Google Analytics - a basic explanation

Google Analytics is a powerful way to learn about how your site is being used. By analyzing how visitors come into your site, and what they do while they're there, you can glean a great deal of information about which aspects of your site are popular or effective with your audience, and which are not working as well.

This is made possible by adding "tags" to the end of any web link that points to content on your site. The tag does not change how the link works, but rather adds additional data to the link, which can be read by Google Analytics.

The Google Analytics URL Builder can quickly create tagged links based on information you provide. 

If you want to understand what these links mean and how they work, keep reading.

Advanced Linking: Tracking Tags 

Here's the anatomy of a standard web link, with its various components labeled. This is how a link appears before any Google Analytics tracking tags have been added:


Tagging Links

As it stands, the URL above directs a browser to a location on the web; with just a simple modification though, it can actually do much more. By adding tags to the end of the link, some additional information can be sent from the browser to the server.

The information represented by the tags added onto a URL generally describe the nature of the device on which the browser is running (is it a standard computer, or a mobile device?), how the user came to click on the tagged link (did the user browse to this page from somewhere else, and if so, where?), and more.

Tracking Tags for Google Analytics

Google Analytics works by reading particular tags. There are five possible tracking tags that can be appended to any URL in order to send specific tracking data to Google Analytics:

  • Source - identifies the referrer, the location where the user clicked a link or took another action to bring them to the site (often something like "newsletter" or "facebook" for links posted to either of those)
  • Medium - identifies the kind of link the user clicked or used (such as QR code)
  • Campaign - describes the specific marketing campaign the message relates to, if any
  • Content - describes the content of the message (such as "springgala")
  • Term - identifies any paid keywords (such as Google AdWords) associated with the message

You can add one of each of these tags to any given URL. Tags are listed in the above order, one after another.

For any of the five tags, the same syntax is used to add tracking information to the URL:

  1. Add an ampersand (&) to the end of the URL - this symbol represents a break between the URL itself and the tracking tag, or between two tracking tags.
  2. Add the text "utm_" (no quotes) after the ampersand.
  3. Add the type of tag - in this example we'll use the "medium" tag, and indicate that this link is associated with a QR code.
  4. After identifying the type of tag, you can assign it a specific value using an equals sign (=). Type in the name you wish to give this Medium tag after the equals sign; for the sake of clarity, call it "QRcode" so that you know what it is when you look at the collected data in Google Analytics.

The final result should be:




This link could then have additional tags added onto it:


You don't need to do this yourself for every link on your site - Google Analytics software can already glean most of this information automatically. Manually modifying a link in this way is only necessary when you want to track the browsing behavior of users who visit your site without clicking links.

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