How Does Google Analytics Work?

You’re probably wondering what’s with the photo of the delicious cookies? Well simply put cookies are what makes Google Analytics tick, not edible cookies from the bakery down the road, we’re talking internet cookies!

What’s a Cookie?

Cookies are little files that were created to make our internet browsing easier, they remember information about us to help deliver a better browsing experience, for example when we log in to a website a cookie from that website will remember that we are logged in so when we visit another page it doesn’t make us sign in again. Doing a bit of online shopping? A cookie will remember what you have in your basket. Want to carry on watching that documentary on Youtube? A cookie will remember what you were watching and where you left off. Cookies can be very handy when it comes to browsing but there is another side to these little files that we should be aware of.

Not only does a cookie help us out they also help businesses by storing data about who we are and what we’ve been doing on the internet! Sounds scary but most of the time the information that they carry about us is very harmless and there are laws in place that protect us and stop cookies from storing any personal information. That being said cookies can help build a profile that companies can use to market products and services it believes to be relevant, an example of this are online adverts. Have you ever been looking for a product online and then suddenly you see advertisements on other websites advertising that same product to you? That’s because a cookie has made a note that you were looking at those products earlier and this information has been passed on to the advertising company, the largest advertising service is Google Adwords.

Hopefully I’ve given you enough basic information so that you understand what a cookie is but to learn more check out the video above, this video gives a more in-depth overview of what cookies are and how they work.

Now lets get back to Google Analytics and talk about how it uses cookies to create reports that we can use to our benefit.

How Does Google Analytics Use Cookies?

As we’ve discussed cookies are little files that store lots of information about us and our browsing habits but the information Google Analytics is interested is specific to it’s tracking and reports service. The default report that Google creates is known as ‘Overview’ under this title Google Analytics can provide reports on how many people have visited, the average amount of pages viewed per visit, how long a visitor spent on your website and more. There’s also the option to increase the amount of data that you allow Google to store about your visitors but if you enable these it’s advised you update your websites privacy policy so that your visitors are aware that this data is being stored about them. This extra data can gather information on the country of a visitor, their gender, estimated age range and even give an overview of the visitor’s interests. These are all worked out by analysing the visitors browsing patterns and can give some pretty in-depth information on just what kind of people are visiting your website.

One thing to note is that although Google Analytics gathers all this information up it will keep you anonymous, it does this by assigning a unique id to its visitors. Google will combine all the activity from a single visitor into one visit that Google calls a ‘Session’, this means that Google Analytics can display the number of unique visitors we receive and how many sessions have been made as two separate reports, allowing us to get an idea of how many unique visitors have made multiple visits.

Once Google has the information it needs it will generate reports to show you all of this data so that it can be analysed. Google actually does a really good job of keeping these reports simple and gives you definitions of each generated report so that they are easily understood. Reports are split into groups to make it a lot easier to navigate and find the information you wish to view, overall I’ve very impressed with how Google has laid all of the data out.

The amount of information we can get by using Google Analytics is amazing and we can use this information to help us understand our audience. As well as running site-wide reports there are also options to view reports for specific pages but I haven’t set that up just yet, for now, I’m going to focus on the complete site and work my way up to the more advanced features.

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