6 Steps to Understanding Your Google Analytics Data

Bryan Smith
By Bryan Smith
President and Founder of Bluetrain
Jul 25 2023 read

What are web analytics, and why are they important? Whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise, effectively analyzing your web analytics creates valuable insights and opportunities to understand the metrics and data of your website users.

While there are a few different analytics options on the market, Google Analytics is the standard. With the transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (known as GA4), understanding how your site performs is more important than ever. With enhanced data tracking and more powerful insights, knowing how to effectively interpret your data will result in an enhanced user experience and overall business objective success.

This guide shares our top six steps for web analytics success: what they are, some common hurdles businesses face and tips to confidently analyze your marketing efforts.

What Is Web Analytics?

Having comprehensive web analytics is key to understanding your audience and improving their online experience. Data gathered through web analytics helps you gain insights about your users that can be used to further improve their journey. With this knowledge, you can feel confident making impactful decisions to reach any desired outcomes your organization may have. 

When you truly start to dig into your website analytics, you will be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who are your website visitors? 
  • Why are they visiting your site? 
  • How are they getting to your site? 
  • When are they visiting? 
  • What was the outcome of their visit?

The more you know about utilizing analytics for business decision-making, the more you can change and grow!

Google Analytics: The Basics

Implementing and working with Google Analytics is a huge field of study within the digital marketing industry. There are entire teams who are dedicated to implementing, improving and analyzing Google Analytics setups. 

If you are at the beginning of your Google Analytics journey and have just set up the tag on your site, the next step is to start analyzing. We know that logging into your account for the first time can be pretty overwhelming, so here are some key concepts that will help you on your way. 

What is a metric in Google Analytics?

Once you log into your account or start going through any Google Analytics courses, you will notice that metrics and dimensions are commonly referenced. So what is a metric? Firstly, a metric in Google Analytics isn’t any different from metrics that statisticians, or other types of data analysts, use every day. 

In a basic sense, a metric is a quantitative measurement: this means that metrics are things that you can put a number value to. A metric could be number values, percentages, dollar values or even time (don’t worry, I’ll give an example in the next section). 

What is a dimension in Google Analytics?

Along with metrics, you’ll often hear dimensions mentioned in Google Analytics. Again, Google Analytics dimensions aren’t any different than dimensions that are used in statistics or advanced data analysis. 

So what is a dimension? Dimensions are described as the attributes of data. This concept is explained more simply through an example: 

Say you had a group of 12 people at your birthday party. Four of the attendees were friends from work and eight were friends from school. 

In this case, the dimensions (or the attributes) of your birthday party were: 

  1. Number of guests
  2. Friends from work
  3. Friends from school

Metrics, when paired with dimensions, give your data meaning. Dimensions give attributes to the numbers (or metrics) in this situation. So if we add metrics to the dimensions of my birthday party, you’ll have:

  1. Number of guests: 12 (12 is the metric, number of guests is the dimension)
  2. Friends from work: 4 (4 is the metric, friends from work is the dimension)
  3. Friends from school: 8 (8 is the metric, friends from school is the dimension) 

Bonus: In Google Analytics, you’ll often see the terms ‘primary dimension’ and ‘secondary dimension’ used. In the above example, any of the dimensions can be considered a ‘primary dimension.’ But what is a secondary dimension in Google Analytics? In short: it’s any dimension that you can layer on another dimension for future analysis. 

For the data set above, you could add a secondary dimension by taking your ‘friends from work’ and adding another dimension of ‘age’ on top of that. In that instance, ‘friends from work’ is the primary, and the age breakdown of that group would be the secondary dimension.

These two concepts are the foundation of all data analytics, but they are only the beginning. Google’s glossary of terms for metrics and dimensions is great if you’re stuck trying to understand what pages per session, page views or bounce rate actually mean. 

Common Analytics Roadblocks

It can be challenging to analyze web performance using analytics, and there are some common issues that often hold organizations back. Some of the limitations often described to us are: 

1. They just don’t have time.

We get it; times can get busy, and analytics insights may not be at the top of your priority list. But in all honesty, digging into your website’s performance will help you make more efficient use of your time by identifying what strategies are successful and what aren’t to improve productivity. 

2. They don’t have the skillset.

Often, people can attain that base level of analytics implementation, but they don’t have the knowledge or experience to get to that more advanced level to add value from a decision-making perspective. Success is found in creating and maintaining reporting that is customized to the needs and goals of your business, and that is something that constantly evolves as campaigns change, which can be a struggle to keep up with.

Now that we have identified the topic of web analytics and some of the common hurdles businesses experience, we are here to share how you can maximize your analytics and reporting efforts.

