Digital marketing thrives on data. No matter what kind of site you have, whether it’s an e-commerce site, a personal website, or a site for a small business, you should understand how people interact with it.
While Creating an Effective Web Presence, implementing web analytics should be one of your first steps once you’ve launched your website.
So, let’s begin!
- What Is Google Analytics?
- How Does Google Analytics Work?
- What Kind of Data Is Available In Google Analytics?
- What Are Events In Google Analytics?
- What Is Event Tracking In Google Analytics?
- The Four Components of Event Tracking
- What Is Google Tag Manager?
- What Are The Components of Google Tag Manager?
- How Is Google Analytics Different From Google Tag Manager?
What Is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a free web analytics tool you can use to analyze your website traffic.
Although it may seem like web analytics is a relatively insignificant aspect of your digital presence, the implications of Google Analytics are significant.
Since most businesses rely on their website to deliver all of their digital traffic, that website acts as a hub. The users coming to your website somewhere along their user journey are most likely to be coming from search or social media ads.
Considering that your website is at the center of your digital presence, your website is the best way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the success of all the campaigns you run for the promotion of your products/services. Google Analytics is a free tool that can help you track the results of your digital marketing efforts.
Some benefits of Google Analytics include:
- Easy to use and easy to implement
- The interface is easy to use
- Reports, dashboards, and data collection are customizable
- Google’s other products are seamlessly integrated with it
- Most importantly, it provides a wide range of valuable insights into the behavior of your visitors and your website overall
How Does Google Analytics Work?
Google Analytics simply adds several lines of tracking code to your website. When your users visit your website, the code records their various activities, along with their attributes (such as age, gender, and interests). After a visitor exits your website, all the information it collected is sent to Google Analytics.
Data from your website is aggregated by Google Analytics on multiple levels, primarily on four levels:
- User level (related to actions by each user)
- Session level (each individual visit)
- Pageview level (each individual page visited)
- Event level (button clicks, video views, etc)
What Kind of Data Is Available In Google Analytics?
There are two types of data that you can collect in Google Analytics:
- User Acquisition Data: data about your users before they visit your website
- User Behavior Data: data about your users when they visit your website
User Acquisition Data
Before users visit your website, you can access information about their demographics (e.g. their age, gender, and interests). You can also get data about the source of visitors, like whether they came from Facebook, another website, or a Google search. This type of data is called “user acquisition data” because it helps you determine what groups of users to target and through which channels.
The characteristics of your website visitors, such as the digital channels they use and their demographics, are intrinsic to them. You cannot change these characteristics.
Fortunately, the internet is huge, so even though you can’t change the characteristics of your visitors, you can target specific user groups on the internet who share the characteristics you’re looking for. By running targeted ads on Facebook, Google, and other websites, you can attract more of them to your site. You can use your user acquisition data to guide your digital marketing strategy and activities.
User Behavior Data
The second type of data is “user behavior” data, which are gathered during a user’s session on your site. “User behavior” data includes:
- How long a user stayed on your website
- What is their first and last page on your website
- The most common “pathway” through which they go through your website
Instead of the user acquisition data, your changes to your website can easily affect the user behavior data. The key is to identify the problematic pages on your site where your users get stuck, and then refine their user experience on these problematic pages so that users can convert seamlessly to paying customers with as little friction as possible.
User behavior data can serve as a guide for you to improve your website so more of your users end up converting, whether that means making a purchase on your website, or signing up for your newsletter.
What Are Events In Google Analytics?
By default, Google Analytics measures the traffic on your site and tracks metrics like page views, exits, and bounces. For tracking more specific interactions, like form submissions, video views, or external link clicks, you must use event tracking.
An event is any interaction with your website that cannot be tracked as a page view during a single session in Google Analytics. Events are any actions users take on a particular web page of your website. For example:
- Button clicks
- Clicks on outbound links
- Form submissions
- Video plays and watch time
- File downloads
What Is Event Tracking In Google Analytics?
With Google Analytics, you can track users’ interactions with your website elements (events). Data collected by event tracking includes:
- Total events and average events per session
- Total events based on event categories and individual events
- Session data for events and event categories
- Ecommerce data
In combination with your understanding of how your website is performing and what motivates users to complete certain actions, tracking events as part of your analytics strategy can help you drive more conversions and revenue.
The Four Components of Event Tracking
A Google Analytics event is made up of four main components and is tracked through its event tracking code. User interactions are tracked through Google Analytics’ event tracking code and sorted into reports.
This is what each of these components will mean for your events:
- Event category (required): Event category is the name you give to a group of events, like “Videos” or “Forms”.
