What is Google Analytics and Why do I Need It?

Google Analytics is a system for measuring activity on your web site, blog or page. It records information about people who view the site, giving indications on what they liked and how they got there.

While Google's product is only one of a number of web analytics packages, it has one huge advantage: it's free. There are plans to start charging the very largest sites, but for the vast majority it remains completely free to use all the functions.

So what is it good for?

  1. Basic tracking of visitors, so you can tell how well many people see your site. This is vital for most sites - both commercial and non-commercial need to know they are being read, but for very different reasons.
  2. To determine where visitors are coming from. Most sites get visitors from a variety of sources - search engines, social media, other web sites - and it's really useful to see which is providing the most traffic. This is especially important if you are paying for links to your site, as you can then establish roughly how much each visitor costs.
  3. To find problems with your site or pages. Analytics tracks a huge number of variables, and these can be useful for tracking down site problems. One report I use regularly is the summary by browser type. If I see that visitors using a particular browser always leave after one page, it's a warning that something is wrong and needs tested. It could be the page layout is broken, or my menu is not working. This is especially important for mobile browsers such as iPads and iPhones which have some limitations as to the types of content they can display.
    The latest version on Analytics also allows you to check page load speeds. A fast-loading page gives a better experience for your visitors, and you can often improve the experience by taking simple steps like reducing the size of images or adding videos in a different way.
  4. To perform calculations on your return on investment. Even if your site is not commercial, its useful to know what your efforts achieve. Analytics can track views of specific pages, completed webforms and even (with some outside help) phone calls. This allows you to determine which visitor sources, topic or pages provide the most return for your time marketing funds.

There are loads of other uses for the data that Google Analytics can provide. Our next post will be on how to get Analytics added to your website.

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