What the hell is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free service which allows users to view and analyse user behaviour on their respective website(s). GA has become an invaluable tool for small and medium sized businesses, primarily used to enhance and tailor marketing strategies.

So… how does it work?)

Google Analytics collects data through a small snippet of JavaScript, often referred to as a tracking code. This is generated via your Analytics account, and is then added to each page of the website that you’re wanting to track.

Although Analytics was set up with the purpose of tracking user behaviour, it falls flat if users have disabled cookies in their browser. The Analytics JavaScript libraries use first-party cookies to “remember” how a user has behaved, and what interactions they’ve had on previous pages.

When cookies are disabled, Analytics has no way to remember what a user has done on previous pages – it will see each individual ‘hit’ as it’s own visit. Intelligently – knowing that these visits would bounce and become redundant – GA avoids tracking those people.

What exactly can be tracked?

There are three main categories of data that can be captured by GA – page information, browser information and user information. Let’s take a deeper look:

Browser Information

  • The name of the browser the site is being viewed on
  • The size of the browser window
  • The screen resolution
  • Whether or not the user has Java enabled
  • Which version of Flash the user is running

Page Information

  • The URL of the page the user is viewing
  • The title of the page the user is viewing

User Information

  • The location of the viewer (this is tracked through the IP address – Google will never send the IP directly)
  • The language settings of the user’s browser

Alongside the above, Google is also capable of pushing beyond those three typical categories, depending on how much we know about the page and/or the user. These are often referred to as Custom Dimensions.

Custom Dimensions will allow you to receive smarter analytics reports, specific to the needs of your business. For example, if you allow members to register on your website, and they need to add their job title, you could set this information as a Custom Dimension.

By doing so, you’d then be able to filter the data by occupation – how many Graphic Designers are registering on your site? How many Front-End Developers? How many Back-End?

You could do the same with blog post authors – how many views are unique to a certain author? Did they stumble across the post? Or were they referred to the post from an external source?

Pretty amazing for a free tool, huh!?