Google Cloud Consultant Abdul Salam Explains the Basics of Google Analytics

Google Analytics can be an incredibly helpful tool to understand traffic to and activity on your website and continually work to improve both. But if you’re unfamiliar with GA, the terminology on the platform can be a bit confusing. Labs mentor Abdul Salam, Google Cloud consultant for big data and analytics, held a Labs session all about the fundamentals of using Google Analytics, from how it gets integrated into your website to how to understand the data you get from the tool.

How Google Analytics works

Getting your website or app with Google Analytics is pretty simple. “In a nutshell, you create a GA account and you get a code,” Salam says. “Then you implement that code on your website or app. When users visit your website, Google generates a cookie and deposits that cookie on the browser of that user. That cookie reports back to a Google server so every interaction the user completes on the website is tracked, processed, and presented in the GA UI or through an API.”

Once you have an account, “you can set up different properties within that account,” Salam says. “One example is a digital storefront. And another property could be your blog, or another storefront with a different UI. And within those properties you can filter the data you want to see and filter out the data that you don’t want to see. For example, with properties, if you have blog.yourname.come, that’s a property within your account. You would implement GA on that domain name and then every page within that domain name is tracked with GA. But if you also have yourname.com, it’s its own property, but it’s within the same account, so you can track them both.”

What’s a hit?

“A hit is anything that a visitor does on your website, from landing on the home page to clicking on a button to adding something to your cart. Even just reloading a page,” Salam says. “Any type of activity is a hit and will be recorded.”

“Every hit comes with a collection of information,” Salam says. “You get a payload of data, and within that payload are a lot of data parameters that are sent to GA. If you looked closely at that data, you’d see the language used, the page type visited, and more. So you take that one hit and break it down into parameters that describe the type of activity the user is completing on the site.”

What’s a user?

“A user is an identifiable browser coming to the website, and it’s identified by a cookie that the site deposits on the user’s browser,” Salam says. “Think of a user as a person doing some type of activity on your site. All activity from that cookie is collected and grouped on that user’s ID on GA.”

What’s the difference between page views and unique page views?

“Page views are the number of total visits to a particular webpage, so if I go to your blog right now and I refresh the page, that’s two page views,” Salam says. But that only counts as one unique page view because it’s one particular user visiting that page during the same session.

What’s a session?

“Sessions define instances of visits to a website,” Salam says. “So if I go to your website right now, I’m starting a session and when I navigate away from your site, the session ends. If I come back within 30 minutes, then it’s still part of the same session, but any activity on your site outside of those 30 minutes starts a new session. For example, if a user comes to your site at 9 a.m. but leaves after two minutes, then comes back to your site at 8 p.m., those two visits are two different sessions, even though it’s the same user.”

But GA defines sessions in other ways, too. “For example, sessions expire at midnight. So if I visit at 11:45 pm and again at 12:05 a.m., they’re within 30 minutes of each other but they’re different sessions because midnight has passed,” Salam says. “Another way GA identifies a new session is in you come to the site from a different traffic source. So if you come in from clicking a link in an email and later you come in from clicking on a Facebook ad, GA considers those two different sessions.”

What are bounce rates?

“Bounce rates are a measure of inactivity on your website,” Salam says. “So if a user got to your landing page but didn’t go any further, or didn’t click any buttons, even if they stayed on the landing page for 10 minutes, if they didn’t do anything once they got there it’s considered a bounce. Or if they get to your site and navigate away immediately, it’s a bounce. Bounce rate can be an effective way to see how users are performing when they come in from different advertising channels.”

What’s the difference between metrics and dimensions?

“Metrics are the data we’re actually measuring and dimensions are the attributes of the data,” Salam says. “Number of users coming to your site is a metric. The number of sessions is a metric. The duration of a user’s session on your site is a metric. Dimensions are things that describe those sessions or users. For example, the traffic source or country of origin of the user are both dimensions. The browser type used is a dimension, and so on.”

Learn more about data and analytics.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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