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How to get started with Google Analytics

James A. Martin | March 3, 2016
Google Analytics can provide valuable online insights for marketers and website managers. Unfortunately, GA has a bit of a learning curve. Here's a beginner's guide to the basics.

Google Analytics (GA) is a free online service designed to help marketers and webmasters better understand their sites' visitors — where they come from, what they do on the sites, which pages they linger on, content that causes them to leave, and much more. 

But GA "can be a daunting challenge for many users, because of its massive amount of data," says Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of Directive Consulting. "It becomes one of those things where you can spend hours in it, but after doing it a couple of times and not getting any great takeaways, you usually stop completely."

The greatest challenge for new or inexperienced users isn't finding data in GA; it's extracting meaningful, actionable insights, according to Derek Gleason, an SEO analyst with Workshop Digital. "Those actionable insights aren't superficial metrics like total traffic but are for more segmented and targeted audiences, like organic users who navigate to a subset of service pages," he says. "Of course, a first-time user won't know where to look, which is why the best opportunity for success is before you log in — finding out which metrics will mean the most to your business."

Here's a quick getting started guide to GA's main features, its most useful views and valuable tools.

Google Analytics Dashboards

Dashboards provide simple snapshots of your site's analytics, and they're a good place for new GA users to get started with the service.

After you spend a little time familiarizing yourself with GA, the next step is to create a custom dashboard. (The option can be found by tapping the Reporting tab, then Dashboards > New Dashboard.) You can build a "Blank Canvas" dashboard, a "Starter Dashboard," or import a user-generated dashboard from Google's gallery. For example, Google's GA team created a dashboard template called, "New Google Analytics User Starter Bundle," and it includes a variety of dashboards, custom reports, and segments to kick-start your analytics gathering. 

"Once a GA user has a basic understanding of the audience segments they want to see on a regular basis, it's worth the time to create a custom dashboard that will display these metrics on one screen," says Gleason. "Rather than navigating through a series of GA screens, which can be especially challenging for a new user to remember, you can have one screen that shows, for example, the distribution of visitors by gender, top landing pages, and mobile conversion rate. These dashboard reports can be emailed to you automatically, saving you the time from logging into GA, or you can forward the updates to your boss."

Google Analytics Shortcuts

Shortcuts give you quick access to your most frequently viewed GA reports. After you set up GA they way you want it, shortcuts make it "easy to get to the information you care about the most," says Nick Loui, CMO of Vixlet.


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