Design Basics for Google Analytics

All this web design stuff is great, but if you don’t have analytics code installed then you have no way of knowing how your new site is performing. Adding analytics code is easy and shouldn’t be an after-thought. It should come standard on all new websites.

Stoney G deGeyter of Search Engine Journal

When Twitter was fairly new, I remember how there was lots of talk about the best time of day to tweet to ensure people are seeing what is being posted.  And rightfully so, Twitter feeds are so fast and so short, a significant tweet can easily get buried under many others. It’s all about being at the right place and at the right time.

Emails also have a specific window of opportunity: their ideal read time is typically Tuesday through Thursday. In the morning is the most common time people tend to respond to emails and sending an email shortly before 7am can be a great time to ensure an email is waiting first on top to be read because this is when people are just about to start their day.

The same reasoning as to timing and placement also applies to the web and it is well established that knowing your user’s preferences can make a huge difference. Here are some basic examples of how Google Analytics helps track what is happening when visitors visit a site:

Page Visits – Google Analytics helps track if and when a website is being visited and many other additional details.

Length of time visited – According to The designer’s guide to Google Analytics, this number hovers around 4 minutes and 50 seconds. If people cannot figure out the website, they won’t keep trying for very long. UX is so extremely important here!

Number of how many pages visited – One click into the page is not the same as somebody staying on the page and looking over a bunch of stuff on the website.

Conversion rate – this refers to getting the visitor to complete view what you had in mind for them to see. Completing a purchase is perhaps the most typical example, but this can include signing up for a newsletter and not leaving before the final step of registration.

Design Options

Google Analytics can only do so much if the actual design of the website is not optimized to be tracked properly. Here are some more things worth keeping in mind:

How and where the links go – Blogs are super popular. But linking away from a website to a blog is tracked as leaving the page, even though the visit is still with the same entity. In these cases, forethought as to how the design of a website is presented is critical in considering how it will pass data to Google Analytics.

URL setup – From an organizational standpoint, subdomains are not just helpful to visualize the hierarchy of a site, they also help Google crawl to the right place in order to make Google Analytics work better.

Use of the Site Search Tool – Google Analytics can track what was searched for, but there’s a catch. It has to push the search term into the URL otherwise it doesn’t work.

Beware of the fun and interactive stuff – Lightboxes, tabs that hide things, JavaScript formatted goodies: all of these fancy things look great and can even potentially cause less clicking and waiting to load pages, but they can also cause Google Analytics to miss the clues as to why the visitor came to a website in the first place if several things are lumped into one page. All that they will know is you visited the container page.

Website Speed – Just like newspapers want their front headline to matter to catch reader attention immediately, websites need to load quickly for that same reaction. Here are some important points:

  • Statistically, you have 4 seconds to achieve that goal.
  • There are tools to test website speed online.
  • Images can ruin the speed.

Goal Tracking

So let’s say there is a great system in place, with Google Analytics is being used. You are watching what is happening. How can you make this work even better? Several ways…

Thank you pages – Ever wonder why it is that after you go through a long process of filling out a form, you are then thanked for doing it? Is the business just being super polite or are they having fun being very interactive? Long before I knew what this was about, I wondered if it was something related to programming. The real reason for a thank you page can be because the people behind the website are most likely monitoring their goals for successful visitor counts and tracking those statistics.

Responsive Design – How the mobile site is set up versus the desktop version can also greatly affect popularity of a website. eBay decided to end mobile support for BlackBerry recently. What a disappointment for some BlackBerry users! Nonetheless, a factor in this decision was most likely because eBay was convinced the visitors were simply just not there.

SparkLogix sums up the importance of good mobile responsive design best: “Have you ever gotten frustrated with a mobile website and begrudgingly hit the ‘full site’ link when you couldn’t find what you were after? In such a situation, obviously the mobile pages failed in their delivery, and even though you didn’t abandon the interaction altogether, your action shows the mobile site was largely pointless. How might conversions increase if the mobile pages actually provided a worthwhile user experience?”

Ultimately, Google Analytics can even track what screen sizes were most popular. And by knowing this, insight can be provided where a problem might exist that was previously unknown.

Learn the lingo

Ultimately, people even make entire careers around tracking websites! So rest assured, this means there are popular terms used to describe what is going on. Here is a cheat sheet of the most obvious ones (some of which we have already touched upon), as summarized by Media Bistro:

  • Unique user = an individual person visiting your site
  • Session = a single instance when a user was on your site
  • Bounce rate = percentage of users that visited only one page
  • Session duration = how long a user stayed on your website
  • Pages per session = number of pages a user hit during one session
  • Conversion = what you want a user to do on the site (e.g., complete a form)


This is a far from comprehensive guide to Google Analytics, but it is apparent just how many incredible things are now possible when it comes to tracking users as they visit web pages to help make their experience a better one.



About Juliette

Techy girl who also loves both technology and culinary arts. Programming and recipes are my thing! Currently learning about web development while taking a bite out of a delicious crusty piece of bread.

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