In the past, we've often mentioned Google Analytics as a great tool that helps you learn more about how visitors reach your website and what they do once they get there. But now's a good time to take a step back and talk about how to get started with Google Analytics from the very first step. This will be the first post in a series of "Analytics 101" articles that will walk you through sign up, installation, and using reports.

The WAY Beginning: What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free, hosted web analytics service that provides useful data for website and marketing optimization. Site owners and marketers can make better informed decisions about their sites and campaigns by using metrics from Google Analytics reports. Google Analytics works by collecting information about your site traffic and advertising campaigns, combining this with e-commerce and conversion information to provide insight into the performance of your marketing efforts and site content.

Anyone can sign up using a Google account by visiting You don't even need to have an AdWords account beforehand.

How do I sign up and install Google Analytics?

After signing up for a Google Analytics account comes the most important part of installation -- the tracking code snippet. Every Analytics user is given a unique piece of JavaScript code to insert in all site pages immediately before the </body> tag. The code snippet may look like something like this example below:

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + " ' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
<script type="text/javascript">
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-#####-#");

(For illustrative purposes only.)

Your "UA-#####-#" number will be unique to you. It's important to insert the code on all of your site's pages; otherwise Analytics won't be giving you the whole picture of what's going on.

If you're not ready to insert the code now, you can always retrieve this code later. Depending on the size of your site and the number of pages you need tagged, you may want to discuss installation with your webmaster, if you have one.

How do I view my reports?

After you've finished signup, you'll be taken to the Analytics Settings page. The Status box on the right side of this page will let you know whether the code has been properly inserted. It's important to note, however, that it takes anywhere from a few hours to a full day after code installation for your reports to start gathering and showing information.

Once the Status box in the Analytics Settings page says that you're receiving data, you can click the View Reports link to receive reports about your website traffic. Like this:

(Click on the image for a full-sized version)

That's it for this first installment of Google Analytics 101. Try playing around with a few reports -- the Analytics interface is specifically designed to be intuitive and "discoverable," so to speak. If you can't wait to learn more, the Analytics Help Center is a great resource for information. Look for the next installment soon, when we'll explain more about administering your account and using your reports.