How does Google Analytics work? Beginner's Guide

Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics: How Does it Work?

Looking for a beginner’s guide to Google Analytics? Do you want to know how Google Analytics works? Google Analytics 4 (GA4) offers powerful insights about your website visitors. However, using it isn’t straightforward, and many beginners find it complex and difficult to learn.

So, in this beginner’s guide to Google Analytics, we’ll break down the basics of how Google Analytics works. We’ll also help you navigate to different reports and explain what they mean.

By the time we’re done, Google Analytics 4 will no longer feel like a complicated mystery to you!

Google Analytics 4 Tutorial Video

MonsterInsights is the best WordPress Analytics plugin. Get it for free!

What is Google Analytics?

In simple words, Google Analytics is a free tracking tool offered by Google, and it shows you how visitors use your website.

For instance, let’s say you own an eCommerce store and want to know how many users visit your website. With the help of Google Analytics, you can see the number of visitors to your store, where they’re coming from, which device they’re using, and much more.

What Does Google Analytics Do?

Google Analytics offers information about user behavior that can be critical for your business. There are many reasons why you should be using Google Analytics.

Here are some of its benefits:

  • Measure your website’s performance
  • See if your marketing efforts are working
  • Get inspiration for which type of content to create or products to list on your website
  • Divide users into different segments (like age, gender, country, device, etc.) to see which ones are more engaged
  • Figure out which website pages to optimize to boost conversions

Alright, let’s dive into our tutorial.

How to Use Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics is intimidating at first glance, but with this tutorial and some practice, you’ll be using it to read and understand your website’s data in no time.

Step 1: Create a Google Analytics Account and Add The Tracking Code

The first thing you’ll need to do is create a Google Analytics account and add a tracking code to your website.

If you need help with these two steps, you can follow our easy guides on setting up a Google Analytics account and how to add the tracking code to your WordPress website to get started. If your website isn’t on WordPress, find out how to add Google Analytics to your CMS.

So, what is a tracking code?

Your Google Analytics tracking code is a snippet of code that allows Google Analytics to track the visits on your website and the actions that your website visitors perform. It’s made up of a programming language called JavaScript and looks something like this:

Google Analytics tracking code example

You don’t need to understand the contents of the code, but you might like to know how it all works.

When a user visits your website, Google Analytics will drop a cookie on the user’s browser. Cookies are small files that contain information about the user’s activities.

Using these cookies, Google Analytics will be able to see how the user behaves on your website and collect this information to show you in different reports.

Step 2: Set up Conversions

If you want Google Analytics to tell you how many of your visitors completed a conversion, like signing up for your newsletter, filling out a form, watching a video, viewing a certain page, or buying a product, you’ll have to set up conversions.

Google Analytics 4 can automatically track some events on its own with its Enhanced Measurement tracking, like file downloads, video views, form submissions, and a few more. However, keep in mind that there are a few constraints with GA4’s built-in enhanced tracking. For instance, video tracking only works with YouTube videos, form tracking has some reported issues if you’re also using a Facebook Pixel, and scroll tracking only fires if a user scrolls to the bottom of your pages.

To set up enhanced measurement, head to the Admin cog, then Data Streams:

GA4 Data Streams admin screen - Beginner's Guide to Google Analytics

After that, click into your data stream:

GA4 dashboard data streams

Now, you’ll see an Enhanced Measurement section. If you want Google Analytics to attempt to track events on its own, make sure this is flipped on.

Once it’s switched on, you can click on the cog icon to choose what’s automatically tracked:

GA4 enhanced measurement settings

NOTE: There’s a better way to track events if you’re a WordPress user! Make sure to check out MonsterInsights, the easiest way to set up event and conversion tracking in GA4. MonsterInsights users, please make sure your enhanced measurement is turned off (except for Site search if you’d like to automatically track site searches).

Now, you can mark whichever events you want tracked as conversions. So, when someone completes an event of your choice (downloading a file, submitting a form, etc.) it’ll count as a conversion in Google Analytics. Note that conversions are called ‘key events’ in Google Analytics.

To do this, head to the Admin cog » Key events.

edit key events ga4

Then, you’ll be able to click the switch to mark an event as a key event and, thereby a conversion:

mark event as key event ga4

Looking to set up eCommerce tracking? That’s a bit more complicated, but you can check out how easy it is with MonsterInsights and WordPress.

