Google Analytics 101

Avatar for Brock Murray

Brock Murray
Co-Founder / COO

Graphic of person sitting at a desk with thee monitors in front of him with the heading Google Analytics 101
Graphic of person sitting at a desk with thee monitors in front of him with the heading Google Analytics 101

Meet Bob. He runs a small pet store on Roncevalles Avenue in Toronto. Every time a customer walks in the door, he has an instant sense of them. With just one glance, he can tell their gender and age. He can tell how long they spend looking at dog food versus dog toys. He can likely tell if they are a regular customer or visiting the store for the first time. He can probably make reasonably accurate assumptions about their interests and behaviours, and by making small talk at the register Bob can learn even more about each and every paying and browsing customer that walks in the store. He knows his store’s peak times and days like the back of his hand.

In order to diversify his revenue streams, Bob has decided to bring his charming pet shop to the next level by launching an ecommerce store. He uploads beautiful images of his product line, with cute descriptions that evoke the familial nature of the store. He has exceptional branding and very competitive price points. His ecommerce store is well-designed and intuitive, and by all rights it should be a big success. Despite all his good intentions, Bob makes one fatal flaw: he neglects to install Google Analytics.

Without Google Analytics, Bob has no idea who is “walking” into his online store. How many people are visiting, and when? Where do they come from (both geographically and in terms of a web source)? How long do they stay for? What products grab their attention? If they are abandoning carts, why? Bob has no way of measuring, and thus no way of making changes to improve the sales volume for his store.

Fortunately, Bob can rescue his ecommerce store with the simple installation of a Google Analytics tracking code – and you can too.

In this post we’re going to walk you through the basics of Google Analytics, what it’s used for, and how you can leverage its data to take your e-commerce store to the next level. Then we’ll explain how to set-up your Analytics account, how to navigate the Google Analytics dashboard, and how to turn all those charts and figures into cold hard conversions.

So what is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a web analytics service, available to everyone with a Google account. The basic yet powerful version of Google Analytics is completely free of charge. A subscription-based Premium version with advanced features is also available, but it runs at the hefty price point of $150,000 USD annually.

This versatile platform is programmed to provide data collection, statistics, demographics, and basic analytical tools for marketing purposes and search engine optimization (SEO). It can track everything from the age, gender, interests, and location of each visitor, to how they found the site. Google Analytics also tracks their behaviour on the site – how many pages they click, how long they look at a particular product page, and what terms they searched.

Simply put, it provides you with an array of marketing insights in just a few clicks.

The Analytics platform was launched in 2005 after Google acquired Urchin, a software company that specialized in web statistics analysis. The latest version of Google Analytics dates back to October 2012, and it is called “Universal Analytics.”

How can you use Google Analytics to power your e-commerce store?

So that’s an overview of Google Analytics and what it does. Below, we have also included step-by-step guide so you can set up Google Analytics tracking for your online store. But first, we want to get to the good stuff. How can you take all this powerful data and turn it into fresh-printed Benjamins and Bordens?

1. Making the content worth the viewer’s time:

This sounds too obvious to mention, but you’d be surprised how many ecommerce stores are being held back by weak content, poor organization, and flat-out ugly design. In a busy world, you need to capture the customer’s attention – and keep it. Your website should be informative, of course, but it also needs to be interactive for the user. In terms of design, user-friendliness and simplicity should rule above all else.
Think about how you feel when you land on a web site that looks like it belongs in a time capsule from 1996. Does it seem trustworthy? Would you really give them your credit card number? Design matters, and accessibility matters more, and trustworthiness matters most.

If you don’t have a way with words, hire someone who does. If you’re way off the mark in terms of usability, consider doing user testing so you can zero in on areas of concern and get them fixed quickly.

Google Analytics will tell you everything you need to know about whether your content is worthwhile. If you have a high Bounce Rate, this tells you that there is something scaring – or maybe just boring – users from exploring your store further. If you have a low Average Session Duration, this is a sign that your audience isn’t finding anything of value. If you have a low number of Pageviews or Pages/Session, this either means you have a thin site or you are failing to captivate your visitors.

The reverse is also true, of course. If you have a low bounce rate, high average session duration, and a lot of pages/session, it means that people are coming, staying, and poking around to learn more. Continue producing great content aimed at the segment of your audience that already engages, but also develop new content that aims to capture audience segments that you haven’t quite connected with yet. Be bold and be experimental until you strike gold.

2. Interacting with users:

You don’t need to be told how inescapable the internet now that we’ve reached 2016. We play online. We learn. We laugh. We find love. We share. And of course, we shop. Now more than ever, it is easier for people to access information in an instant, to connect with loved ones and new friends in the snap of a finger, and to engage with brands in the blink of an eye.

In terms of ecommerce, the most important thing to remember is that the internet is inherently a network. If an ecommerce store falls in the forest… Your store needs to be deeply intertwined with the wide world around it, or else it may as well not exist.

You need to establish and maintain your brand’s presence beyond the store.   Create and optimize your brand pages on the obvious social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but also get active on Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Periscope.

