Written by: Jim Wrubel Published on: @March 20, 2022 Last updated: @March 20, 2022
Tools Used In This Recipe
Converting prospective customers into happy buyers is a critical part of your startup’s growth plan. Understanding what part of that conversion process works well and what doesn’t is a job for analytics tools, and the biggest player by far in this space is Google Analytics. Its combination of free pricing and robust campaign management and reporting are hard to beat. In this Recipe we’ll implement Google Analytics for a website and list a few key reports that you can use to better understand your customers.
While Google Analytics is free and very robust, it operates through a tracking cookie that sends information about your website visitors to Google’s servers. Laws such as GDPR in Europe and CCPA/CPRA (In California) apply to your business if your website will receive any visitors from those regions. If you use Google Analytics you are required to inform visitors of that fact and allow them to opt-out if they choose (this is why you may have seen cookie consent popups when you surf the Web over the past few years). If you are looking for alternatives, cookie-less analytics packages such as Plausible may be an option, although they are not free.
Before you begin
Google Analytics integrates with your website, so you’ll need a Website with a custom domain to use it. If you don’t have those set up yet, the following Recipes can help:
You’ll also need a Google account. If you already have signed up for Google for Business, your business account (in the form of <yourname>@<yourdomain> ) is the best choice. If you aren’t using Google for Business you can use a personal GMail/Google account, but you’ll need to take some extra steps to verify ownership of your Website.
Once you have those in place, you’re ready to sign up for Google Analytics.
Start by accessing the Google Analytics landing page and click Get Started Today.
Next you’ll need to sign in to your Google account. Again if you have one, use your Google for Business account that uses your custom domain. Once you have signed in you’ll be prompted to create a name for your account. A Google Analytics account can manage multiple properties - A property is a single destination on the Internet, such as your website, a mobile app, a landing page, or similar.
You can use your startup’s name here. In the sharing options section, leave the checkmarks for Google products & services and Benchmarking enabled, but you can disable the other two checkboxes. Click Next.
Next you’ll set up a property. Give it a name. This can be anything you want, but we recommend using your domain name ( www.example.com ) so you can differentiate it from other properties you might create later. You’ll want to set your primary time zone so that you can group traffic by day, and if you plan to use your analytics to measure impact on sales you can set the primary currency you use.
Click Next. The next section is optional, but if you fill it out Google Analytics will set up some default views and reports for you. Select your company’s category so your analytics data can be anonymously benchmarked against other accounts in your industry. Enter your business size, and then enter the different ways you will be using Google Analytics. Click Create.
You’ll need to review and agree to the Data Processing and Data Protection Terms. After you agree you’ll get offered to sign up for various emails from Google. You can safely un-check the Offers from Google, and leave the others checked if you want updates from Google on how to use Analytics more effectively. Click Finish.
You’ll be redirected to the Google Analytics Admin dashboard. Google Analytics will offer you a virtual tour to highlight key features. When it’s complete you’ll need to set up a data stream to start collecting usage data. Select the type of property that you’re setting up - Website, iOS (Apple) app, or Android app.
For the purpose of this Recipe we’ll use the Web option to set up analytics for a Website. Click Web. Next you’ll be prompted to enter the Website URL (domain name) and an identifying name for it.
You can leave the options in the Enhanced measurement section in their default settings. Click Create stream.
The next screen will show you the settings for the newly-created data stream. The most important piece of information on this screen is the Measurement ID.
To configure Google Analytics to start recording data you’ll need to add either this ID or use one of the options in the Tagging Instructions to add code to your website to start recording data. The specific method you’ll use depends on how your website is configured:
Using a Website builder or Content Management System (CMS)
If you are using a Website builder or CMS such as Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, or Wordpress, there’s a good chance that the interface supports directly entering the Measurement ID in a field in their application Settings. The location will vary depending on the tool you’re using. If your tool does not have a mechanism to enter the management ID, you’ll need to follow the instructions in the Global site tag section. While there are too many different website builders to include instructions in this Recipe, below are links to help documentation for several popular builders:
- Wix: https://support.wix.com/en/article/tracking-events-on-your-wix-site-with-a-google-analytics-property
- Squarespace: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/205815608-Using-Google-Analytics-with-Squarespace
- Shopify: https://help.shopify.com/en/manual/reports-and-analytics/google-analytics/google-analytics-setup
- Webflow: https://university.webflow.com/lesson/set-up-google-analytics
- Wordpress: https://kinsta.com/blog/google-analytics-wordpress/
Using a custom Website
If your Website was developed by your team or a contract developer you can use the instructions in the Google Tag Manager section. This method gives you additional control over what data is sent to Google Analytics.
