:Marketing / Marketing best practices

Using and understanding Google Analytics for beginners

woman working at computer woman working at computer

Growing your audience is one of the most important things you can do as an online business owner, especially if you’re just starting out. We talk about audience growth all the time here at Teachable, but one thing that doesn’t get as much airtime: audience tracking. Why collect information about your audience?

If you want a sustainable business, you need some insight into the numbers, beyond just the size of your email list. That’s why it’s so important to understand programs like Google Analytics for beginners. Even if you’re not familiar with metrics, SEO, or data, we’ll help you master the basics.

The upside of data

Still not sure why you need to have a data-driven mind? Even small business owners and course creators need to have a basic level of understanding about analytics reports, traffic sources, and search engine optimization. In fact, understanding Google analytics basics will help you make real time, informed decision that could potentially help you make more money down the line. Let’s break it down.

Keeping track of data in your business will help you:

 1. Recognize opportunities

For example, if you find that 80% of your traffic is going to one specific page on your website or blog, you might want to create more content related to your popular post. Your traffic can tell you what your audience wants to see more of.

2. Identify points of failure

If you decide to experiment and completely shake up your marketing strategy and see a 30% drop in traffic you might realize your old strategy was actually performing just fine.

3. Reach more people

Once you’re able to identify what type of content your audience wants, you can create more of it. Happy followers are more likely to share your posts and recommend your site to their friends.

There are a many different ways to do this. You can send out surveys or ask your followers to reply to an email and share a bit about themselves. But, one of the best ways to understand your audience is to view data in the free tool of Google Analytics.

Understanding Google Analytics for beginners

Understanding how people consume your site, what brings them there, and even where they’re geographically located can serve to help you in your marketing strategies. For example, if your target audience is young women from the Midwest, you can check to see if the analytics reflect that. If you’re actually getting the majority of your traffic from empty-nester moms it the Pacific Northwest, that’s a sign that you should adjust your marketing strategies.

For the uninitiated, Google Analytics can be intimidating. But, remember: Once you’re more strategic and look to see traffic sources, you’ll be able to cater your content to the audience you actually have. And chances are, you’ll see an upward trend in repeat visitors.

For example, if you run a blog, Google Analytics allows you to see information such as: which posts are performing the best, how one month is performing compared to a previous month, and what social media sites are driving the most qualified traffic. Needless to say, it’s critical to learn Google Analytics, even at a very basic level.

Adding Google Analytics to your Teachable site

Luckily for Teachable course creators, we make it easy to integrate Google Analytics into your online school so you can understand how your audience interacts with your school. The first thing you’ll need to do, is create a Google Analytics account if you haven’t already.

Now, find the Tracking ID for a specific property by going into Admin > Property > Property Settings. From there, your tracking ID will be at the top of the page.

Google Analytics property settings Google Analytics property settings

Once you’ve found your tracking ID, copy it and proceed to log into your Teachable school. Once you’re inside Teachable, click the settings button on the bottom of the sidebar.

Teachable settings Teachable settings

From there, a new sidebar will pop up. Click integrations, and it’ll be the third option from the bottom. Once you’ve clicked “integrations”, the very first option will be Google Analytics. Toggle the integration to “on” and paste your analytics ID in the space available. Don’t forget to hit save.

google analytics integration google analytics integration

Adding Google Analytics to your blog

If you host your blog outside of Teachable, the steps you take to integrate Google Analytics will be a bit different depending on your platform. Here are the steps for adding Google Analytics to some of the most common blogging platforms:

Google Analytics for beginners: a tour

When you open up your Google Analytics homepage, it’s going to look something like this:

Google analytics for beginners Google analytics for beginners

The very first thing you see is a quick synopsis of what’s been going on with your website for the past 90 days. This at-a-glance feature lets you know if you’re trending upwards or downwards and even tells you if there are any active users on your website.

What the numbers mean:

  • Users are the number of unique visitors that have been on your website.
  • Sessions are the number of times somebody has browsed your website. This is different than page views because even if somebody looks at four pages on your site, it’ll only count as one session.
  • Bounce rate is how many people hit your site and immediately leave. This could be because your page isn’t what they were looking for, it’s loading too slowly, or they ended up on your site by accident.
  • Session duration is how long people are staying on your website on average.

Acquisition numbers

Scrolling down, you’ll find your acquisition chart. This shows you how people are stumbling upon your website.

