To belabor an obvious point, Google has developed itself into a one-stop shop for many web services. From search engines to email to social networking, Google has proven itself to be a leader in helping people get more done online. This diversification has helped it grow into a nearly $60 billion company

A big part of that growth comes from providing tools like Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a suite of software that helps businesses improve their online reach and efforts by tracking and measuring performance metrics. It measures website traffic, tracks conversions, manages online advertising spending, and it even offers advice on how to increase your sales

Let’s examine the different aspects of Google Analytics and why it is an invaluable tool for small businesses. For the purposes of this article, we will limit our discussion to the free version of the Google Analytics program, which is available for sites that receive 10 million or fewer hits per month. There is a premium service that costs $150,000 annually for websites with more traffic. 

Google Analytics focuses on three principle parts: building your audience, measuring sales and conversions, and providing insights for you to act upon. 

Building Your Audience 

Understanding your audience is key to selling your product and managing the trajectory of your long-term success. Google’s Build Your Audience feature allows you to go beyond simple measurements of website traffic; it can also track and monitor your audience demographics, traffic sources, mobile app usage and in-page analytics. Key parts of this feature include audience segmenting, traffic sources and real-time reporting. 

Selling and Converting 

The data collected here allows you to understand not only what your customers are purchasing, but also where and when your customers make those purchases. The feature also allows you to measure your online advertising efforts with special ad tags that will report back clicks, views, conversions and more. Key parts of this feature include advertising reports, e-commerce reporting and multi-channel funnels. 

Act on Your Insights 

With the data and insights collected, you can now start taking action. Google Analytics allow you to A/B test webpage content, giving you the chance to see what types of messaging or branding really sells. You can also share insights with members of your organization and keep everything in one easy-to-track place with comprehensive dashboards. Key parts of this feature include conducting content experiments, specialized e-commerce reporting, and alerts and intelligence events. 

How to Set Up and Use Your Google Analytics Account 

Now that you have an idea of how the service works, let’s discuss the general steps to setting up Google Analytics for your business. 

1. Register for a Google Analytics Account 

Signing up is pretty easy. Simply visit the Google Analytics Account page, and follow the instructions. You can link your Google Analytics account to your already existing Gmail account, but if you use your current Gmail account for personal correspondence, you might want to set up another alias for your business. 

2. Apply the Google Analytics Tracking Code to Your Website 

Once you have an account, Google Analytics will generate a tracking ID for your site that will need to be added to each page you want to track. Google says you should cut and paste the code directly before closing the tag. For more details on your tracking ID, check out this Google article. If you’d like to also track your mobile website or apps, Google Analytics provides that integration as well. 

3. Set Up Your Account 

You have quite a bit of flexibility in the types of reports and data you receive from Google Analytics. By spending a bit of time on the front end, determining what types of information you’d like to see, you can save yourself the headache of sifting through data at the end of the month. 

4. Make Sure You’re Receiving Data 

To ensure that everything is set up correctly, check your Google Analytics account a few times the first week after you’ve inserted the tracking ID. You want to be sure you’re receiving data. However, it’s best not to spend too much time pouring over this initial information, as you really need at least 30 days’ worth of data to make any kind of real analysis. If you have no historical data to pull from (i.e. you’ve never tracked your website before), it’s better to wait until you have about three months of data before acting on it. 

Also, be aware of the time of year you start tracking and what that normally means for your business. If you’re a retailer, for example, your holiday analytics will probably be an unfair representation of the numbers you’ll get during non-busy months. 

5. Make Use of Your Data

Because Google Analytics is so large, there are many resources available to help you get the most out of your data. Consider taking an online course that illuminates options or strategies you might’ve not been aware of. In fact, analytics group KISSmetrics has put together an incredibly comprehensive list of tips you can employ. When you learn those tips and have some insights from you own data on hand, adjust your marketing efforts, whether they include email, content or even those that are a bit more old-fashioned

Accurate and consistent website tracking is one of the greatest tools available to small business owners. And online service providers like Google are making it even easier for you to make educated choices regarding your online marketing, sales and branding presence. Take advantage of these free tools to help set you apart from your competition.