What You Can — and Can’t — Learn from Bare-Bones Ana... What You Can — and Can’t — Learn from Bare-Bones Analytics Oct. 23rd, 2019 Tom Lundin
bare-bones-analytics

What You Can — and Can’t — Learn from Bare-Bones Analytics

October 23rd, 2019

Spinning up an in-depth analytics implementation tailored to a particular site takes a significant commitment. Perhaps that’s why so many folks simply set up Google Analytics and walk away.

Yes, a bare-bones implementation limits your use of Google Analytics powerful, customizable toolset. But you can still glean a lot of value from a Google Tag Manager implementation that consists of nothing more than a pageview tag.

What you get with just a pageview

The humble pageview tag actually provides a decent amount of info to Google. When you place the gtag.js script or a Google Tag Manager container on a page, you are providing a reference to a transparent 1×1 pixel on Google’s servers. The call to this pixel appends a lot of non-personally identifiable information to the URL in the query string:

That’s a lot to break down. These parameters pass along data such as the screen size of the computer and browser viewport. At the same time, Google pulls together other bits of information that accompany every HTTP request, including the browser’s user agent and ISP. Another important piece of information arrives along with each pageview hit: a timestamp. 

Between the timestamp, URL parameters, and header information, you’re starting to get some useful data.

A little analytics can tell you a lot

Imagine that a user visits several pages of your site. Using only a pageview tag, you’ll get the following Google analytics data:

(Google tracks everything using a UNIX timestamp, but for simplicity’s sake, this example shows local time.)

Now, this table might not look like much. But from just this data, you know that the user entered your site at the home page. (And from the HTTP referer header — not shown here — you can determine from which site they arrived.) By comparing the timestamps of this pageview and the next pageview (of the our-product page), you can tell that the user spent about 30 seconds on the home page before clicking through.

After a few minutes, your visitor then traveled to the register page. There, they must have submitted a registration, based on the fact that their next visit was to the thank-you page a couple minutes later. That page was their exit point for this session.

Functionality you can use …

Putting together these puzzle pieces, you can understand some  important things about your site:

  • Which traffic sources are sending visitors to your site
  • Which site pages visitors are entering and exiting on
  • Which times of day visitors access your site
  • How often visitors return and the average number of sessions per user
  • How long (on average) visitors spend per each page and per session
  • Where visitors are located geographically
  • Which technology visitors are using to access your site (e.g., mobile versus desktop, browser type, operating system)
  • Page speed
  • Standard reporting regarding segments, custom reports, and dashboards 

That’s just a start; you can look at the data in even more ways. But hopefully, this gives you an idea of the types of insights you can gain just from simple pageviews in Google Analytics.

… and what you’re missing out on

So why bother with all the hard work of a full Google Analytics implementation if you can get so much out of so little? Well, because the most valuable insights do require more investment. Yes, you get a surprising amount of information from that little pageview tag, but without a more in-depth analytics deployment, you’ll miss out on quite a bit:

  • Campaign tracking
  • Search Console integration (for better organic search reporting)
  • Event tracking (e.g., video tracking, email clicks, outbound links, form submission, other non-pageview interactions)
  • Conversion tracking for your site goals
  • View filters (to exclude bots and internal traffic)
  • Site search tracking
  • Custom dimensions and metrics
  • Content grouping

And that’s just a sampling. Google Analytics offers an impressive amount of info right out of the gate, but the customization is where the tools really begin to sing.

In short, don’t let a lack of time prevent you from diving into Google Analytics and taking advantage of the  insights that even a simple implementation can offer. After all, you have to start somewhere. But do begin to explore ways you can work with your analytics setup to continue adding features and value. And if you need help, remember: The Four Kitchens Web Chefs are here to help.

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