Everyone loves free stuff. No matter how sub-par a free item ends up being, you can always hang your hat on the fact that you gave up absolutely nothing to attain it. Unless its the rare piece of SWAG (stuff we all get) that ends up haunting you—think free samples that give you food poisoning, a complimentary weekend at a ski resort time share that gets ruined by constant pitch meetings, etc.—a free item leaves you no worse off than you started.
And that's just the bare minimum. Many complimentary items turn out to be massive enhancements to your life; the sorts of things that you now wonder how you ever lived without.
One of those is Google Analytics, arguably the best web analytics tool that money can't buy. Anyone who says they don't care about visitor data on their website is either lying or completely devoid of ambition/curiosity. Of course they care. Whether we're talking about a business owner or a personal website administrator, who would bother having a public website if they weren't concerned about how the public was interacting with it?
So with that said, let's run through a handful of the reasons that Google Analytics is a free tool worth using (Note: Google also offers a premium version of Analytics that is paid for. This blog post will only discuss features found in the free version).
1. Detailed tracking
The devil truly is in the details. Anyone looking to truly get to the heart of a matter must put aside broad assumptions and delve into the nitty gritty.
Google Analytics enables that ambition. It does not hold steady after revealing something like "your website had 39 new visitors this month." It will tell you how long they stayed for, how many pages they opened, what days they showed up on, how they got there, and then further quantify those numbers as percentages. It will instantly generate that information for any date range that you enter.
If you're new to analytics, you'll find yourself struggling to fathom how one could ever hope to make use of so many metrics. There's simply that much going on. And it goes beyond visitors. Statistics about the site itself and its technical aspects will be made available as well. They are all worth your time.
2. Real-time information
Not only is Google Analytics giving you an incredibly detailed summary of what’s been happening on your website, it’s doing so in real-time.
With Google Analytics, you don’t have to wait until a certain amount of time has elapsed before you can see your statistics. All you have to do is visit the “Real-Time” sidebar. Under it are options that let you see how many people are viewing your website, per-second and per-minute numbers, locations of visitors, active content pages, and more.
Having this capability is especially useful if you are tracking a contest or anything that is time sensitive.
3. Visualization versatility
Do you like graphs and charts? Of course you like graphs and charts—everyone does! They’re crisp, informative, and more visually appealing than simply seeing statistics written out.
Frequently producing graphs and charts is something that Google Analytics does really well. For many of its categories and sub-categories, the tool will offer users an opportunity to display that information in pie chart or bar/line graph form.
4. Integrate other Google programs
Many website administrators—especially those who are focused on building a strong online presence and are involved with SEO efforts—will also be working with other Google programs such as Search Console and AdWords. Google Analytics does them the huge favour of allowing those programs to be integrated into its system.
Bridging this gap allows analysts to get a better sense of how all of the site’s online objectives are being met. Analytics tells an important part of the story, but it can’t account for the search specifics that are driving visitors to the site in the first place. That’s why integration is such a useful feature.
5. Set and monitor conversion goals
At the end of the day, most of us have websites so that we can achieve some sort of conversion. We want visitors to come, yes, but what we really want them to do is respond to whatever our call to action is and help us raise those conversion numbers.
Google Analytics has an entire section dedicated to conversion. It monitors how much you’ve converted, how much that is in relation to your goals, how people are getting funnelled to that point, the abandonment rate, and more. Whatever your website’s purpose, this conversion section helps hold you accountable to those goals.