Why a Slow Website Will Kill Your Business & How to Fix it

If your website has a Search function, the Site Search report will show you data for searches conducted on your website.

Site Search report
Site Search report

How to set up the Site Search report on Google Analytics

To set up the Site Search report on your Google Analytics view:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account and open the view on which you wish to set up the Site Search report.
  2. Open up the Admin View Settings.
  3. Under “Site Search Settings”, enable the “Site Search Tracking” option.
  4. In the “Query Parameter” field, enter the parameters which designate the site search queries, for example, “search” or “query”. Often times query parameters are designated by only a letter, such as “s” or “q”. Separate different parameters by commas. Be careful not to use any unnecessary characters: for example, if the search query parameter is designated by the letter “s”, enter only “s” (not “s=”). You can find the query parameter in the page URL after conducting a search. The search query will be written after the query parameter followed by a “=” sign. Different URL parameters are usually separated with “?”, “&”, or “#” symbols.
  5. Select Analytics to strip the query parameter from the URL in your reports (recommended). This will make your standard Google Analytics reports easier to read. This option strips only the provided parameters, other parameters will be left as is.
  6. Enable Site search categories, if applicable. If your website lets users refine search categories, you can track that information in your reports. For example, visitors may search for “smartphones” once they’ve refined the category to “tech”. In such a case, the page URL may look something like this – “…?category=tech&s=smartphones”. Follow the same instructions as for the query parameters in order to define and strip search category parameters from your reports.
  7. Click save.

Event reports

Event report overview
Event report overview

There are two types of hits in Google Analytics: PageView hits, and Event hits.

PageView hits are triggered automatically every time someone loads a page.

Event hits are used to track all interactions which happen inside the page.

You can track clicks on elements, links, how far people scroll down on the page, how long they spend on the page, video plays, form fill outs (registrations), etc.

Event structure

Event structure
Event structure

Event structure follows a hierarchy of three layers: Category, Action, and Label.

Category is the most broad classification layer which can be further divided by Action values.

Actions can be further divided by Label values.

A Value can be given to each Event, if it generates revenue for your business.

Goals report

Goals report overview
Goals report overview

You can think of Goals as Events which are very important for your business.

This can include Registrations, Purchases, Downloads, etc.

Goals can only happen once per Session.

In the Goals Overview report, you can see on which pages the Goal most often takes place, which Source/Medium brings traffic which converts.

Enhanced Ecommerce reports

Enhanced Ecommerce report
Enhanced Ecommerce report

If you run an online shop or sell any products on your website, you should set up enhanced ecommerce reports.

Every time someone purchases a product on your website, that information will be passed to Google Analytics.

Product name, revenue, invoice number, and other information will be included in the reports.

Also, you can send information on other ecommerce events, such as Product views, Add to Cart, and Checkout behavior.

Shopping Behavior reports

Shopping Behavior report
Shopping Behavior report

Shopping behavior reports can show what steps each visitor took in regards to purchasing a product on your website.

The shopping behavior funnel is divided into these steps:

  • Visit (All Sessions)
  • Product View
  • Add to Cart
  • Check-Out
  • Transaction

Looking at this report, you can see the drop-off points of your visitors. 

Are people not interested in your paid products? 

Do they look at the products but not add them to cart? 

Do they abandon the cart? 

Is there a high drop-off rate during Checkout?

All of these points can be analyzed.

Also, you can create segments for visitors in any of these steps in the shopping behavior funnel and launch remarketing campaigns on Google Ads to bring them back to your website.

Checkout Behavior reports

Checkout Behavior report
Checkout Behavior report

Similar to the Shopping Behavior report, you can further divide the Checkout funnel into several steps in order to view where your visitors drop off.

For example, if people are dropping off in the Shipping section, perhaps they cannot find rates for shipping to their area (or maybe your store does not offer delivery to that area).

If people are dropping off in the Payment section, perhaps they cannot find a secure payment method they use when shopping online.

Product performance report

Product performance report
Product performance report

In the Product performance report, you can see transaction information for the products that you sell on your website.

You can see the revenue the product has generated (Product revenue), amount sold (Quantity), the average price of the product (Avg. Price), the average quantity of the product per basket (Avg. QTY), and other useful information.

Unique purchases counts how many times a product was part of a transaction. So, if someone buys two hoodies in the same transaction, it will count as one unique purchase.

Cart-to-Detail Rate shows how often a product is added to cart after someone sees the product.

Buy-to-Detail Rate shows how often a product is bought after someone sees the product during their visit.

Sales performance report

Sales performance report
Sales performance report

With the Sales performance report you can analyze every transaction which happened on your website.

The overview displays the most important information, such as Revenue, Tax, Shipping, Refunds, and Quantity of products in the transaction.

