A friend and colleague recently asked me what I would recommend in terms of basic website reporting. There's really only one answer, the free tracking and reporting system offered by Google called Google Analytics.
Why is Google Analytics the only answer?
I'm literally not aware of any other comprehensive solutions that are free. I didn't do exhaustive research on this topic, but a quick Google search didn't turn up any candidates.
Note that while there is a premium version of Google Analytics (called Google Analytics 360). It's not like Google Analytics is intentionally limited or "crippleware". The regular old free version of Google Analytics has all the features and functionality that most of us will ever need. The paid version of Google Analytics is really more for the large enterprise, definitely not necessary or appropriate for small business.
Even if you were willing to pay for website reporting, I wouldn't recommend any of the expensive paid solutions like Adobe Analytics. In general, they're all too complicated and too hard to install.
How to Install & Setup Google Analtyics
I'm not going to waste time repeating information that Google has adequately documented in it's help and support materials. But here are a few links for the beginner who is literally starting from scratch.
Step 1 - Get a Gmail Address
Go to mail.google.com and sign up for a Google Account. It may actually be possible to use Google Analytics with a non-Gmail account, but a Gmail account will make everything easier.
Step 2 - Sign Up for Google Analytics
Once you have a Google account, head on over to analytics.google.com and sign up.
Step 3 - Install the Google Analytics Tracking Code
What you're going to do is install a small snippet of code that will appear on every page of your website. Depending on what platform you built your website on, there may be one or more ways of doing this. For the most common platforms (e.g. Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) you'll probably need to do nothing more than copy and paste either a Google Tracking ID. Now that we're all on Google Analytics 4 (i.e. GA4), all Google Tracking IDs start with a G- and are followed by 10 numbers and or letters.
Here's a decent set of instructions from the site SEM Rush about how to install the Tracking Code. This article provides instructions for a variety of scenarios, including different CMS and hosting providers.
Time to Read the Data
Assuming you got through the set up successfully, now it's time to start reaping the rewards. But first, a few thoughts:
Navigating, Understanding & Interpreting Data from Google Analytics is Harder Than It Should Be and Harder Than It's Ever Been Before
Huh? Why is that? Well, Google has just "upgraded" the world to a new version of Google Analytics called Google Analytics 4 or "GA4". Maybe I'm just averse to change and have yet to appreciate the benefits of the new platform. But in my opinion GA4 is way harder to use than the previous version. And frankly, the old version of Google Analytics wasn't very user-friendly for beginners or non-technical folk either.
That being said. You will be able to find enough basic information to steer your business.
Here's a list of 10 Basic Questions Every Small Business Owner Should Be Asking That You Can Answer with Google Analytics, No Matter How Much GA4 Sucks
How many people visit my website on a monthly basis?
This chart on the home page of GA4 shows you how many users have visited the site over the past month. It also tells you how many have been converted to customers, how many were completely new users and on average how long the users remained engaged with the site.
How many people visited my site this month compared to last month and/or compared to this month last year?
By toggling on the "Compare" option in the date range control, you can compare the latest months numbers with the previous month or the same month from last year.
This example shows a site that had 1,000 users this month, which was down .2% from the previous month. It also shows that the average engagement time of users was 0.1% longer this month than in the previous period.
When people visit my website, how long do they stay?
As mentioned above, the statistic "Average Engagement Time" appearing on the charts above is a good general measure of how long people stay on your site.
When people visit my website, what do they do?
This Pages & Screens "card" available by default in the Report Snapshot area lists the most popular pages on your website.
Clicking into the full pages and screens report provides a lot more data regarding what people are looking at or doing on your site:
How do people find my website?
The Acquisition Overview provides a list of the sources that send users to your website. Each column of data will help tell you about the quality of the traffic coming from each source. Which source is most engaged? Which source converts to customers most often?, etc.
What are the demographics (i.e. location, gender, income level and interests) of the people who visit my website?
Simple demographics, like age, geographic distribution, and gender can greatly inform basic marketing strategy. The Demographics Overview provides this data. Please note. When setting up GA4, you must turn on Google Signals to start collecting demographic data. Activate Google Signals for Google Analytics 4 Properties.
What keywords or search terms are people using that get them to my website?
Deep within the bowels of the GA4 reports library is one of the most interesting and useful reports in the universe of digital marketing. The Queries report shows you the list of terms that users searched for which your website was a result on Google. This is a great roadmap to search engine optimization, but it also tells you quite a bit about how your users seek out the services you provide.
How many people visit my website and become customers?
There are many reports that display the number of conversion on your site. I would probably recommend looking again at the Acquisition report to see where your conversions are coming from.
Are there any problems or issues with my website that are preventing people from becoming new customers?
Google Search Console is a much under-used utility from Google. I primarily look at Google Search Console to see how many of my sites pages have been indexed by Google. GSC also automatically sends email notifications when your site is performing poorly, there are problems with the mobile performance or other issues. You must link Google Search Console to Google Analytics to get the most use out of this tool. GA4 Search Console Integration
How much does it cost to acquire new customers from Google Ads?
It's very important to link Google Ads to Google Analytics so that you can get a convenient look at the cost per conversion you're paying in Google Ads. But a new feature of GA4 actually lets you upload cost data for non-Google related marketing efforts (e.g. direct mail). This seems like a great way to compare data and truly understand which advertising campaigns are the most cost efficient.
I'll Do All of This Work for Free Just So We Can Get to a Meaningful Discussion About What Your Business Needs
I admit it. When I sat down to write this blog post, I thought it would be a quick 5-10 minute exercise to lay out a quick roadmap on how to set up Google Analytics. As I wrote and the piece became longer and longer, I realized just how complicated and obscure much of this has become. So, here's my offer to you:
Do you need this setup? Whether you're just getting started or you've been flying blind for years, I'll do it for free. My motivation is to have the data to prove things to you like:
You need to redesign your website.
You need to advertise on Facebook/Instagram or Google
You need to pay to have someone perform Search Engine Optimization on your site
You need to be blogging and creating new content on your website
Maybe you have some or all of this set up but still don't know how to use it. I love analyzing this kind of data. At no charge, I'll go through all of your reporting and explain it to you, highlighting potential areas of opportunity and concern. No charge, it's my pleasure to do. Call or text me at 571-209-7842 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.