Getting Started with Google Analytics

By Curtis Dicken

Introduction

Whether you are new to website design/development or a 15 year veteran you will find Google Analytics a great tool to analyze visitor trends for your website. In this article we'll take a look at how to get set up with Google Analytics, how to add the Google Analytics script to your website and take a look at some of the basic features.

Getting Signed Up

As with most things Google it's free to sign up but you must have a Google Account. If you don't have a Google Account go to https:// www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount to create one. Once you have your Google Account created you will basically be adding Google Analytics to your account. To get the process started go to http:// www.google.com/analytics/sign_up.html and sign in using your Google Account. Once signed in you will go through a simple 4 step process:

  1. You will be required to provide your website url (e.g. www.MyWebsite.com), a name for your website account name which is by default your website url, your country and your time zone. The country and time zone is necessary so that all reports will be reflected in your local time.
  2. Your basic contact info is next. It's nothing elaborate just your first name, last name, telephone and country.
  3. Next it's the standard old license agreement. It's a typical Google agreement save one notable item (see NOTE below). You must accept it before you can move on.
  4. Your code. Now that you have completed the steps above you will receive your reward of custom code for your website. Next we'll cover how to apply that code to your website and your options.
NOTE: Google Analytics is indeed free .. to a point. If you don't have an "active" Google AdWords (i.e. you are giving Google money monthly) then there is a cap of 5 million page views per month on the free service. If you exceed that limit and you don't have an active AdWords account then you will likely have to pay a monthly fee to keep Google Analytics active. Google Account holders with an active AdWords account have unlimited page views.

Coding your Website

When Google presents your Google Analytics code to you there will be two options - the new method (ga.js) and the legacy method (urchin.js). In previous versions of Google Analytics you had to place a JavaScript file on your website which was then referenced in the Google Analytics script. This is the legacy "urchin.js" method. The problem with this method is that any time Google changed the JavaScript file and added new features you would have to download a new JavaScript file and install it before you could use any new features. With the new "ga.js" method the JavaScript is pulled from Google directly so all updates and new features are provided automatically. Therefore, unless you have a specific reason or you already have the legacy "urchin.js" code installed on your website, you should always choose the "ga.js" code to install on your website. If you have the legacy "urchin.js" method installed on your website and you want to upgrade to the "ga.js" method refer to http://www.google.com/support/ googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=76305 for detailed information on migrating.

Copy your "ga.js" code to Notepad or another similar text editor and save your code in a safe place for future use. Once you leave this page it's not an easy or intuitive process to get back to the code sample from within Google Analytics. If you do need to find your way back to your Google Analytics code follow the steps in this help article - http://www.google.com/support/ analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=55603. Now that you have your code you simply place it on each page of your website just above your tag. That's all there is to it.

TIP: If you have the ability to use include or template files within your website then I would suggest taking advantage of the functionality in case Google decides to update the code on you some day. In my case I do a great deal of development in ASP.NET and it's a very simple to drop the code into my Master Page which gives me a single location to manage my Google Analytics code.

Exploring your Options

Once you have your Google Analytics code installed on your website you are ready to start viewing reports and tweaking your account settings. We'll explore some of the basic settings you are likely to want to modify. Keep in mind Google Analytics is a very large and robust tool, so we won't be able to cover all of the options available to you but we will briefly explore the key settings and reports:




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