Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Monitor your web site using Google Analytics

Monitor your web site using Google Analytics

Rob Buckley shows you how to get the inside track on your site's visitors using Google's new service

Everyone wants a popular web site. But how do you know if your site is popular or not? Is it popular with the right kinds of people? And how are they finding it?

Sooner or later, all web site owners who want something more than a simple visitor counter end up investigating “web analytics”. It’s a complicated business based on extracting as much information as possible from a user’s web browser. At its most basic level, web analytics usually involves analysing your web server’s log files, which your web host may give you access to. Each time the browser sends a request to a web server, it also sends a whole host of information that can be used to work out more about the visitor, such as the referring page, the type of browser used and the surfer’s Internet address. But there’s a whole lot more information available through JavaScript as well that this process ignores. Worse still, server logs are hard to understand without some software. Even then, not all analysis programs are created equal and can produce either limited or incomprehensible results.

Fortunately, there’s now a way to analyse all that web traffic data from Google that’s cheap, easy and considerably less dull. Called Google Analytics, all you have to do is sign up for the service, configure it, then add a piece of JavaScript to every page on your site you’d like to monitor. Whenever anyone visits a tracked page, the JavaScript sends Google the tracking data. Google then analyses all that information for you and gives you access to a variety of reports to help you understand your site’s traffic – and exactly what kind of people your visitors are.

In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to set up Google Analytics to monitor a site, how to add the tracking code to your web pages and how to use the Google Analytics reports. Unfortunately, when Google launched its analytics service in November, it was unprepared for just how popular Google Analytics was going to be: it didn’t buy enough servers or bandwidth to cope with the demand. Whoops. Google is still slowly ramping up the service, which means to use it, you’ll need to wait to be invited. You can sign up for an invite at http://www.google.com/analytics/en-GB/sign_up.html. You’ll also need a Google account to log on to the service; you can get one at https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid complicated installations and want some excellent reports, Google Analytics is definitely worth waiting for.

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