Once you have connected Google Analytics to your Website, data will begin to appear in your Analytics portal. Click X in the upper left to close the data stream detail screen, and then click the Home icon in the upper left to get to the Analytics dashboard.
If your startup is pre-launch you have just set up your Website, even when Google Analytics is set up properly you won’t see data flowing because there are no users on your site. You can manually trigger Analytics data generation by opening a browser in incognito mode and visiting your website. Note that if you are using an adblocker or other browser plugin that blocks trackers on the Internet it will block Google Analytics too, so be sure to configure your browser to disable those plugins on your Website.
Set up conversions and other events
Events are a key concept in Google Analytics. GA supports both built-in events (a list of these events is here) and user-defined events (user-defined events are really only useful if your website is custom and you’ve implemented Google Tag Manager). The list of built-in events covers most startup needs though.
If your Website is designed to generate sales, the events that correspond to sales activities (such as add_to_cart, add_payment_info, and purchase) are how you’ll understand how your storefront is performing. Ecommerce-centric website builders like Shopify will have these event triggers pre-populated, but if you are using a different builder or you have a custom site you’ll need to mark specific pages in your analytics with these events so you can generate monetization data. The Google Analytics help documentation has a guide on how to do this.
If your startup doesn’t directly sell product you may still want to identify key events in your Website’s usage that directly link to sales or to other success metrics for your startup. If you tag these events as conversions, Google Analytics can generate reports that show you which user populations convert at higher levels so you can optimize your Website or digital marketing. To mark an event as a conversion you’ll first need to have user data that triggers that event, so if you are just setting up Google Analytics you will need to either wait for users to get to a conversion event on your site or trigger it yourself by clicking through your site. Once you have at least one instance of the event recorded, navigate to the Configure menu in the left navigation, then click Events.
In the event list click the toggle on events that you want to have Google Analytics consider conversion.
Once you have your events and conversions set up you can start using the reports in Google Analytics to help you make data-driven decisions about growing your business.
The Google Analytics dashboard
In the course of running your startup you won’t need to make changes to your data streams and events very often, but you will spend a lot of time using the Google Analytics reports to help understand how your customers interact with your website and other online properties. In this section we’ll walk through the key reports screens in Google Analytics and list some of the ways you can customize the interface based on your startup’s unique characteristics. Click the Reports button in the left to access the Google Analytics reports dashboard.
The Reports snapshot screen includes several charts from various detail pages in Analytics, giving you an at-a-glance overview of your traffic. On the left are categories of information that Google Analytics provides:
This section shows you how users arrive at your site. By default Google breaks out visitors by several categories:
- Direct (users who entered your website directly in the browser)
- Organic Search (Users who clicked through to your site from a search result entry)
- Organic Social (Users who clicked through to your site from a link in social media)
- Referral (Users who click through to your site from a different Website)
- Paid Search (Users who click through to your site from a search ad)
- Email (Users who clicked through from an email)
- Affiliates (Only for businesses that use affiliate marketing)
- Display (Users who clicked through to your site from an ad run on another Website)
- Other Advertising (Only used when Google can recognize the source was an ad but does not have information about the ad network)
In the Acquisition section are two detail pages. One focuses on how you are acquiring users, and the second focuses on how you are acquiring traffic. User acquisition considers only the first time Google Analytics recognizes a new user on your site, and does not include repeat visits from known visitors. Traffic, however, is based on sessions. A single user might visit your site from a web search and sign up for your newsletter. Later when they receive an email from you and click through to your site, Google Analytics would consider this one User, but would show two entries in the Traffic acquisition report; one for the initial visit from search, and a second from the email clickthrough.
