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Understand Your Website’s Performance With Google Analytics

Google Analytics (sometimes referred to by its latest version, GA4) is a powerful free tool that allows website owners and digital marketers to gain insights into their website’s performance and visitor behaviour. With information about the sources of traffic to your site, the pages people view and crucially, whether visitors convert into leads and sales, you can make informed decisions to improve your website’s performance.

If you don’t already have Google Analytics installed on your website, you can sign up (free) here: https://analytics.google.com/. You will need to add the Google Tag to your website, which is a small piece of JavaScript code that must be on every page. This is usually done via the admin settings in your website and may require a plugin/app/module (terminology differs between website platforms). A quick search for “install Google Analytics [name of website platform]” should get you the instructions you need if you aren’t sure how to do it.

Google Analytics is a powerful platform and there is far more to it than we’re able to cover in this blog post, so if you want to learn even more, and have your own questions answered, please book on to our free webinar: Understanding Your Website with Google Analytics.  

GA4 homepage

Once installed, Analytics will begin gathering data (bear in mind it can’t go back in time, so you’ll only have data from the day it’s installed). You’ll be able to login to your account and navigate around the various reports, which look like this:

The menu on the left contains all the standard reports. Some accounts might have a collection called “Business Objectives”, which groups the reports differently, but the reports themselves are the same. Within the menu, you’ll find reports such as Traffic Acquisition (how visitors get to your website), Pages and screens (what pages people view), Landing page (where people start their visit) and Demographic details (which includes the locations of your visitors).

GA4 session source screen

One of the reports you’re likely to want most frequently is Traffic Acquisition. This initially shows traffic sources by Channel, which are definitions of types of traffic.

Most are self-explanatory (organic search is free traffic from search engines like Google and Bing, organic social is free traffic from social media platforms etc.) You can break down this report into individual sources (Google, Facebook etc.) using the menu at the top of the report table to change to Session source/medium:

Another report you’ll want is the Pages and screens report, which shows the pages people have visited with the most popular at the top of the list. This gives you an idea of what is popular on your website and with metrics like Average engagement time, you can see which pages hold people’s attention. If you see a page with a URL of “/” or completely blank, that is your homepage.

Also in this collection of reports is the Landing page report, another valuable source of insight. It shows the page that a visit started on, so you can see what the most common “entry points” are when people visit your site. This often reflects what they wanted from your website (or what they were searching for), or what has been most successfully shared on social media. Crucially, this report also shows the average engagement time per session (length of the complete visit) for each landing page, so you can gauge which landing pages are working well (or not). Consider the user experience – if someone had never visited your website before and landed on one of the pages at the top of the report, would they see your most important messages and understand what is on offer, why it’s so great and what to do next?

You may also want to spend some time reviewing the Demographic details and Tech details reports, where you’ll see the locations of your visitors by country (or town/city if you use the menu at the top of the table) and the breakdown of what devices visitors use to view your site. This can be informative as the metrics in the report show whether users from different locations or using different devices are equally engaged, or if their behaviour differs (and if so, you may be able to change things on the website to improve that).

The One Essential Setting In GA4

You can find the admin and settings section of GA4 by clicking on the cog icon at the bottom left when logged in. Most of the default settings in GA4 are fine for the majority of sites, but there is one setting that is vitally important to get right: Key Events (formerly known as Conversion Events). Everything that happens on your website is an event in GA4, such as the start of a visit, a pageview, clicking a link and so on. A Key Event (or conversion) is an event that represents an action being taken that has value to your business.

The only Key Event enabled by default is the purchase event, for ecommerce websites. If you have an ecommerce site, ensure that it is configured to send the relevant data about ecommerce activity to GA4 (again, this may require a plugin depending on what platform the site uses). For all other Key Events, you will need to select them from the list of all events, or most likely, create them yourself. Remember, a Key Event represents an action taken with value to you – someone passively viewing a page on your site is not a Key Event. Someone actively submitting a contact form or clicking your email address to send a message is a Key Event.

Having Key Events set up means that your reports will include conversion data, showing how many (and which) conversions have been generated from different traffic sources, landing pages, devices, visitor locations and much more. This is crucial information as conversions are the reason our websites exist, so without measuring them we don’t have real information about how well our digital marketing and websites deliver.

There are two ways to define a Key Event: 

1.    Create a Custom Event in the GA4 admin area, where you specify the parameters of a standard event to match certain criteria (e.g. a click on a link where the URL is your email address, to define a specific event for “email_click”). This document lists all the standard events and parameters in GA4 that you can use.

2.    Send your own custom events direct from the website (or using a tool like Google Tag Manager). GA4 accepts events with any name as long as they’re sent the right way. You will sometimes find that websites send custom events automatically (such as the Monster Insights plugin for WordPress).

If you’re new to Google Analytics, either of the above can be confusing, which is why we cover the use of Custom Events in our Understanding Your Website Visitors Using Google Analytics webinar! Free to attend for all West Midlands businesses.

Once you have the events you want to measure set up, you can either flag them as Key Events from the list in the Events page of the GA4 admin, or you can add them directly as Key Events by entering the name of each one.

GA events list

This shows an event being marked as a Key Event from the list of events in the GA4 admin.

GA key events page

This shows where you can add a Key Event by entering the name of the event.

Get more support

Google Analytics is a powerful platform and there is far more to it than we’re able to cover in this blog post, so if you want to learn even more, and have your own questions answered, please book on to our free webinar: Understanding Your Website with Google Analytics.

Or click here to view all our upcoming free webinars for business.

Ian Lockwood headshot

About the author: Ian Lockwood has run successful digital marketing and web development agencies for two decades, whilst delivering training & consultancy to over 1000 businesses. Ian is an expert in SEO, PPC, CRO and Analytics.