Google Analytics Beginner’s Guide: Reports

Once you’ve created an account and added the tracking code, it’s time to see what can you do with Google Analytics.

As you start, you’ll arrive at Google Analytics home. It gives you a quick overview of how your website is performing.

GA4 home dashboard - default - Beginner's Guide to Google Analytics

For instance, you can see:

  • Users: How many visitors came to your website (in the past 7 days or whatever date period you have selected)
  • New users: Of the users who visited your site, how many of them hadn’t visited your website before
  • Average engagement time: How much average time a visitor spends on the website
  • Event count: How many events (clicks, form submissions, etc.) were completed

On the left-hand side panel, you’ll see a navigation sidebar that expands when you mouse over it:

GA4 sidebar navigation

To access your reports, head to the Reports tab.

GA4 reports navigation

You’ll see a new navigation with Google Analytics reports:

  • Reports snapshot
  • Realtime
  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Monetization
  • Retention
  • Demographics
  • Tech

Let’s take a look at each of these reports, what they track, and how you can use them.

Realtime Report

Realtime Reports in GA4

The Realtime report shows the number of users on your website right now. This is where you go to see real-time activity on your website.

The main card overlaid on the world map shows how many users have visited your site in the last 30 minutes, plus what percentage of them were on desktop, mobile, or tablet-type devices.

When you scroll down the page, you’ll see cards with different real-time data to check out:

GA4 realtime cards

Realtime reports are great for measuring the performance of a recent campaign that you’re running, like a sale, free giveaway, or promoting content on social media.

Acquisition Report

The Acquisition report in Google Analytics breaks down your website traffic. If you want to figure out how you acquired your traffic, this is the report to find that data. We recommend starting with the Traffic Acquisition report to see the channels your visitors used to find your website:

Traffic Acquisition report - GA4

As you are getting started with Google Analytics, acquisition reports are extremely useful. They’ll tell you how your traffic reaches your website.

Google Analytics will divide your web traffic into traffic categories such as:

  • Organic Search: Organic traffic is the traffic that comes from search engines like Google or Bing
  • Direct: This is the traffic that arrives when someone types in your website’s URL, opens your website through a bookmark, or when Google cannot recognize the traffic source
  • Referral: Referral traffic is the traffic that comes from links to your site elsewhere on the web
  • Paid Search: If you’re running Google Ads, that traffic will show up here
  • Organic Social: This is the non-ad traffic that arrives from social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter

If you want more detail, you can dig deep in the Acquisition report to find traffic sources.

For instance, to see more exact channels, click the Session default channel group dropdown:

Traffic acquisition report dropdown

From the dropdown, choose Session source/medium. Then, you’ll be able to see more detail about exactly which traffic sources sent traffic to your site.

Traffic acquisition source medium

With this information, you will know where to invest your time and money. For instance, if you’re lacking organic traffic, you need to focus more on search engine optimization.

Engagement Report

When it comes to finding out what your visitors are doing while they’re on your website, you need to look at the Engagement report in Google Analytics. This is where you can see events your visitors trigger, conversions they completed, and pages they visited.

GA4 engagement report

In this section, the most helpful report for beginners is Pages and screens. It includes both events and conversions for each page. Let’s take a look.

GA4 pages and screens report

In this report, you’ll see all your pages that were visited in the time period you have selected. For each page, you’ll see:

  • Views
  • Users
  • Views per user
  • Average engagement time
  • Event count
  • Key events (formerly called conversions)
  • Total revenue

With all of this data, you can see which of your pages are getting the most views, how much time visitors are spending on them, and whether any conversions occurred on each page. This gives you an overview of how each of your pages is performing.

In the same Engagement section, you’ll find a Landing page report. This report has many of the same metrics as the Pages and screens report, but is landing pages (pages your visitors landed on when they visited your site) instead of all pages.

GA4 standard landing pages report

Monetization Report

The monetization report is a report for eCommerce websites that sell products (whether they’re physical or digital). If you do sell through your website, you’ll have to set up eCommerce tracking in order to track those sales.

If you have WordPress, you can learn more about setting up eCommerce tracking with MonsterInsights. If you don’t have WordPress, you’ll want to look into setting it up using Google Tag Manager.

Once you’ve got eCommerce running, the Monetization report will show you eCommerce metrics for each of your products:

New GA4 monetization report

Demographics Report

The demographics report tells you more about your audience, like where they’re from, gender, age, and language. This can help you understand your audience and tailor your content for them.