- Event action (required): Event action is the type of interaction you want to measure, like “Play” or “Form Submitted”.
- Event label (optional): Event labels are used for adding additional information to specific website elements to identify a unique event, like a product name, video title, or URL.For example, if you have several forms on a page, you would specify a unique label such as “Contact Form” or “Newsletter Form”.
- Event value (optional): Event value is a numerical value provided to describe an event such as a download time or monetary value.
What Is Google Tag Manager?
While you can install Google Analytics directly on your website, I recommend installing it through Google Tag Manager as it will allow you to easily track events and add additional “tags” without actually making changes to your website.
The purpose of tags is to collect information from a website and send it to third parties. Tags can be used for a wide variety of purposes, such as scroll tracking, monitoring form submissions, conducting surveys, creating heat maps, remarketing, or tracking how people arrive at your site. They’re also used to track precise events, such as file downloads, links clicked, or items removed from a shopping cart.
So, let’s say you’re running a social media marketing campaign on Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. On each social media platform, there’s a specific piece of code (like a Facebook Pixel) that you could insert manually to your website, or you can simply add the code via Google Tag Manager without making any changes to your site.
What Are The Components of Google Tag Manager?
To start using Google Tag Manager (GTM), you’ll need to create a container. The container essentially holds all the tags on your site.
After creating a container, GTM provides you with some code for your site. You will need to add this code to your site’s source code so it displays on every page. Once you’ve done that, you can add, edit, disable or remove tags through GTM as necessary.
It is important that each tag on a website has a specific purpose. A tag could be configured to send information when a file is downloaded when an outbound link is clicked, or when a form is submitted. A tag needs to have at least one trigger associated with it in order to do anything. If it does not have any triggers, then it does nothing.
In general, triggers can be broken down into events and filters. In GTM, you will be given a list of trigger types to choose from when configuring a trigger. These are your events. After choosing an event, you can set up your filter.
There are three types of filters: variables, operators, and values. We’ll talk more about variables in just a moment, but in this case, it refers to the kind of variable involved.
The operator specifies whether an event must be equal (or greater or less than a certain value, contain a certain value, or otherwise).
The value is the condition that must be met. While value is usually associated with numbers and prices, know that you do not necessarily need to have a numerical value in this case. Most of the time, you will be supplying a URL or keyword as your value.
Variables & Constants
While tags depend on triggers, triggers depend on variables. A variable contains the value that a trigger must evaluate before it knows whether or not it should fire. When a variable meets the conditions of the trigger, the tag will fire if the value of the variable matches the value in the trigger.
Additionally, tags capture variables that are passed onto the data layer when a user interacts with the site. For example, a tag could be set to fire when a person adds a certain number of products to their shopping cart.
In many cases, tags can reuse variables. Creating constant variables for ID numbers and tracking codes you’ll need to use over and over is one of the most popular tips for using GTM. If you need to use your Google Analytics property ID number in several tags, I suggest creating a constant string variable that has your ID number as the value. In this way, instead of always having to look up your ID number, you could select the variable name.
GTM lets you work with built-in variables as well as user-defined variables. Google made built-in variables easy to access because they are among the most commonly used types of variables. Once you’ve selected one of the built-in variables, you can configure its settings as desired.
For tags to know whether or not they should fire, they need information, but how (or where) do they get it? You could check the HTML structure of the page to find it, but that’s not the optimal solution. When tags need to search through HTML to find what they are looking for, it takes longer for them to execute.
Additionally, tags can break if a site’s HTML structure changes. Moreover, a tag might need information that won’t be found in the HTML of a page, such as a transaction total.
Using the data layer is often the most popular and useful way to collect data from forms.
How Is Google Analytics Different From Google Tag Manager?
While Google Tag Manager can connect to Google Analytics, it is only used for storing and managing tags. Google Analytics would be added as a tag in Google Tag Manager (and it’s usually the first tag I add). Google Tag Manager does not have any reporting features.
Google Analytics is where you would go for actual reporting and analysis. All conversion & event tracking is managed through Google Analytics.
Hopefully, you have a clearer idea of what Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are and the purposes they serve.
If you’re using WordPress and have Gravity Forms installed, be sure to read my post “How to Capture Gravity Forms Data with Event Tracking“.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them below!
Thanks for reading,
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AJ Tatum is the Founder and CEO of Tatum Digital Agency. Over the last 20 years, he’s worked in digital marketing, web development & web technologies, and business management. He is passionate about using technology and marketing to empower creativity, new possibilities, and transformative thinking.