Google Analytics: the Basics Explained, and Pitfalls to Avoid

Analytics are often overlooked as a source of information for UX designers. Many designers don’t consider analytics, and instead base their decisions solely on what they know about user psychology. While this isn’t wrong, analytics offer us more insight into our users, rather users in general. While data-driven design can sound intimidating at first, it’s actually really simple once you know the basics, and in this article we’ll learn those basics as we familiarize ourselves with the #1 web analytics tool, Google Analytics.

With over 50 million users, Google Analytics is the most widely used website analytics service in the world. It’s also free, forever. With only a small snippet of JavaScript code, you can have Google Analytics set up in minutes. With a little more tweaking, we can use Goal and Event tracking too, which will help you track very specific things such as users completing forms or reaching the checkout.

Let’s start by learning the UI.

Note: if you need a little help installing the Google Analytics tracking code on your website first, here’s a quick guide on how to do that.

Google Analytics UI

Have a look at the screen below (notice the reference numbers).

The Google Analytics UI

To make the most out of Google Analytics, you’ll need to know the following things:

  • Reports (found in the main navigation) are split into the following categories:
    • Audience (the users you have)
    • Acquisition (how you gained those users)
    • Behavior (what those users did on your website)
    • Conversions (any Goals/Events you want to track)
  • You can save, export and share your reports
  • You can segment specific user groups in your reports
  • Graphs appear on reports to give you an overview of what’s happening
  • Most of your analysis will happen within detailed reports.

Now let’s discuss the key terms.

Dimensions and Metrics

Most detailed reports in Google Analytics will take the form of tables. It’s important to understand the makeup of these tables in order to analyze them. The key terminology, which is common to all reports, are the terms Dimensions and Metrics. Dimensions are a way to group data — a form of categorization or identification. They’re normally shown in the first column of your reports, as things like Country, Page Title and Device Type. Metrics, on the other hand, are the numbers associated with those Dimensions. Metrics appear in the other columns of your reports, showing the numbers relating to the Dimensions in the first column.

Dimensions and Metrics

Examples of metrics include Bounce Rate, Avg. Time on Page and Goal Completions, which can help you to better understand the behavior of your users. In follow-up articles, we’ll learn more about these metrics and what they really mean.


Goals are the metrics that Google Analytics wouldn’t necessary track by default. Goals describe a notable action taken by a user on your website, such as viewing a specific web page, or submitting a specific form, and these require setup. Goals should reflect the key objectives of your website (for example, completing a form). They’ll generally be an indication of how well your website is performing.


In order to analyze what different types of users are doing on your website, you might want to use Segments to narrow down the data in your reports. Once a segment is applied, the reports will show only the data from demographics that match your segment conditions. Common segmentation types include segmenting users by device (e.g. desktop, tablet or mobile), by country, or by language.

We’ll learn more about segmentation later in a future article.

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Source: Sitepoint