GA4 Demographics

Tech Report

The tech report tells you what technology your users used to visit your site, whether they were on desktop, mobile, or a tablet. You can also learn their operating system, browser, and screen resolution.

GA4 Tech Report

That’s our rundown of the reports in Google Analytics 4. The more time you spend looking at them and playing around with them, the better you’ll get at finding meaningful data.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basic reports, you can try creating custom Explore reports.

Now, let’s take a look at a much easier way to use Google Analytics for WordPress users.

MonsterInsights Makes Google Analytics Easier

MonsterInsights is the most user-friendly Google Analytics plugin for WordPress.

It enables anyone, including beginners, to install, set up and use Google Analytics in WordPress easily, without having to touch any code.

MonsterInsights offers different reports that make finding meaningful data in Google Analytics very easy.

Overview Report

First, it’s the website overview report. You can see a graphical presentation of the sessions and pageviews for your site. Then, below that, you’ll see the total number of sessions, total page views, average duration per session, and total users.

MonsterInsights Overview Report

Below the top graph, you’ll also see these metrics in the overview report:

  • New vs. returning users
  • Device breakdown – Proportion of users on desktop, tablet, and mobile
  • Top 10 countries your visitors are from
  • Top 10 referral websites sending you traffic
  • Top posts/pages

Traffic Report

The second MonsterInsights report section is Traffic. Within this section, you’ll be able to access six different reports with vital information about your traffic, including what channels they used to find your website, what devices they were using, what landing pages they landed on, whether or not they converted, and more.

MonsterInsights Traffic Reports dropdown

Publishers Report

The next report you can view in the MonsterInsights dashboard is the Publishers Report. There you’ll find your top landing pages, top outbound links, top affiliate links, top download links, demographics, scroll depth, and interest categories in this report.

Top Landing Pages Report

There’s also a pages report in this section, where you’ll get more details about all of your top most visited pages.

Search Console Report

The fourth report tab is the Search Console report where you can view the top search queries your users use on search engines to find your site.

MonsterInsights Search Console Report

Learn more about connecting MonsterInsights and Google Search Console.

eCommerce Report

Also in MonsterInsights is the eCommerce report, which provides a great overview of your online shop’s performance. You can view your shop’s conversion rate, the number of transactions, how much revenue you’ve generated, and your average order value.

MonsterInsights eCommerce Report - GA4

Plus, you can see the list of your top products and many more useful metrics about your online shop.

User Journey Report

The User Journey report shows you the steps users took when they made a purchase on your eCommerce website. This report isn’t in the top navigation inside the MonsterInsights dashboard, but you can reach it by navigating to Insights » User Journey:

MonsterInsights User Journey Report

Custom Dimensions Report

The next report is the Custom Dimensions Report. This is where you can set up and track helpful data that Google Analytics doesn’t track out of the box on its own, including:


For more on MonsterInsights custom dimensions, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics Custom Dimensions.

Forms Report

Next in MonsterInsights is the Forms Report. It automatically tracks all the forms on your site without any setup (beyond installing our addon) and gives you data on their conversion rate and submissions.

MI Forms Report

Realtime Report

Do you like following your traffic immediately after sending out email or social media campaigns? Open the MonsterInsights Realtime report to see how many people are currently on your site, what pages they’re on, and where they’re from.

Realtime report - GA4 updated

Site Speed Report

The speed of your website can impact a lot of things, including how you rank in search and how much organic traffic you get. That’s really important! So, you can access your up-to-the-minute site speed report inside MonsterInsights at any time.

MonsterInsights Site Speed


Do you have videos embedded on your website? If so, you can see how many times they’re getting watched with the MonsterInsights media report.

New MonsterInsights Media Report

Those are the reports you’ll find inside MonsterInsights, but don’t forget about Site Notes! Head to Insights » Site Notes to take notes about all your important marketing or design activities and keep track of what you did, when:

Insights - Site Notes

Get started with MonsterInsights now!

All these metrics are really important to learn about your users so you can improve your marketing strategies and SEO, and boost your conversions.

We hope this article helped you understand how Google Analytics works.

You might also like to check out our article on the Top 11 Important Google Analytics Metrics to Track.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for more helpful Google Analytics tips.

Want to Try MonsterInsights for Free?

Enter the URL of Your WordPress website to install MonsterInsights Lite.


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  10. RH
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