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Getting Started with Google Analytics

Magazine article Online

Getting Started with Google Analytics

Article excerpt

Web managers are convinced that they know their sites pretty well. We spend so much time engaged with them, some of us even dream--or have nightmares--about them. In our overworked and underfunded library reality, it's convenient to take that site knowledge for granted, to assume you know all you need to know.

But, you don't. I don't. None of us, save for those enviably flush web giants out there, know all we can know about how users interact with our site. With a toolbox that includes eyetracking, usability studies, surveys, questionnaires, A/B testing, and many others, there's no limit to the amount of data we can collect. No limit, that is, save for the aforementioned "overworked and underfunded." Not analyzing your site is easy. With so many ways to collect and analyze data, it's also easy to throw up your hands at the overwhelming idea of it all. Where to begin? How about at the beginning. Let's call it getting started with Google Analytics (GA).

Why Google Analytics? Because it's one of the most widely used site-usage packages out there. It's robust, easy to use, and web-based. It can track both desktop and mobile usage. Plus, you can't beat the price--it's free.

There have been entire books written about GA. [One of these is reviewed in this issue's Hard Copy column.--Ed.] It's an incredibly powerful service, which can be as complex or as simple as you need and want it to be. This column, obviously, is not a book. It's a getting-started guide with a few insights and (hopefully) best practices thrown in to not only get you started but to get you started on the right track, to help you make sense of what you'll be seeing, and to generate some specific, useful metrics beyond what's available out of the box.


To start using GA, you need a couple of things: a Google account, a website you want to track, and access to the code for said website. I'm going to assume you have all of these.

In addition to the basic Google account, you also need to explicitly register with GA ( To register, supply your site's URL, name the account, set your time zone, add some contact information, and accept the license agreement (which you'll, of course, read closely). Choose what you want to track (for most it will be the "A Single Domain" option), and you're set! Let the fun begin!

You'll be presented with a script that needs to be on any and all pages you want to track. You can simply copy and paste this code into each page. If your site is dynamically generated, or you use some sort of server side technology such as PHP, have the script be "included" into each page. Similar to having a single CSS file that's linked from every page, which can be changed globally without having to touch individual pages, the latter is the more elegant solution of the two. But either will work. In both cases, the script needs to appear before the close of the tag. That's setup, in a nutshell. In about 24--48 hours you'll begin to see some numbers. Now that you have access to a gold mine of information about your site usage, how do you make sense of it all? What's useful and what's not?

Tip: Using this setup, by default, you'll have one profile. A profile is simply a view of data related to a site. A single site can have multiple profiles. You might, for example, decide to have one profile for your entire site and set up a separate profile for the blogs section of your site, simply to make it easier and faster to view and report on this section of your site. Regardless, it's a good idea to set up two profiles for your entire site--one that you can fiddle with, filter, and otherwise manipulate, and one that is an unadulterated, master profile. In this way, you will have a profile for the web property that contains all historical data since tracking began and not have to worry that at some point you might forever filter away valuable data. …

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