[Photo courtesy of Yuko Honda on Flickr]

Looking at your Google Analytics page can be daunting. Like any form of data, it can look like a calculator exploded, spewing numbers everywhere (that’s what happens when calculators explode, right?). But, once you get over the shock of all the numbers and the graphs and start digging into the meaning behind those numbers, you’ll find it’s like watching one of those behind the scenes documentaries that shows you what’s going on behind the … uh, scenes.

If you don’t have Google Analytics (GA) set up for your website, please click here to do just that.

This post is just a walk through of GA’s various reporting tools so you can familiarize yourself with what it’s capable of. Future posts will dig deeper into using these tools.

GA: Home

Log into GA and the menu bar at the top of the page has the following tabs:

  • Home
  • Reporting
  • Customization
  • Admin

The first place you’ll be taken is to the home page where you can see a list of all the websites you have access to. The data included on this page is: your number of sessions, average session duration, bounce rate and goal conversion rate. There are two different modes you can view the home page in, which you can choose between at the top of the list on the right. On the top left, you’ll see buttons that allow you to collapse or expand all the site information within the list (only available in one of the two viewing modes).

You can use the search function at the top right to look for a specific domain or, if you want to look at a few select domains, you can mark those domains with a star and alter the Show settings to list only the sites you’ve starred. You do this by either clicking on “All” or the star at the top.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 2.20The date range, which you can access in the drop down in the upper right corner, allows you to see data within a specified time period or compare two different time periods to see changes in the aforementioned sessions, average session duration, bounce rate and goal conversion rate. The data for each site will change to reflect your chosen time periods.

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To dig deeper into any given website, click on the site’s corresponding link and you see that site’s Reporting page.

GA: Reporting

This is the second of the main tabs in the top menu bar. Click on it and you’ll be taken to the Reporting page.

In the upper right corner of this page, under your email address, you’ll see a drop down where you can switch to other websites within your account. The left sidebar has a search box for specific reports and links to other areas within GA.

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Let’s have a closer look at those items in the left side bar.


Dashboards enable customization of you GA data by using widgets, enabling you to only see the data you want to see without having to navigate through all the default reports. Clicking on Dashboard from the Reporting page won’t take you anywhere, but it will show you a drop down where you can see any dashboards you’ve created or give you the option to create a new one.

Clicking on a dashboard that you’ve already created will take you to that dashboard.

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And clicking on +New Dashboard will open the tool to create a new dashboard. (You can either start with a blank canvas or use a template.)

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Add widgets to your dashboards using the +Add Widget button or add them while browsing standard reports using the Add to Dashboard link. Or, if you don’t feel like doing that, just download ready-made dashboards in the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery.

You can further customize each widget on your dashboards by clicking the pencil graphic in the upper right hand corner of the widget or delete it by clicking on the x.

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Shortcuts are links to your favorite reports. If you find yourself looking at a specific report often, click on the Shortcut link above it to place it in your Shortcuts menu, which appears when you click on Shortcuts in this sidebar menu.

Intelligence Events

These are alerts you can set up within GA that will email you when a specific event happens. Think of them like Google Alerts, only specifically for your GA account. GA already has automatic alerts set up, but you can add custom alerts for things like notable changes in the number of sessions, goal conversions or other metrics within a specific time frame like daily, weekly or monthly.

To add a custom alert in the Intelligence Events overview, click on the Custom Alerts tab near the top of the table. You can also find the +Custom Alert link on the Daily, Weekly and Monthly view pages further down under the table.

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Real-Time data tells you how many people are on your website right now and what they’re doing on your site. You can see what percentage are using a computer vs mobile device, what country they’re in, how long they’re staying on pages and what content they’re looking at by clicking on the corresponding menu items in the sidebar.

Real Time Overview

Real Time Overview

Audience Acquisition, Behavior & Conversions Reports

Located along the left hand side, these are the in-depth reports on your users, traffic sources, content and how close you are to your stated goals. This is the information that you’ve likely really come to GA to see because you can never know too much about your audience.

These highly important reports deserve their own post and we’ll take a closer look at them in the future, although these reports are fairly self-explanatory and easy to read. So, go ahead and take a look at them.

