In June 2009, data visualization blogger Nathan Yau of FlowingData ran a poll asking, “Will Data Always Be Just for Geeks?” A whopping two out of three participants said No. Furthermore, of the people commenting on Nathan’s blog post about the poll, many responded with a resounding No, and several insisted that data never has been just for geeks—but a lack of intuitive, easy-to-use tools to help people make sense of data has made people who might be nervous about numbers shy away.
Fortunately, user-friendly tools that help people become comfortable working with data are growing in number—especially for analyzing website data. Google Analytics (and other free Web analytics applications) helps make Web data accessible, understandable, and actionable for novice to experienced data analyzers alike—and at a price everyone can afford. If you haven’t yet taken Google Analytics for a spin, now is a great time to check out what the tool can help you discover about your customers and your company website.
What Google Analytics Is
Google Analytics is a free service that Google provides to help you view, understand, and interact with detailed information about the visitors to your website. In particular, Google Analytics lets you discover
- Who is visiting your site
- How they are getting there
- What they do while they’re on your site
You, in turn, can use this information to
- Understand what visitors are looking for and what holds their attention when they visit your site
- Track the performance of your online and offline marketing campaigns
- Identify content and design features of your site that need improvement
- Determine the types of customers and customer segments who are most valuable
- Make your website work more effectively for your business
And What Google Analytics Isn’t
Google Analytics isn’t a magic bullet for your website. You can’t just set up Google Analytics on your site and then forget it, expecting that the tool will fix any problems you might have or even alert you about what you could be doing better. And the tool isn’t “perfect”—for example, it doesn’t collect data on every single visitor to your site. Because it relies on cookies for collecting data, it can’t collect data on visitors who have disabled cookies on their computers.
On the one hand, Google Analytics is very, very good at what it does—and that’s tracking all kinds of data. On the other hand, it requires your participation—that is, your interaction with the tool and your specific knowledge about your business—to reveal insights that can help you reach your business goals. To get the most out of Google Analytics, you need to invest time—a few hours each week, month or quarter—to use the tool to view and work with your data. The upside is that you learn by doing, and the more familiar you become with the tool, the more value you’ll receive in return.
Ready to Get Started?
Getting started with Google Analytics is simple and straight forward—three steps is all it takes:
- Sign up for a general Google Account (you need an account to use any of the Google tools)
- Sign up for Google Analytics
- Copy a small amount of tracking code to each page of your website that you want to track (if you don’t have access to the HTML code for your site, ask your Web master to complete this step)
That’s it. Within 24 hours, you’ll start to see data about traffic to your website and can begin to explore what Google Analytics has to offer.
You Can Do It
Still not certain about getting started? Check out the following short list of resources to bolster your confidence about giving Google Analytics a try. After all, what do you have to lose?
- Google’s official product tour, which provides a nice overview of the product features (e.g., reporting, sharing information, visualizing data, cross-media tracking, ad ROI)
- Series of short getting-started videos from Ian Lurie at Conversation Marketing
- Good books to match your level of experience (e.g., Web Analytics for Dummies, Google Analytics 2.0, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day, Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics)
- Google Analytics blog, especially the Back to Basics series and Beginner Topics