Share pictures, videos, and posts of value with your audience. Engage and connect! Be genuine, thoughtful, and funny. Make your brand more than a product and your store more than, at its heart, a cleverly disguised series of 0s and 1s.

Google Analytics can help measure the success of your off-site interactions through acquisition metrics. How many people bought pet carriers because you linked to your product page on Pinterest (social channel)? How many people ended up on your site because your definitive blog on canine dental health was reblogged elsewhere (referral traffic)?

3. Running promotions and offers:

Last, but not the least, promotions are a big part in running a business – especially an ecommerce business. When two products or services are exactly alike in every way, you can bet that the company with the more enticing offer or promotion will win the sale every time.

First off, it should come as no surprise that seasonal promotions are a big money maker. Regular sales, discounts, and promotions can also do a lot to draw in traffic and turn a window shopper into a first-time buyer.

There’s no limit to the different approaches you can take with offers and promotions. Run a hashtag contest on Twitter. Run a Facebook likes campaign with exclusive prizes. Give a discount code for newsletter sign-ups. Offer an enticing discount code via remarketing ads for an abandoned cart shopper.

It is a breeze to measure the performance of your goals with conversion tracking through Google Analytics. You can measure promotion performance with even more laser-focus with Google Analytics’ enhanced ecommerce plug-in.

4. Understanding traffic and its importance in e-commerce

It cannot be understated: traffic is the single most important metric for an ecommerce business. Just like a traditional storefront needs people to walk in the door, an ecommerce store lives and breathes by how many visitors end up on the site. Unlike a traditional storefront, where the only source of traffic comes from people physically entering the store (and phone/mail orders, but let’s not get bogged down in the details), there are literally millions of potential sources of traffic. From someone directly typing your store URL to a random link to your site on a cobwebbed directory, it all counts.

For the sake of convenience, Google Analytics breaks down traffic sources into four categories.

Direct traffic: This traffic is from visitors who type your URL directly into their browser, or who have your site bookmarked. Generally speaking, this audience segment is usually brand loyalists, repeat customers, ultra-dedicated window shoppers, and (just guessing here) your mom. This is your core audience. Whatever you do in trying to appease the other categories, make sure you do not alienate this loyal and passionate segment.

Referral Traffic: This traffic comes from links to your site found on other sites around the internet. These links can be from a wide variety of sources: social media, forums, partner sites, media, directory listings, blogrolls, and much, much more. With referral traffic, there’s a chance every new visitor is a customer for life, or maybe they close your site in a millisecond. The design of your page, the value of your products, and the appeal of your message will decide which, and that’s where the optimizations we discussed in the previous section come into play.

Search Traffic: This traffic comes directly from search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. The searcher finds your site by typing a set of keywords, like “best dog toy for Jack Russell” or “Christmas gift for cat” Depending on the nature of their keywords, you can assess what stage of the sales funnel the searcher is in.

  1. Navigational – a query that is seeking a single website (“Shopify” or “PayPal login”)
  2. Informational – a query covering a broad topic (“cat food” or “dog breeds”)
  3. Transactional ­– the user intends to perform a particular action (“order healthy dog biscuits in bulk” or “buy cat grooming brush”)

Navigational queries are similar to direct traffic – these are people who want to search your direct name, but feel more comfortable using Google or perhaps can’t remember if your domain is .com or .ca.
For informational queries, you want to provide value on the topic at hand. Check your organic search keywords. If, for example, multiple people have searched “is chocolate safe for dogs?” and ended up on your site, consider writing a blog post on this topic. Routinely audit your Analytics to find out which keywords are driving traffic, and make sure these keywords are well-represented on your site with original and valuable content.
With transactional queries, the visitor is ready to buy now. Make sure your website is well-designed and intuitive so they can make a purchase quick before they change their mind.

Campaign traffic: This traffic comes from AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn ads, and anywhere else you are running a campaign. It is vitally important to set a clear goal for your campaign (increase brand exposure? Increase traffic? Drive newsletter sign-ups? Increase sales?) and measure the performance of the campaign. You will have a clear no-nonsense answer as to whether the campaign results are worth the expenditure and if you’re getting a satisfactory return-on-investment (ROI).

Activating Google Analytics for your website

Activating Google Analytics will be a transformative opportunity for your ecommerce store. The data that it collects and displays is a treasure trove of information about your demographic and the behaviour of your audience. You could empty your bank account for a marketing company and spend decades researching, and you still wouldn’t have a fraction of the information that Google Analytics provides you with just a few clicks – completely free of charge.
Give yourself the gift of a marketing superpower by following the steps below.

STEP 1: signing up for Google Analytics

First things first is pretty simple. Go to Google Analytics and click on “SIGN UP FOR ANALYTICS.”

Then, you will be asked to sign in or sign up with a Google email. If you already have a business email under Google, sign in by filling in the email and password.

If you don’t have a Google email, click on “create account” and fill out the information accordingly.

After signing up, you will be redirected to the setup screen.

Here, a series of questions will need to be filled according to your business:

  1. Choose whether to track a website or mobile app. Enter the account name, website name, website URL, business category, and reporting time zone.

