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Ultimate Google Analytics User Guide

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
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Are you leveraging Google Analytics (GA) to its absolute potential?

If you’re honest, the answer is probably not.

That’s why too many businesses spend unnecessary budget dollars to uncover the mysteries of Google Analytics.

Why spend the extra money when we can take your knowledge of GA to the next level? Here’s everything you need to know to finally understand GA and use it to its fullest.

What to Know to Fully Understand Google Analytics

The Zero to Ten Second Visit Conundrum

Engagement is the GA measurement that shows how long a visitor spends on your website.

If someone views multiple pages, the engagement stat is a valid measure. However, if a person only checks out one page and leaves, Google Analytics will report that the visit lasted from zero to ten seconds, which, at first glance, seems terrible, especially if you have a lot of those kinds of experiences.

However, if your site is a blog, and your goal is to get people to read one article per visit, you would be thrilled if someone spent a reasonable amount of time on a single page. The issue: Even if they do, GA will report a lot of visits in the under ten second category, which could seem really bad.

Don’t be too concerned. Your visitors may actually be spending a few minutes reading your blog article, which is awesome. In this case, you might not be able to use GA to validate this. Instead, leverage a website monitoring software like Mouseflow to find out what’s really going on when people visit your site. You’ll see if it’s really under ten seconds or more like two minutes plus.

It All Depends on the Bounce

If someone visits your site and leaves without viewing a second page or is inactive on the first page for more than 30 minutes, Google considers the visit a bounce.

Here is why that matters:

  • The first time versus returning bounce. It’s much more important to know the bounce rate for first time visitors to your website and not that for returning ones. If visitors come back to your site, then it doesn’t matter as much if they bounce because they may be checking out a bookmarked page or double checking some information. They’re likely already sold on your company or extremely interested in it. If it’s a first time visitor coming to your site to learn about your business and they bounce, they may not like what they see. You may want to change your page content or adjust your targeting to make sure you’re bringing the right people to your page.

  • Page optimization bounce. You might experience a high bounce rate because your pages aren’t properly optimized. Google uses the page title tag to figure out what it’s about. If it’s not closely aligned with the content, Google may send traffic from the wrong types of searches to the page which will make visitors leave immediately. In this case, you’ll want to check the title tag on the page and adjust it, so it better describes the messaging on it.

  • The “don’t know what to do next” bounce. If you want visitors to check out multiple pages on your site, do you make it easy for them to do it? Double check that pages with high bounce rates have clear calls to action, prominent menu options, and links to other content. If they don’t have these things, add them to encourage people to explore more of your site.

Cut Through the GA Data Clutter

Many marketers find the data available through Google Analytics overwhelming and difficult to navigate.

GA can be much easier to use if you create one or more custom dashboards with the information that’s valuable for your business to monitor.

It’s relatively simple to set up a dashboard on GA and add information to it. Or you can use one of the dashboard templates available from several third parties online. Or consider hiring someone for a few hours to do the work for you. A small investment in time or money to develop a dashboard will pay off many times over because it will make it much faster and easier for you to monitor and optimize your website.

Go Granular With Event Tracking

Do you find goals tracking in Google Analytics too limiting? You can expand the kinds of things you are able to monitor through the platform’s events functionality. For example, if you have a white paper on your website and want to see how many people download it, this could be done through events. All you need to do is add code to the download button that GA is able to read and track. You may require some web developer help to set up events tracking, but it’s worthwhile because of all the additional information you’ll be able to monitor.

Drill Down Deeper

The top level data in Google Analytics is valuable, but sometimes you may need to dig down deeper to find the information you need. You can do this through advanced segments.

Advanced segments is a feature in GA that lets you filter data down to any metric the service tracks. The filters can be applied to any reporting section in the platform. Google provides users with 13 default advanced segments, which are readily available if you click on the Advanced Segments link just below the orange bar at the top of the screen. In addition to the default segments, you can create countless custom segments by selecting New Custom Segment after clicking Advanced Segments.

The best way to understand the power of custom segments is to start exploring your options.

Leverage Intelligence Events Intelligently

Intelligence events are an alerting system on GA that warns you if anything unusual happens on your digital properties, such as a big spike or dip in traffic.

In addition to the automatic alerts supplied by Google, you can set up custom alerts that are meaningful to your business. Simply follow this path to create a new one: Reports > Customization > Custom Alerts > Manage Custom Alerts. Here’s more information about custom alerts from Google Analytics.

Filter Out Traffic You Don’t Care About

Do you have website traffic you don’t want Google Analytics to include in its reporting? Perhaps it’s all the visits you and the people on your team make to your site. Simply click on the Filters link in the admin section located at the top right side of the Google Analytics page. You’ll be able to limit all the types of traffic you want to exclude.

Use Annotations to Handle Your Memory Gaps

Are you able to remember everything that happens on your website? Probably not.

When you view a Google Analytics traffic report from a year ago, you may not be able to recall what caused a certain dip in traffic. Google Analytics allows you to put annotations on graphs. Simply click on the part of the graph you want to annotate and type in the information you think you’ll need to remember.

Master Visitor Flow Once and for All

The visitor flow capabilities in Google Analytics are among its most valuable and most misunderstood. It allows you to track visitor traffic patterns on your website from page to page to page. This is an extremely useful function because it helps you see what visitors are actually doing versus what you want them to do.

The only way to become a visitor flow master is to spend a few hours exploring it. Don’t get frustrated and give up. Also, only explore visitor flow on a computer screen. Smartphone and tablet screens are too small to be able to navigate it. This YouTube video provides a good overview of user flow waterfalls.


Google Analytics is a powerful tool that can provide you with many valuable insights to help you optimize your website experience. The power and complexity of GA often discourages marketers from exploring it and leveraging it to its fullest. Use our guide to expand your understanding of what GA can do, then be brave and start playing with it and testing out all its features and functionality.

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