Google analytics acquisition chart Google analytics acquisition chart
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  • Organic search means people found your site by Googling something and clicking your website on the Google results page.
  • Social means that people found your website via shares on social media.
  • Direct means that people either typed in your URL or clicked on a page that they had in their bookmarks.
  • Referral traffic comes from links on other people’s websites. This traffic isn’t coming from Google or social media.
  • Other simply means that Google can’t track it. This could mean people were browsing in incognito mode or there were no defined parameters on the website they came from.

Popular pages and user trends

The next thing you’re shown on your Google homepage is your most popular pages and your user trends.

Google analytics pages and trending Google analytics pages and trending
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The popular pages is one of our favorite pieces of analytics to look like. This shows you what your audience is interested in and what they’re responding best to. After the Google Analytics tour, we’ll walk you through how to best respond to your popular content in your editorial strategy.

The trending graph shows you how many active users you’ve got on your website on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. This is valuable because, again, it shows you what people are responding to. Note: Active users are simply the number of people coming onto your website in a given period of time.

As you can see, our example graphs are trending downwards. This can mean two things:

1. The author need to change her editorial strategy or

2. They’re coming off a viral period

Pages and trending go hand-in-hand because you can get a better idea of why your active users are trending upwards or downwards. Looking to popular posts in our example page, you’ll see that most of them have to do with college. At the time the author pulled this data, the back-to-school season was ending and the semester was in full swing. Therefore, it makes sense that they’re active users would be coming back down to normal numbers.

Who are your visitors

Finally, with Google Analytics you get a view of how people are consuming your content and where they’re consuming it.

Google analytics visitors page Google analytics visitors page

There are three sections here: When, Where, and How.

When people are visiting your site can give you a clue to who your audience is. If people are visiting early in the morning and later in the evenings you can assume that your audience is made up largely of people working nine to five jobs. If they aren’t visiting at all on the weekends, that could mean your audience likes to be unplugged during their time off.

Where your visitors are coming from can give you insight to the type of content you should be creating. For example, as you can see our example blog only have a little over 3% of my visitors coming from Australia. With that in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to write content about celebrating Australia Day or the best restaurants in Melbourne. On the other hand, it might make sense to write about the author’s favorite United States cities as most of my readers are in the United States.

What devices your audience is using can help you understand how to optimize your content. Huge images might look beautiful on your huge iMac screen, but if your audience is mostly reading your site from their cellphones, they large beautiful images aren’t going to translate as well.

Understanding the navigation bar

The homepage is great for at-a-glance statistics. But, if you’re looking to go really nitty gritty and take your Google Analytics training one step further, you’ll want to use your navigation bar. This can lead you to just about any statistic you could possibly want to know. This is especially helpful if you’re just starting out at understanding Google Analytics for beginners.

Google analytics nav bar Google analytics nav bar

Home is the page we just previously went over. If you are ever trying to navigate there you can either hit the “home” button or type “analytics.google.com” into your address bar.

Customization allows you to create your own customized reports containing the exact information that you’re interested in. You can create reports letting you know what browser your audience is using or how effective links from referring sites are performing. If you want to install some clever custom reports, Kissmetrics is a great place to start.

Reports are where you’ll get more raw data that hasn’t been catered to your needs. It’s more of a “what you see is what you get” format, but it’s incredibly useful.

Real-time overview

Real-time allows you to see what’s going on with your site at any given moment. The overview more often than not can give you enough information, but you can also dive deeper by clicking through to each specific option.

Realtime overview on Google Analytics Realtime overview on Google Analytics

Now, you can go beyond the “real-time” view, but when understanding Google Analytics for beginners, the above is all you really need to know while you’re still learning.

Audience overview

Your audience overview is where you can get a better understanding of who is visiting your website and how they’re behaving. This is a lot like the “who are your visitors” section we looked at earlier, except it shows you more in-depth information.

Google analytics audience overview Google analytics audience overview

We already went over terms like users and bounce rate above if you need to circle back to remind yourself what those are, but in the meantime we can talk about the lower half of your overview page and why it’s important.

Language: For obvious reasons, you want to know what language the majority of your audience speaks. For example, this very author had a friend who translated every single blog post she wrote into Spanish and French in hopes of reaching a global audience. That went on for a few months until she realized that 90% of her audience spoke English, and 9% spoke Spanish. French speakers were a small fraction of her audience and they weren’t converting so it wasn’t worth the extra hours translating her posts into French.

