How to get started with Google Analytics

Don't freak out! Here is the basic information you need to know about the 4 key sections of website Google Analytics

Don’t freak out! Here is the basic information you need to know about the 4 key sections of website Google Analytics


We all know that there is a ton of website visitor information available in Google Analytics, but that is the problem.

What are we supposed to do with “a ton of information?”

At various speaking engagements and workshops, we’ve been rather surprised by the large number of tourism organizations that either do not have Google’s free website analytics installed at all, or it is installed but no one is looking at the data.

Look, we may be geeky, but that doesn’t mean that a big pile of data doesn’t kind of freak us out, too.

What you really need to know from your website traffic can be boiled down to asking yourself this….what sorts of people came to my site, where did they come from/how did they find me, where did they spend time onsite, and did any convert (indicate clearly that they are likely visitors/guests/customers) based on goals I’ve set up?

Here is “Google Analytics for the rest of us” – the datapoints that we recommend you begin tracking if you are just getting started with website analytics.

(If you don’t have Analytics installed, you basically have three choices: 1) Install the tracking code yourself on your website, or 2) Get your Webmaster to install it, or 3) If you have a WordPress site, use a plugin to install it, like Google Analytics by Yoast.)

Begin with these top four stats categories when you log into your Analytics.


This section tells you about the visitors to your website: demographics, where they are located, the technology they used to get to your site, etc.

You want traffic to increase (more new people finding you, plus people returning) and you want people to stay on your site for a longer time, clicking and exploring.

Start by looking at:

** Number of website Active Users

** How long did they stay on my site (Avg Session Duration in Engagement – you want it to increase) and did they leave quickly (Bounce Rate in Audience Overview – lower is better)

** Are new people finding my site? (% New Visitors)

** Are my geographic target markets finding my site? (Geo – Location)

** Which technology do visitors use to look around on my site; in particular these days, what sort of mobile devices? (Mobile – Overview – Devices)


This section tells you all the different ways that visitors end up on your website.

It’s important to track this across time, because traffic referral sources can change, and you want to devote more energy to nurturing the ones that send you quality traffic – website visitors who are interested in what you offer.

Start by looking at:

** Where are they coming from, in general? (All Traffic – Channels)

** Are there particular websites and links to me that are sending me traffic? (All Traffic – Referrals)

** What are some of the search terms people use that help send them to my site? (Search Console – Queries)

** Which pages of my site do people find through search? (Search Console – Landing Pages)

** Which social media sites send me traffic? (Social – Overview and Network Referrals)


This section gives you insight into how your website visitors interact with your site. You want them digging around looking at lots of pages, building up their interest in a visit, and you want them to easily find what they’re looking for.

Start by looking at:

** Where do people go on my site, especially if they arrive via the homepage? (Behavior Flow – a really interesting graphic view of which pages people click through)

** What are my busiest/most popular pages? (Site Content – All Pages)

** Do my website pages load quickly for visitors, and if not, how can I speed things up? (Site Speed – Speed Suggestions)

** What do people look for in the Search box on my site, so maybe I can improve site navigation or clarity of information (Site Search – Search Terms)


This is arguably the most important section of your Google Analytics, because it gives you hard data about whether you are meeting conversion goals that you have set for your website.

Here’s the problem, though – you have to set up measurable goals first, in order for this section to be of any use to you, and then it has to run for a few months at least to gather enough usable data.

From what we’ve seen, not many destination marketing organizations have done this; heck, WE hadn’t done it either until about six months ago.

We plan to do a more detailed newsletter about this later, but to get you jump-started….

Pick some goals that you can actually track to indicate visitor interest.

Sample goals: they download a brochure, or arrive at a Thank You page after signing up for your newsletter or ordering print materials, or they use your Contact page.

In Analytics, go to Admin – View – Goals – red New Goals box – and continue your setup there (use the built-in templates provided to start.)

When you get to Step 3 of the setup – Goal Details – turn ON the optional Value, and pick an amount that represents what a conversion for that goal is worth to you.

Don’t over-think it!

Maybe go with US$5 for a brochure download and US$10 for an email newsletter signup. The point is that you’ll eventually be able to see a very rough monetary value of certain pages, traffic channels, etc. to your conversion goals.

Once you have Goals set up, they’ll need to be running for awhile to gather data and conversion information, but when they do, it will be in that Conversions section of Analytics.

Whew – thanks for making it this far!

We’ll be sending out more information on this topic in the future, and we’re thinking of doing a webinar on it, too. If you missed us hosting #tourismchat on Twitter about Google Analytics, here is the chat transcript with lots of tips from your peers plus resource links.

What help do you need with data gathering and analysis? Let us know down in the comments; we are listening.

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Lincoln Highway heritage byway sign as part of Iowa Byways in Boone IA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Lincoln Highway heritage byway sign as part of Iowa Byways in Boone IA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Join us for a new webinar in partnership with the

U.S. National Scenic Byway Foundation

As the National Scenic Byway Foundation‘s new preferred online training partner, Tourism Currents will kick off a year-long online webinar series starting this Wednesday, February 4 at 12 noon CST with “Successfully Social: 5 Ways That Social Media Can Help Your Scenic Byway, Heritage Highway, or Trail.”

Cost is US$20 for NSBF members and US$30 for non-members.

Click this link for more information and to register for the “Successfully Social” webinar – there will be a recording even if you can’t make the scheduled time for our live session.

If your destination, attraction, or hotel is located on or near a designated scenic byway or heritage/historic highway, we urge you to consider membership in the NSBF; they’re a terrific resource!

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