After filling up the entire necessary questions and selecting your data sharing settings, click “Get Tracking ID.” Note: You are able to associate up to 100 accounts with each email account – but it’s not much trouble to just register a new email if you run out.

STEP 2: setting up the tracking code:

The program will be providing you with a Universal Analytics (UA) code. Each UA code is unique to one account. Copy the tracking code provided by Google and paste it before the ending head tag in your HTML code, then save your changes.

For Shopify users the process is even easier. Just copy the code snippet and open your Shopify store admin. Click Settings then Online Store (use the shortcut G S W for even easier access), and paste the cold in the Google Analytics Account field.

Now you just need to wait for Google to recognize the installed code, which will take no longer than 24 hours. The phrase “Status: Receing Data” will appear nex to “Tracking ID” when everything is set.
If this still seems a little overwhelming, head off to the Shopify Manual for a detailed understanding on how to set up the tracking code.

(OPTIONAL) STEP 3: adding other admin users:

Your Google Analytics account is fully set up and will start tracking various data within the next 24 hours. This step is just a voluntary action. If you have a third-party marketing company or a business partner, you can add them to the admin panel by following these steps.

  1. Click Admin at the top of the screen.
  2. Select User Management, which is under the left-hand Account menu.
  3. In the “Add permission for:” field, fill out the email address; and this can also be an unrelated Gmail address.
  4. Check all boxes under the drop-down menu to the right, this allows the other user to have full access to the program. The new admin will be notified by email.
  5. Confirm by clicking on the Add button.

And you are all set to go.

Features in Google Analytics

Now your account is active and Google Analytics is hundreds of different metrics that you can use to inform your store layout, advertising strategy, and so much more. You can’t put this information to use unless you know how to navigate the Google Analytics platform, though.

Let’s take a walk through each different section of the Google Analytics platform:

Home tab:
Think of this page like your Twitter Timeline or Facebook Newsfeed. It gives you a snapshot of the activity for each website on which you have a Google Analytics tracking code installed. It will give you a brief summary of the activity during a selected time frame, which you can change in the top right corner of the page. The home page has information like the number of sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, and goal conversion rate.

You’ll have to click on a particular website to get more detailed data.

Reporting tab:
This is the heart of Google Analytics. With a few clicks, you can find practically everything about who visits your site and how they behave when they’re there. Are they on desktop or mobile? What browser do they use? What language do they speak? What are their interests? Are they new or returning visitors? There is even real-time tracking of users who are currently on your site.
Aside from analyzing the demographics of your audience, for an online store the ecommerce tracking component will be very informative about product sales, purchase amounts, billing locations, and more.
Use the conversion dashboard to measure your goal conversion rate and performance so you can maximize ROI or invest your efforts elsewhere.

Customization tab:
You can use this page a custom report using any of the Google Analytics dimensions and metrics, using whatever display format is most intuitive for your needs. You can compare any dimension/metric groups of your choosing and then use filters to specify inclusion and exclusions to get to the core of the issue. For example, you can pick dimensions like age and browser and metrics like bounce rate and page views/session. This is a chance to key in on the metrics that matter most to your business and identify opportunities for growth.

Admin tab:
As the name implies, the admin page is the administrative hub of Google Analytics. Here you can alter user permissions, create new priorities, set filters, import data, and much more.

Collection and execution of information by GA

Google Analytics is powered by the placement of a tracking code on every page of your site that you wish to track. The tracking code is a snippet of JavaScript code that you manually add to the site. Every time a visitor lands on your site, the tracking code runs behind-the-scenes in their browser. Their behaviour data is sent to Google data collection, and then Google’s algorithms arrange the data in intuitive and user-friendly statistical display formats, like line graphs and pie charts.

The tracking code also places a cookie on each visitor’s computer. This cookie stores anonymous information, called the Client ID. This allows Google Analytics to recognize returning users rather than counting them as two separate people.

Here are just a few simple examples of the data you can recover thanks to Google Analytics:

  1. Audience engagement rate
  2. Number of returned visitors
  3. Pages visited more frequently
  4. Information shared on social media
  5. Inbound traffics from different sites
  6. Age group of the audience
  7. Rate of sales versus the traffic
  8. Email click-through rate
  9. Effect of promotions on traffic flow
  10. Conversion tracking

As an ecommerce store owner, you can understand the importance of having easy access to these metrics.

Google Analytics account users own their Google Analytics data. So, you can export reports at any time from GA using PDF or CSV download options, or via the Google Analytics Core Reporting API. The data can be used independently via third-party reporting software, or in tandem with Google Analytics. Account users are able to delete a view within their account at any time.


If a marketing magician approached you and offered detailed, real-time audience demographic and behaviour data, I bet you’d be willing to pay a pretty penny for access to that information. Now remember that Google Analytics gives you all that information and much, much, more, for free.

Avatar for Brock Murray

Brock Murray

Brock Murray is the COO and co-founder of seoplus+ digital marketing agency. As the driving force behind this award-winning, full-service agency, Brock's passion is helping businesses establish, grow, and maintain their online presence. With the help of SEO, PPC, social media, content marketing, and more, Brock and his team help clients of varying sizes and verticals, from small, local retailers to large, multinational enterprise companies.

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