Location: Depending on the nature of your business, there are a few ways the country could be impactful. For example, if you’ve got a store where you sell physical items and only ship in the continental United States and find that 30% of your audience is in Europe, you might want to reconsider your marketing strategies.

Or if you’re planning on going on a tour promoting your latest launch you can see what cities the majority of your audience lives in and which ones would be worth your time to visit.

System and Mobile: Understanding how people are consuming your website is important, too. If the majority of your visitors are visiting from mobile but you don’t have a mobile friendly layout then your bounce rate will be higher.

Or if you’re a fashion blogger and everyone is reading your blog from their cell phone you can use that knowledge to make sure your images can fit on the screen without having to scroll.

Acquisition overview: The acquisition overview shows how people are finding your site.

Google analytics acquisition overview Google analytics acquisition overview

We covered direct, social, and referral sources above. Let’s talk about the new sections you’ll find in the acquisition overview.

Setting up a goal

This example doesn’t have any goals set up on this account, so we can walk you through setting up our first acquisition goal now. Click “get started” and follow along as we set up the goal.

Setting a goal on google analytics Setting a goal on google analytics

The author has chosen to set their goal to increase pages per session, as that’s something they’ve been focused on increasing through more intralinking to their own content.

Goals on google analytics Goals on google analytics

By clicking “verify goal”, you can see how well your goal would have performed based on the past week. If you have a 98% conversion rate, then you’re probably setting your goal too low. But if you only have a 2% conversion rate, you might be setting your goal too high.

Goals are great for keeping track of how any experiments you are running might be working. For example: If our author decided to increase page views per session, they could try adding large images in the middle of the posts directing people to other posts on the site. If after a week their pages per session didn’t increase, they’d pull that experiment and try something else.

Goals can also be a success metric to use when deciding what kind of content to create. If you push a new post and nobody clicks from that post to a related one it might be a sign that your audience isn’t interested in that kind of content.

Other acquisition metrics to consider when training on Google Analytics

For the purpose of this Google Analytics for beginners post, we’ll cover the metrics most beginners know they need for their businesses.

Social network referrals

Google analytics social acquisition Google analytics social acquisition

Social network analytics are a solid representation of how effective a digital marketer’s promotion efforts have been. At first glance of the example blog above, it seems like Pinterest would be the best social channel for this example. However, if you look closer at the other numbers, you’ll see the Pinterest traffic is low-quality.

Sure, the pageviews are higher, but their session duration and pages per session are quite low. This means the people coming from Pinterest aren’t staying long and aren’t exploring.

Right under Pinterest, though, is YouTube. And while they may have only gotten 127 sessions from YouTube last week, that traffic was far more engaged. They stayed on the site for longer and looked at more related posts than those who came from any other social media site.

From that, we can conclude that if this author wants to drive more high-quality traffic, they should be focusing more attention on promoting their blog via YouTube.

Social landing pages

Social sources on Google Social sources on Google

By clicking “landing pages” under the social menu, you can see what pages social media is driving people to. For those who want to get more specific and determine which social media site is driving traffic to which pages, you can do that as well. You can find this information by going to the secondary dimension drop down menu highlighted above and clicking “Source/Medium.”

This will add an extra column to the chart that lets you know what site was referring traffic to those top pages.

Because we’re interested in seeing where the YouTube audience is going, we can scroll to the second page where the author had their first and second occurrence of YouTube referral traffic. Using this information, you can see that while their Pinterest audience is interested in “succeeding in college”, their YouTube audience wants to learn “how to blog.”

With that information, the author now knows they should be making more “how to be a blogger” videos on YouTube and linking to specific complementary blog posts in the down bar.

Behavior overview

Google analytics behavior overview Google analytics behavior overview

The behavior overview gives you another view of how people are interacting with your website. The top graph is probably familiar to you by now. But in the lower left hand corner, you can toggle between a few different options to get more information.

The most interesting thing in the behavior overview might be the “Search Term” results. This shows you what people have typed into the search bar of your website and can signal what your audience is interested in seeing more of.

Applying what you know

That quick introduction to Google Analytics only scratches the surface. The analytics dashboard is just so robust, and we covered the basics of what you should know about each section. But now we are going to dive more into how you can get the most out of Google Analytics.

Creating comparisons

Google analytics Comparisons Google analytics Comparisons

Using Google Analytics, you can compare two different date ranges. This is great if you want to see how your September performed compared to August, or how you’re currently doing compared to the same time last year.