6 Steps to Web Analytics Success

The process begins with planning. So much time and effort goes into a website's design, the user experience and the look and feel, but once it goes live, what happens? We like to compare it to putting a lot of effort into planning an epic party but then not inviting anyone. What’s the point of taking on the massive undertaking of building an incredible site if you aren’t setting up proper tracking to find out if you are actually achieving the key outcomes you want? 

1. The Discovery

  • Having an understanding of the current state of your website is integral for sustained growth. It's important to complete an inventory of everything that is already in place and see what needs to be tracked moving forward. Use this information to make data-driven decisions that will help your business reach its goals. 

2. Creating a Measurement Plan

  • Creating an offline plan is an important first step to take, before getting into the tools and official set-up.
  • Take a moment to make sure you have everything written down in an Excel spreadsheet. Define all of the actions you want to track, like form completion, email contact, video views and resource downloads. 
  • Defining naming conventions ahead of time is important. This ensures that when you are looking at these reports in the future, you will be able to easily understand the data and there won't be any confusion as to what was being tracked.  

3. Selecting Analytics Toolsets

  • When selecting the right web analytics tools for your business, there are multiple factors to consider. As you're evaluating your options, consider your needs, your existing technology and your software connectivity requirements. Budget is also an important element that should be taken into account.
  • Some of the most popular business analytics toolsets are Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics. A lot of the time these budget-friendly platforms are the way to go and can be used for organizations of all sizes, but there are other options that may be superior depending on each unique situation.
  • Many people stop once they have identified their analytics toolset. Don't forget to equip it with a dashboard reporting tool to help make sense of your data and turn your insights into actionable strategies. This feature will help give you and your stakeholders a clearer picture of what is working in your strategy and what needs improvement.

Our plan is in place, we know what we want to track and we know the tools we’re using. Now it’s time for the second phase, where we dive into those tools and configure everything. 

4. Analytics Implementation

  • We are ready to start setting up all the initiatives we identified as tracking opportunities. To easily spot user movements and understand how they interact with your content, all new tagging needs, from navigational items to button clicks, need to be set up. Don't forget to update any existing actions.
  • Google’s platforms are the most commonly used, so we will use those as examples. Start with Google Tag Manager to implement tagging and event tracking. Then customize Google Analytics (the new version being GA4) with audience segments, filters for internal traffic and conversion goals to track important outcomes.
  • Having the right conversion goals is key for any business. It’s helpful to understand which events on your website are important for evaluating how people are using your website and which are actually going to drive meaningful business decisions. It's up to you to determine what outcomes are most important to your organization. 

5. Dashboard Reporting

  • When it comes to setting up dashboards, we find it more effective to first consider which questions you are trying to answer. Structuring your dashboard reports around those questions offers a more meaningful way for key stakeholders to interpret the data.
  • Google Analytics dashboards can come across as very technical, less visual and less accommodating for custom data in comparison to some other options. If a particular dashboard isn’t suiting your needs, consider more of an out-of-the-box option to make the most of your reporting.
  • Gain more powerful insights and make improved decisions for your business by leveraging external data sets and integrating them with your marketing data. Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio) allows you to access third-party platforms such as social media, CRM tools and call tracking. This added value is something a lot of companies could take advantage of moving forward. 

6. Commitment to Ongoing Analytics

  • Make sure to pay attention to your analytics and don't be tempted to set it and forget it! Following the setup phase, you need to stay engaged and regularly review the data to gain valuable insights into how your campaigns are performing.
  • Establish a helpful rhythm, whether it be monthly or even more frequently. As your team gets more experienced with analyzing the data, you’ll be able to focus on the metrics that are most useful and continue to drive value from your reports.
  • Stay on top of your data for the best results! By consistently looking at campaign performance and adjusting accordingly, you can ensure continual improvement. By looking at the data on a regular basis, you can quickly spot any issues and take swift action. This can have a big impact on your results.

With the right analytics in place, you can make smarter decisions for your business. Committing to better tracking and reporting will help ensure you are leveraging your data in the most effective way. It all starts with data. With the right information at your fingertips, you can make informed decisions that will lead to more conversions and better overall website performance.

The key to good web analytics is not just collecting data but knowing which data to collect and how to use that data to your advantage. When you use a digital marketing firm, you’re not just asking someone to collect data for you; you’re using a service that will provide you with exactly the data you need, along with the right insights on how to use that data to improve your marketing efforts. 


About the Author

Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is the founder and President of Bluetrain, a data-driven digital marketing agency with ongoing clients across the US and Canada. With over 20 years of experience, Bryan is an expert in all things digital marketing, including SEO, online advertising and web analytics, working on hundreds of websites and managing millions in advertising spend.

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