You can also open every transaction and view it individually:

Transaction details report
Transaction details report

Multi-channel funnel reports

If you’re running an ecommerce store or are looking for people to sign up for your service, you may quickly notice that most people do not convert as soon as they first visit your website.

People may not need your product or service immediately and will be simply looking around during their first visit. Or perhaps they want to check some competitors, or are missing information before they can make the decision to sign up for your service.

This is where the multi-channel funnels report comes in to help.

But before getting into the reports, it is important to note that Google Analytics tracks users based on the cookie they have in their website browsers. 

Meaning that if one person uses multiple devices, browsers or deletes their cookies, Google Analytics will not be able to track that it was the same user. (Unless you implement User-ID tracking. However, User-ID tracking requires that people sign up and log into their accounts when visiting your website.)

Assisted conversions

Assisted conversions report
Assisted conversions report

The Assisted conversions report shows which channels take part in generating conversions, but bring traffic that does not convert immediately.

Usually, traffic from paid ads or social posts do not convert immediately, because they bring in users who visit your website for the first time.

At the top left column of the report, you can select the Conversion action you wish to track. Conversion actions can consist of Goals or ecommerce Transactions.

Assisted Conversions column

The Assisted Conversions column displays how many conversions appear in the channel path, but did not occur during the last visit.

Last Click or Direct Conversions

The Last Click or Direct Conversions column displays how many conversions occurred during the last visit through the selected channel.

Assisted / Last Click or Direct Conversions

The Assisted / Last Click or Direct Conversions column displays the ratio between assisted and last-click conversions.

The higher the value of this metric, the more the channel brings assisted conversions versus last-click conversions.

A value of 1.0 would mean that the channel brings in an equal amount of assisted and last-click conversions.

A value of 0 would mean that the channel only brings last-click conversions.

Top Conversion Paths

Top conversion paths report
Top conversion paths report

The Top Conversion Paths report displays the sequences of different channels that people used to arrive on your website before the conversion.

You can divide the steps based on default channel grouping, source/medium, campaign, or other type of criteria.

Time Lag report

Time lag report
Time lag report

The Time Lag report shows how many days it took someone from their first visit until the conversion.

Path Length report

Path length report
Path length report

The Path Length report shows how many interactions (sessions) someone took on your website before the conversion.

Model Comparison Tool

Model comparison report
Model comparison report

The Model Comparison Tool shows how your traffic channels perform based on different attribution models.

The default attribution models you can compare are:

Last Interaction

Credits the whole conversion to the channel of the last session, including direct traffic.

Last Non-Direct Click

Credits the whole conversion to the channel of the last session, except for direct traffic.

Last Google Ads Click

Credits the whole conversion to the last session from Google Ads traffic.

First Interaction

Credits the whole conversion to the channel of the first session.

Linear

Equally divides the conversion to all traffic channels which the user used before the conversion.

Time Decay

Divides the conversion to all traffic channels which the user used before the conversion, but gives more credit to latter channels which happened closer to the conversion.

Position Based

Divides the conversion to all traffic channels which the user used before the conversion, but gives more credit to the channels of the first and the last session.

Accounts, properties, and views

Accounts, properties, and views
Accounts, properties, and views

Google Analytics hierarchical account structure contains: Accounts, Properties, and Views.

Account

An Account usually represents a business or person who owns several properties.

Property

Properties are most often divided on the basis of domains. For example, a property for “google.com”, another property for “https://povilas.tech”.

View

Each Property can contain up to 20 Views.

Each View can have filters applied to the data. For example, your Office IP, or the Members area of your website can be excluded in order to better understand data from customer visits which happen before a registration.

Linking Google Analytics to Other Platforms

Linking products to Google Analytics
Linking products to Google Analytics

You can link your Google Analytics account to Google Ads, Google AdSense, Google Search Console, Google Play, and other platforms.

Linking other platforms to Google Analytics will allow you to better understand how traffic from the sources from these platforms, i.e. Google Ads, Google organic searches (via Search Console), behaves on your website.

Google Analytics purpose is speed

Google Analytics is not meant to be 100% accurate. It is not supposed to be used as a replacement for finance, CRM, or any other tools.

The Enhanced Ecommerce reports are very powerful, however, I would not advise to use these reports to manage your company’s finances.

Google Analytics tracks data based on website code and cookies, and these can get lost, not load due to errors or bad loading times, and other reasons.

The main benefit from using Google Analytics is the speed with which you can make decisions.

For example, if you launch a marketing campaign and see that the traffic from this campaign is leaving your site without performing any wanted actions, you can adjust the campaign based on the ad_content or audience information, or turn it off entirely.

Google Analytics reveals trends, not exact results. So, keep this in mind when using this powerful tool for the purpose it was built for.

I hope this walkthrough guide was helpful. If you would like more information on how to use Google Analytics, make sure to check out the Google Analytics Academy.

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