Google Analytics is a free service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visitors to a website. The product is aimed at marketers as opposed to webmasters and technologists from which the industry of web analytics originally grew. It is the most widely used website statistics service, currently in use at around 57% of the 10,000 most popular websites. Another market share analysis claims that Google Analytics is used at around 49.95% of the top 1,000,000 sites.
Google Analytics can track visitors from all referrers, including search engines, display advertising, pay-per-click networks, email marketing and digital collateral such as links within PDF documents.
Google Analytic’s approach is to show high level dashboard-type data for the casual user and more in-depth data further into the report set. Through the use of Google Analytics analysis, poor performing pages can be identified using techniques such as funnel visualization, where visitors came from (referrers), how long they stayed and their geographical position. It also provides more advanced features, including custom visitor Technographic segmentation.
Google Analytics Implementation
To function, the GATC loads a larger file from the Google webserver and then sets variables with the user’s account number. The larger file (currently known as ga.js) is typically 18 KB in size and is only downloaded once at the start of the visit as it will be cached throughout the session. As all websites that implement GA with the ga.js code are using the same master file from Google, a visitor that has previously visited any other website with this code implemented, will also have the file cached on their machine. The result is that the page overhead of including the GATC on web pages is kept to a minimum.
In addition to broadcasting information to Google servers, the GATC sets first party cookies on each visitor’s computer. This is used to store anonymous information such as whether the visitor has been to the site before (new or returning visitor), what is the timestamp of the current visit and what was the referrer site or campaign the visitor came from e.g. search engine, keywords, banner, email etc.