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What is Google Analytics? An overview for online merchants

Definition: Google Analytics is an online analytics service that provides webmasters with a wide variety of information about the activity that takes place on their website. Google Analytics enables ecommerce businesses to segment their visitors, study traffic trends, and optimize conversion funnels — among many other functions.

What merchants can find out in Google Analytics

Data is viewed by metrics, which measure behavior, and dimensions, which describe who customers are. Metrics and dimensions help online businesses answer to fundamental questions:

1. Who is visiting our website? Knowing your prospects and customers informs marketing campaigns, product curation, and the very look and feel of your website. 2. What are they doing? Analyzing user behavior on an ecommerce website informs optimizations, identifies weak points (such as poorly-converting product pages), and ultimately ensures that decisions are made with an understanding of how users are interacting with a storefront.

Common data points that can be uncovered in GA include:

  • Aggregate page views

  • Total number of visitors

  • The number of unique visitors

  • Amount of time spent on siteby all visitors

  • The geographic location of visitors, on a country, state, and city level

  • The specific terms they typed into search engines that brought them to the website

When using segments or persona-specific dimensions, online merchants can compare and contrast how different customer groups interact with their website.

Data over time

Google Analytics provides a graph it refers to as “over time,” which presents web traffic patterns across a specific (usually longer) period of time. Studying larger data sets provides more accurate insights and also helps to compare performance with business actions. For example, an online merchant may see that whenever they release a coupon code, traffic or conversion from social media spikes as a result.

Whenever any events occur that may impact website performance — either online or offline — it's helpful to make an annotation in Google Analytics. When examining performance at a later time, an annotation may indicate a possible causation.

Setting goals

Online companies can rely on Google Analytics to help establish goals and monitor progress toward those benchmarks. In the context of macro conversions, the software can be used to edit an ecommerce site's markup/code to track the shopping cart section of the site. It also allows for the site's receipt page to be set up as an ecommerce transactions page goal.

Ecommerce sites should also establish goals for micro conversions— events that may eventually lead to the completion of a macro goal (usually a product purchase). These include signing up for a newsletter, URL Destination goals for created accounts, or ebook downloads (to name a few).

Google Analytics: Directional, not transactional

While it's a strong indicator of performance, free Google Analytics accounts generally use sampled data. This data can be used directionally, as an indicator of overall performance. Sampled data cannot be relied upon for decisions that require transactional — or exact —data. Use Google Analytics in tandem with internal sales figures and investigate any data that does not quire match up.

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