GA: Standard Reporting Views

Going back to the main Reporting page (the one you land on when you click a website’s link on the Home page), you’ll see a standard report, which contains the following data:

  • the report’s name
  • the date selector, and
  • a standard toolbar with options to:
    • customize the view (by adding segments),
    • email the report,
    • export the report data,
    • add the report to your dashboard, or
    • create a shortcut to the report

The default report is the Audience Overview report. Click on the graduate’s hat under the date selector to learn more about the data within a specific report. (You can click on the graduate’s hat any time you see it to get more information).

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Below the toolbar menu on the left, the All Sessions option shows you your data throughout all of GA while +Add Segment allows customization of the data you want to see based on the criteria you choose. Click on +Add Segment and the Add Segment menu pops up, where you can create a new segment by clicking on +New Segment. This gives you the option to create your own criteria for your reports.

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The All Sessions option gives you the data specific to the current report you’re viewing and most (but not all) reports will start with an Explorer section. The Explorer section allows you to switch between the following tabs along the top:

  • Summary,
  • Site Usage,
  • Goal Sets,
  • Ecommerce and
  • AdSense.
I don't have Goals Set or AdSense set up for this page.

I don’t have Goals Set or AdSense set up for this page, but they would appear beside Ecommerce.

The default view is Summary and shows the Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions data in a table at the bottom of the page. For this particular example, it shows the new vs returning visitors on this web page.

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If you have multiple goals set up for a web page, there will be a drop down beside the Conversions heading on the right, which you can switch between the data pertaining to your different goals.

Click on Site Usage at the top of the Explorer menu above the timeline and it shows the number of sessions, pages/session, average session duration, percent of new sessions and bounce rate for the data.

Click on Goal Sets and it shows the overall goal conversion rate for goals within a set (up to four goals per set), per-session goal value and individual goal conversion rates for each goal in a set.

Click on Ecommerce and it shows revenue, transactions, order value, ecommerce conversion rates and per-session value for the data. (To receive this data, you need to have ecommerce tracking set up on your website.

Click on AdSense and it shows data for AdSense revenue, ads clicked, page impressions, CTR and eCPM for the data. To receive this data, you must have Google AdSense set up on your site and have your AdSense and Analytics accounts linked.

Under the Explorer view options you can find a drop-down for Sessions vs. [Select a Metric], which you can use to see different data comparisons within your report.

To the right, you can change your data view to daily, weekly or monthly and change the timeline to a chart.

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In the table below your Explorer, you can find more viewing options. At the top left, you’ll find drop-downs to add another dimension, while at the top right, you can change the view the table information in various charts or graphs like a pie chart, for example.

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Click on the Advanced link next to the search box to enable filtering of specific dimensions and languages within the table.

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At the bottom right of the table is a drop-down that gives you the option to see more rows.

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Clicking on the links within your table allows you to drill down to more specific subsets of data, which will appear in a similar looking table. So, if you are in the Audience > Geo > Location report, you can click on a country and then further click down to smaller geographic locations like states and then even further down to cities.

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Clicking on links within the table under the Acquisitions > All Referrals report does the same thing, allowing you to see the pages within a domain that are responsible for traffic.

GA: Customization

This is the next main option in the top menu bar. Using a Custom GA report allows you to see the exact portion of your GA data that you want and have it emailed regularly to contacts you choose.

You can create new reports, organize them by category and import reports from the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery.

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GA: Admin

And, lastly, the final main option in the top menu bar is Admin and this is where you manage all of the settings for your website within GA.

You will see drop down menus where you can navigate through all your websites within GA, each page of those websites, view your settings and alter them. The bell in the top right corner will let you know if you have any alerts to check.

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By now, your head is probably spinning from the onslaught of information about GA so we’ll cut it off here. In future posts, we’ll take a look at those Audience reports and how to use them to build profiles of your customer base and we’ll get into using more tips and tricks on GA.

For now, click around, build some custom reports and familiarize yourself with it. It’s a tool that’s well worth the time and effort to get to know inside out.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

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About Rob Swystun

A former journalist, Rob has been writing professionally since 2006 and now focuses on copy writing, website content, articles, blogging, ghost writing, editing, proofreading and public relations. Currently an Athabasca University student studying for a BA in Communications, Rob holds a Journalism Diploma from Langara College in Vancouver.


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