Google analytics comparison Google analytics comparison

As you can see in this example week, our author is not doing so hot compared to how they did last year. The difference isn’t dramatic, however, if it were they’d likely consider going back and looking to see what they did differently last year to remedy it.

This comparison is helpful for your marketing efforts especially. You might find that last October you ran a super valuable campaign that your audience loved. If you’re not doing great this October, go back and see if you can’t repurpose any of last years work to reach a larger audience.

Creating alerts

One alert that’s incredibly valuable? Knowing when your site is down. But creating alerts that can signal to you when your site is down is easy. Go to admin, then on the far right towards the bottom there will be a “custom alerts” option. Click that.

From there, you can fill out the parameters depending on what you want to be alerted on. For our author, they knew that if they get less than 1,000 pageviews, then something has gone wrong. This is what their alert looks like:

site down alert google analytics site down alert google analytics

Use Google Analytics to target campaigns

If you’re running Facebook ads or Instagram campaigns, don’t guess where you think you most engaged audience might be. Use Google Analytics to tell you. Remember how we talked about how you can see where your audience is located? Well, you can actually go way more in depth than that.

Audience location Audience location

By clicking “view full report” on the bottom right hand corner of the demographic overview page, you’re taken to a page where you can see detailed behavior analysis of users from different areas. In our example week, our author received most of their traffic from Ashburn. But, those visitors only stayed on their site for an average of nine seconds. On the other hand, visitors from Chicago stayed on the site for well over a minute. From this, we know our author is likely have better results targeting ads in Chicago than in Ashburn.

Recording your analytics

Ultimately, learning Google Analytics means nothing unless you’re gathering takeaways from them. Every month you should record information such as:

Google analytics for beginners Google analytics for beginners

With the month-by-month view of how your numbers are changing, you can then look back and see what strategies you’ve implemented or changed in the last 30 days. Often times there is a clear cut reason why numbers have gone up or down. And you’ll be surprised that it’s something you can learn from and adjust for next month.

Even if you don’t have the bandwidth to analyze your analytics every month, make sure you’re recording them. This way, when you do have time to review, you can see how your numbers have changed over the months or years.


1. What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free tool that tracks and reports website and mobile traffic. You can use the platform to better understand your traffic, traffic sources, audience, pageviews, website referral sources, trending keywords, audience behavior, and more. Using data collection platforms like Google Analytics can help you understand the type of content your audience is consuming, who your audience is, the time they’re spending on your content, and more. This type of information will all help you make better choices when running a business and marketing your business to your audience.

2. How does Google Analytics work?

Google Analytics works by providing you with real time data and information in the form of charts, dashboards, and more. You can access this valuable SEO data for free. You can access Google Analytics as well as Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager to get a full picture view of your site’s performance. How the analytics tool works is rather simple: simply set up Analytics for your site and Google adds a bit of code to your page that allows it to track and report the interactions your website visitors have with your website. This is all presented to you in generated reports that are easy to read and can provide valuable information.

3. What data does Google Analytics prohibit collecting?

Although Google Analytics can provide you with a lot of valuable information on your website visitors, it does limit what data you have access to. Google Analytics doesn’t collect PII or personally identifiable information. This term refers to any information that can be directly tied to a particular person. This personal information refers to a person’s full name, social security number, date of birth, credit card number, email address, home address, passport number, or driver’s license number. As part of security compliance, this information is kept private by Google to help prevent a potential data breach or leakage. When you accept the terms and conditions of Google Analytics, you are agreeing to these set privacy terms in Service of Google Analytics.

4. Is Google Analytics certification free?

It is free to take the Google Analytics certification exam. Google offers a free exam called the Google Analytics Individual Qualification exam or GAIQ. In order to pass the Google Analytics certification exam, you will have to answer 70 questions in 60 minutes. You will need to answer 56 of the questions correctly in order to pass—this is a score 80%. The certification is then value for 12 months post taking the exam. Google offers a few options to help you prepare for the free certification exam. You can visit Google Analytics Academy, which features two courses with video lessons. These courses are: Google Analytics for Beginners and Advanced Google Analytics.

Editor’s note: Portions of this article were previously written and reported by Morgan Timm, whose blog we see as an example.

Author: Caitlin Miller, Caitlin Miller is the Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Teachable. In her spare time, she's often found listening to vinyl records, buying too many house plants, and enjoying a run on the streets of Brooklyn.