Liz Langford of britelime in the barn on her laptop

Learning how to understand and use Google Analytics for your small business website is key to understanding your website traffic. The data Google Analytics provides will help you to make your website an even better experience for your ideal client.

In this post I’ll share with you the basics of what Google Analytics is, how to get started, understanding how it works and what to focus on.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free tool offered by Google that allows you to track and analyze traffic to and on your website. It’s been around since 2005 and over the years has become easier to use and understand (even for non-techy types).

Google Analytics (using a piece of tracking code) records all of your website traffic. Then it takes that data and delivers it to you broken out into different sections of information. For example, Google Analytics tracks and breaks down the sources of your traffic (how users get to your site), what pages users spend time on, how much time they spend on those pages and even where those users come from and what type of device they use to browse your site.

Why Does Tracking Website Analytics Matter?

If you’re not a tech savvy person, thinking about all these data points (and taking a first glance at your Google Analytics dashboard) could start to be overwhelming. You might even be wondering, why does it matter?

Utilizing Google Analytics is a way for you to understand what parts of your website engages users and what parts don’t. Measuring user interest based on tracked activity will help you to make improvements to your website. If you don’t know a particular page is popular you might remove it and wonder why sales have suddenly dropped. Or you could spend a lot of time and resources to build a tool for your site only to find out no one is using it. By measuring traffic on your website and analyzing the data, you can make incremental improvements that can cause significant improvements to your website.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

Peter Drucker,

Google Analytics is a Reliable Tracking Mechanism

A note of caution – choose one analytics platform and stick with it. You’ll make yourself crazy jumping back and forth between platforms and finding that the numbers from different platforms aren’t the same.

Google Analytics is a reliable source for website analytics and while there are lots of other tools out there, it’s my number one recommendation if you want to start tracking your website traffic.

Reliable metrics are especially important if you run ads for your business or invest time sending users to your website from social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Google Analytics even has the ability to track your ad conversions which is a huge help in determining which ads are worth it and which ones have bad ROI.

How to Get Started with Google Analytics

To start using Google Analytics to track user activity on your website, you’ll first need to create a Google Analytics account. You can do that here.

Then you’ll enter in the information to create a “property” within your new Google Analytics account. I recommend starting with your main domain. If you utilize sub-domains, you’ll likely also want to track those, but start with your main domain first.

Google Analytics will guide you through the process of adding your first property and then you’ll need to install that code onto your website platform. Each platform has a different place for you to store your Google Analytics code. On some platforms there will be a specific place to put just your Google Analytics number. On other platforms you may need to copy a small bit of javascript code (don’t worry you don’t have to understand what the code says)from inside Google Analytics and paste it into the header of your site.

You should easily be able to find out how to connect your site with your Google Analytics account by googling the name of your platform + Google Analytics.

Here are some quick links for popular platforms:

Showit + Google Analytics

Squarespace + Google Analytics

Shopify + Google Analytics

Once you’ve installed Google Analytics onto your website, now you can sit back and wait for the data to roll in. I recommend waiting at least a week – maybe as much as a month so that when you do start to dig into your data you can also see trends. It takes time to really see trends develop and one week isn’t really much. Even a month can be a short amount of time for watching trends develop. It’s really once you’ve had your Google Analytics installed for an entire year that the data starts to get really interesting.

But that’s not a reason to install it and not pay any attention for a year. Understanding what Google Analytics is doing in the back-end is important!

How Google Analytics Works

Understanding how Google Analytics works will help you to wrap your head around all of the data points you’ll start to see populating your Google Analytics dashboard.

That little piece of code you place on your website will enable Google to begin tracking user activity the same day you install it. From that point forward when a user arrives at your site, Google will track them. You’ll know where they came from, how long they stayed, what pages they looked at, what links they clicked on, what device type they used, where in the world the traffic came from, etc..

Google gathers the data and using the analytics dashboard you can determine what information is most important for you to review when you login. This is where it starts to get fun.

Once you have collected data, you can start digging through that data like a detective looking for clues. If you find that traffic to your website is highest on Wednesday mornings at 11am you can start to unpack why that might be. Maybe it’s because you always post a new blog post on Wednesday mornings? Or maybe you send out a newsletter with deals and promotions on Wednesdays at 10:50am?

The Key is to Drive More Traffic to Your Website

Being able to look at your data and start to understand what is driving traffic to your website is key to driving more traffic to your website. And the more traffic you drive to your site, especially traffic from your ideal customer, the more web based sales you’re likely to make of whatever product or service you’re selling.

To dig a little deeper, check out this page from Google that explains how the tracking code works.

Screenshot of Google's explanation of how the Google tracking code works.
This screenshot is from Google’s own page that explains how the tracking code works.

What Data to Focus On If You’re Just Getting Started

Like SEO, Google Analytics can be a rabbit hole of sorts that you can quickly find yourself going down. But instead of being overwhelmed by all of the different data points, I recommend focusing on just three points when you’re getting started.

Traffic Sources

Look at the data tracker for traffic sources. Understanding where your website traffic is coming from will help you to understand what sources you should lean into or stay away from.

Search engine traffic is from users that searched using a search engine like Google and clicked on a link to your site from a list of potential websites.

Direct traffic is from users who directly typed your url into their search engine.

Referred traffic comes from links on other websites, emails (like digital newsletters), ads and social media platforms.

Time On Page

On average users leave a website in less than 8 seconds. Some researchers say it’s even faster than that. So you don’t get very long to make a good first impression. Start looking at how long you’re able to hold the interest of your website visitors. And then try making some incremental changes to see if you can improve on that. The longer you can engage a user on your website, the better chance you have of them converting from a visitor to a customer.

Pages

What pages do your website users come to? Which pages do they spend the most time on? If no one ever comes to your blog, maybe blogging isn’t worth your time investment? (In most cases I have found blogging to be well worth the time and effort when done well and consistently).

Focusing on these three data points at the beginning allows you to identify trends that happen with traffic to your website and helps you to see what pages of your site might need a little more work and which ones are functioning well and fulfilling their purpose.

Finally, Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Data

It’s easier said than done; but try not to get bogged down in the data. Have a simple understanding of how Google Analytics works is a great start. Now you can start to measure and make intelligent adjustments to your website. You’re far better off to at least install Google Analytics and then one day take a deep dive into the numbers than you are to pretend like it doesn’t exist.

In the end, I think you’ll find that Google Analytics is a useful tool as a small business entrepreneur – and it’s a free tool that only costs your time and a little bit of brain power to put to good use.

How to Understand and Use Google Analytics

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