What is Google Analytics and how do I use it?

Written on July 11, 2019
Google Analytics can help set important benchmarks for business growth while tracking aggregate web traffic.
Google Analytics can help set important benchmarks for business growth while tracking aggregate web traffic.

A brilliant comedian once quipped, “I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. I’ll just give you the money, and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut.”

This jab at our societal penchant for documenting the mundane has elicited laughs for more than a decade. Take that hypothetical paper trail scenario and bring it forward to the current day. If you ordered a doughnut from your mobile phone through an ad you saw on social media, the internet just logged a whole lot more than time, date and purchase amount. Potentially, there could be a database collating your doughnut purchases over the last three years, flavor selections, purchase patterns, geolocations and a whole cavalcade of information about brand preferences across a multitude of industries from your online profiles and activity. Honestly, it’s a little mind blowing to think about.

Analytics are everywhere today and debates involving data usage have become banter for cable news pundits across the globe. It feels as though we live in a world where everything is measured and analyzed.

If you just opened your first doughnut franchise and own a copy of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, then you’ve come to the right blog post. While we won’t dive too deeply into the specific acumen and tactics needed to build a global fried dough empire overnight, we can unpack some of the basics about online analytics and how they can benefit any business.

Google Analytics is a great place to start. The starter version of the platform is free and well documented. By inserting a small snippet of code into your website, you are granted access to the big leagues of internet data. Considering that Google dominates the search engine market, the cost of sending your site’s traffic data to the search giant in exchange for their analytics platform is a small price to pay.

If you’re unfamiliar with the interface, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the granularity and minutiae. In this article, we’ll cover a few key areas to help you getter a better glimpse of the full picture.


Upon initial login, the platform defaults to a very narrow window of dates. If you’ve had analytics running on your site for a while, it may not make sense to only look at a few days worth of data. If you just connected analytics to your site a few minutes ago, go order some batter and chocolate sprinkles and come back in about a month. You’ll want to collect some traffic data and give Google a chance to catch up before digging in. If you’ve had analytics set up for at least a year or longer, it’s a great exercise to compare quarter-over-quarter or year-over-year data. If you are seeing patterns that align with your overall business growth or decline, then that’s great! This is also a great time to start planning yearly, quarterly, monthly or weekly business goals with the data at hand. Start by looking at a full year first. It’s also helpful to pull dates that you know you can replicate year over year. For example, if your site launched in mid September, it may not make sense to look at Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, since there may be missing data prior to launch.

Looking at a consistent, repeatable and large data set may help you identify patterns in your traffic that will help you set goals for the future. Are you seeing what you would expect as normal? Does your doughnut shop website see a spike in traffic on National Doughnut Day, which is the first Friday of June? Are you seeing web traffic spikes or dips that you can’t immediately account for? How much traffic is your site getting historically? If you execute certain marketing tactics like advertising or monthly specials, do they have an impact on this time frame? Using consistent windows of time to analyze your existing web traffic lets you set a benchmark to measure against in the future.


One thing that some people find slightly perplexing about Google Analytics is how you can find the same information a few different ways. You can dive deeply into a particular data set, only to run it again somewhere else, or have trouble finding it again after some time away from the interface.

A good working example of this, considering how Google is configured at the time of this writing, is finding the top 10 most visited pages on your domain. The fastest way is to type “top 10 pages” in the search bar at the top. You can also find it by using the menu options on the left, navigating to Behavior/Overview and scrolling down.

No matter how you get there, this report gives some great insight into how people are navigating your pages. Does the report match your expectations? Is there a disproportionate amount of traffic on your locations page instead of your menu? Are people hitting your about page but not your contact information page? Looking closely at your most visited pages allows you to see how visitors may be using your site as a whole. Are the critically important pages getting the attention they need for your business to succeed, or are they being overlooked by the majority of your traffic? In the analog world, this would be similar to putting your open sign in the basement instead of the storefront window. Yes, you have an open sign, but are any of your customers actually seeing it?


This tab’s insights are particularly helpful from a marketing perspective. The main tab is available on the left-hand side of the menu.

For starters, let’s breakdown the five categories that are immediately presented:

Direct: These are visitors that are most likely typing your site’s URL address directly into the browser, or using a bookmark.

Organic Search: Google is tracking visitors who come to your website by searching Google and other search engines.

Referral: These are visitors who clicked a link from another site that took them to your site. You can explore this area fuller to see exactly what sites are linking to your domain.

Social: This section tracks visitors clicking through to your site from social media platforms.

Paid Search: This channel measures visitors who clicked through to your site from an AdWords page or other paid search ad.

This section may help you measure existing marketing efforts, or brainstorm new ways to increase your traffic. For each acquisition source, there may be different strategies to help boost visitors from that particular source. For example, if you are active daily on social media, but see that very few visitors are originating from that source compared to organic traffic, you may want to look closer at your social media strategy. Are you giving users an easy way to click from your posts to your site? If you have a special doughnut flavor of the week getting heavily promoted on Facebook, is there a way for people who see the ad to click through to your menu or online order form? This is just one small example to start brainstorming about ways to boost traffic from any particular source.


There are a couple of ways to drill down into this sub category. This chart may help drive marketing or advertising strategy, as it breaks down the number of visitors to your site by the type of device being used. Are people looking at your pages from the office on a personal computer, or are they pulling up your menu from a mobile phone? Is your site properly optimized for mobile use?

For a general overview, you can select Audience/Mobile/Overview from the left hand side. This will display a general breakdown of traffic across three major categories: desktop, mobile and tablet. This more general view can again give you a glimpse into overall consumer patterns of behavior.

If you’re interested in a more granular view of specific device types, click one tab down on Audience/Mobile/Devices to see stats on specific mobile phone models. This interface displays the number of people visiting your site on the latest iPhone or Android mobile devices. There may be some technical reason for your interest in these details, especially if you are developing specific software or apps that depend on certain platforms or internet browsers.


Most people doing business online have a working definition for bounce rate. Generally speaking, it is the percentage of visits where a person leaves a particular page without browsing further. But what does that mean for your business? It really depends on how you think the ideal user should navigate your site. Should your visitors spend lots of time exploring pages, reading content and interacting with various assets? If so, then a high bounce rate is probably not ideal. However, if your business depends on an efficient user experience, then a high bounce rate is actually a good thing. For example, if a consumer can easily find the address, menu and order form for your doughnut shop site, they may be in and out of the site quickly with a high bounce rate. You still made money & the buyer got what they came for.

Want to learn more about refining your web efforts? Contact us today to talk about leveraging web analytics to drive and measure your business goals.