An introduction to Google Analytics

Terminology and Functionality in Google Analytics


Goals measure actions that visitors complete when they are on a website.  There are no built-in goals. Goals need to be configured for each GA view. Goal conversions can be triggered by specific page views, events, pages per visit, or session durations. Goal conversion are available for display as a metric in most GA reports.

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When identifying goals:

  • Navigate the website. Note the things people can do that correlate to business value. Contact form submits, newsletter signups, and purchases are common examples.
  • List what you think makes sense to track as a goal.
  • Share with stakeholders to get validation and input.


Ecommerce tracking is similar to goals, but is configured a bit differently. There is a view setting that needs to be enabled, and the website needs additional code to report on orders, revenue and order line items. All major ecommerce platforms have built-in GA ecommerce tracking that just needs to be switched on. If a website does not have this built in, a developer will need to do the implementation.


The standard Google Analytics tag tracks page views. You can also track on-page events in GA, by adding a bit more code to the page. Events send data to GA based on what a visitor does on a page. An event can include up to four field values, which are named Category, Action, Label and Value. There are some best practices regarding how to use Event fields, but there is a lot of flexibility in how they can be used.

Events provide a window into what visitors do on a page. They also give you the ability to collect structured data. Events are triggered by something that happens on a page, usually driven by a JavaScript event.

UTM Parameters

When linking to your website in Facebook, Twitter, emails, or any other marketing channels, appending UTM parameters to the destination URL gives you the ability to specify the source, medium, campaign and other attributes that appear in GA when a person clicks on the link.


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You can control the source, medium and other dimensions of traffic by including those parameters in links to a site.

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We’ll be talking more about UTM parameters in the Acquisition chapter.

Dimensions and Metrics

Every report in GA has a primary dimension and multiple metrics that relate to that dimension. A dimension is a unique attribute of a hit or session or user. Country (user), Source / Medium (session), and Page (hit) are examples of dimensions. A metric is a number that describes something about the dimension. Sessions, Bounce Rate, and Revenue are examples of metrics.

Reporting Demo

As a quick overview of reporting in GA, we will demonstrate a few features of the Acquisition > All Traffic > Source Medium report. This report shows performance summaries for traffic by source and medium. Generally speaking, source is where the traffic came from, e.g. Google or Facebook, and medium is the category of the source, e.g. search or social.

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Add a secondary dimension to a report to look at traffic by device type (mobile), geography, campaign source, and a variety of other dimensions. The options for secondary dimensions change from report to report.

In the example to the right, various Device dimensions are shown. Applying Device Type would result in traffic displaying by Source / Medium and Device Type.

Drilling Down

Clicking on a primary dimension value in a report takes you to a report detailing just that dimension. For example, click on ‘google / organic’ in the All Traffic report to see just organic Google traffic. From here you can add a secondary dimension to get more detail. This is a fast way to dig for details.


Clicking the magnifying glass icon allows you to filter results. For example, you may want to filter to only see display traffic in the All Traffic report. Clicking the ‘advanced’ link allows you to apply multiple filters to multiple fields.

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Segments provide a way to segment traffic in reports, typically so that you can compare one segment of traffic to another. For example, there are pre-built segments for mobile and tablet traffic, which you can apply to see how behavior differs between these devices. There are a number of other pre-built segments, and you can create custom segments based on any condition or combination of conditions applied to one or more dimensions.

To apply a segment:

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For example, if we wanted to compare user behavior by age, we could create two segments, one for users under 35, called “younger users”, and one for users 35 and older, called “older users”. One thing to note: on the right hand side you can see how many users are in your segment. If you create these two segments, you’ll find that they do not add up to 100% of users. This is because Google infers age from behavioral characteristics, and is only able to do so for a subset of visitors.

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With these segments applied, we can now compare behavioral metrics. Below is the summary bar of the Acquisition > All Traffic > Source / Medium report:

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This data is for the month of July. Many of the behavioral characteristics seem similar, but there is a striking difference between conversion rates. 8 conversions is not much data, but if I increase the date range to May through July, the conversion rates stay at about the same ratio.


Click on Export to view download options. You can export data to a spreadsheet for further analysis, or export a full report as a PDF to send to someone.

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As long as you don’t click on the gear icon, any changes you make in the reporting interface are only visible to your login. This means you can play around with filters, segments, custom reports, and other features all you want, and you won’t mess anything up. If you do click on the gear icon, you can change property or view settings (depending on your permissions), and those changes affect the data that gets collected and what other users see. qBuN1FOkUe4eGmMt74H8c6 6rHPnwob3X0EToOwlQwD Tg9d2hHodfOkEfqlfXD3o3b QmhQl68b0VJdowVGJ8af2EStt9XeJbFvcQPMCYR1gpdL24YLYJDJaaMNLqE713l3C0UC

There is also contextual help all over the place. The help button in the top bar provides an explanation of the report you are looking at:

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And each of the dimensions and metrics in a report has a help link with an explanation:

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If you’re not sure where to find something, the search bar at the top can handle a variety of natural-language questions. For example, try “percentage of mobile traffic”. The INSIGHTS link will show you the overall percentage of traffic coming from mobile devices.

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