While the Acquisition section shows how users arrive at your site, the engagement section shows what they do when they get there. You’ll get detail reports showing the most frequent events as well as conversions. You can also see which pages and screens are most commonly visited. The engagement section also shows metrics like engagement time (the average length someone spends on your site), sessions per user, and stickiness.
If your startup is a social network, uses a membership model, makes money through ad sales, or otherwise has a goal to get recurring visitors, the stickiness report is going to be very important. It shows the percentage of users who visit at least once monthly (Monthly Average Unique users, or MAUs), Weekly Average Uniques (WAUs), and Daily Average Uniques (DAUs). The stickiness report compares these values, so you can see the percentage of your monthly unique users who also visit daily, etc. Growth in repeat visitors is a critical metric for venture fundraising so your goal will be to drive rapid growth in these numbers.
The monetization section, as the name implies, is specifically for businesses that use their Website or app to generate sales and revenue. There are specific reports in this section for traditional E-commerce and a special section for apps that generate revenue through in-app purchases. There’s also a chart listing the average revenue per user (ARPU), which is a critical fundraising metric for E-commerce companies as well as online games.
The retention section includes a number of reports that show how your users change behavior over time. It’s similar to the stickiness chart but also includes charts for raw user retention over time, engagement over time, and customer lifetime value. If your goal is to build a base of repeat users, these reports will help you measure your progress.
Reports in the Demographics section allow you to visualize your users according to information Google knows about them. All Google Analytics accounts can see the country and city of origin for their users, but if you opted in to Google Signals you’ll be able to see breakdowns by gender, interests, and age.
The Demographics reports provide reports about characteristics of your users, and the Tech reports give you information about the devices they use to access your site. You’ll get charts with breakdowns by operating system, mobile vs. desktop, browser, and screen size. If you are integrating Google Analytics into an app you’ll also get information about which version of your app users are on.
Customizing Google Analytics
The top of the screen (and every screen in the Reports section) provides some configuration parameters. By default the data in all of the charts is based on all users to your website in the past 28 days, but you can adjust the time period, edit and re-order the default charts, and compare data across different sub-groups of users.
Comparisons are a very powerful feature of Google Analytics. Using comparisons you can see how different user sub-populations arrive at and use your site. You can compare up to five different sub-populations at one time, and all of the parameters in the Demographics, Tech, and Acquisition reports are available as filters.
To add comparisons click Add comparison. A panel will open on the right with a dropdown of available dimensions and a dropdown to mark the results as included or excluded. Once you have selected a comparison, if you want to add another click Add new condition. When you’re finished click Apply. The comparisons you’ll want to use will be different for every business, but one good place to start is by validating (and refining) your user personas. If you completed the Startup Recipe on user personas you’ll have a set of characteristics for your target user. You can use Google Analytics to see if your target users are acquired more frequently than the total user population, if they stay engaged longer, if they convert, and if they generate more sales, all through the comparison feature.
To illustrate some of the comparisons you can make, the above chart shows a comparison between all users, mobile users, and desktop users for the Startup Recipes Website. The data indicates that while both groups access about the same number of page views per user, mobile users have lower engagement time. These types of insights can help you focus on the user populations that are most valuable to you.
To view data for longer or shorter time periods, click the date range at the top of the screen. You can select from a list of common date ranges or pick custom start and end dates. You can also use the compare toggle to add a comparison graph so you can compare usage in the timeframe you select with the default timeframe.
With a free price point, huge numbers of online training resources and consultants to leverage as you grow, and powerful functionality, Google Analytics is a great tool for your early-stage startup. Once you get it integrated into your Website you’ll see user data in minutes, and you can use its reports and comparison features to help you understand how to best spend your time and money growing your business. You’re also ready to start running campaigns to connect your digital marketing and analytics to create a feedback loop that will help you maximize revenue compared to marketing spend and focus on users who are most likely to convert to customers.