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Using Google Analytics to Measure Traffic to Your WordPress Blog

(Reading time: 8 – 14 minutes)

Google Analytics is an excellent first choice for a tool to measure the traffic to your website. It’s freely available with your Google account, easy to get started with, and has very powerful capabilities you learn to exploit as your experience grows.

First, head on over to the Google Analytics official help pages, and poke around a bit. If it just makes so much sense, great, you’re ahead of the power curve. If you feel a little bit lost under that avalanche of information, read on and we’ll peel this onion a little more slowly.

WordPress Google Analytics plugin

Since you’re using WordPress, you need to install Joost de Valk’s Google Analytics plugin. Actually, you’re of course free to install anyone’s plugin, or paste in the Google Analytics code by hand… it won’t make too much difference… but Website In A Weekend uses Joost’s plugin, which means we can answer any questions you have about it.

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Joost’s plugin is so well documented on hundreds if not thousands of pages all over the internet it’s practically a waste of time to write a single word about it. However, writing about something is a great way to learn about it, so here’s a short overview that will benefit both of us.

Put the tracking number you get from Google Analytics into the green box shown in the screenshot below. Use your own tracking number, I scribbled mine out. Leave “script insertion” into the footer by default.

That’s it!

Google Analytics basics

The Analytics main menu is in the upper left sidebar

Analytics main menu is in upper left sidebar

If you have experience at all with Google Analytics, feel free to skip over this section. Then again, you may be familiar with just 2 or 3 of these 5 sets of tools, so a quick scan can’t hurt.

  • Dashboard view, which can be customized so that you see only the reports and data that interest you. You can also specify different views of the data, for example to compare time different periods of time, perhaps month by month or year over year. Basically every report available on GA can be seen in the dashboard provided you specify it’s configuration.
  • Visitors view provides 22 kinds of built in reports (at the time of writing) and the capability for you to define your own custom reports. When you’re just starting out, reports on how long people stayed on your site and the number of new versus returning visitors is important. Later, you may need to gather information on what kind of browsers and computer hardware people are using to best serve their needs. There’s a lot here, poke around.
  • Traffic Sources will show you where your traffic came from. Traffic to Website In A Weekend is split evenly between search engine, links from comments and forums, and direct access from the browser. My hunch is that once people have visited Website In A Weekend before, they will return on a direct browser access because the URL is so easy to remember. That’s my interpretation of the data (right or wrong).
  • Content view displays what posts have been and remain currently popular. Curiously, the article on problems with FTP access in WordPress is by far the most popular post on the site. There may be two reasons for this. The first is that I wrote the article right when WordPress 2.8 was released, because it was something I had to fix. The second is that people tend to run 10 times faster from pain… than towards pleasure.
  • Goals view is the Big One. This is where you make your money, by tracking people’s web browsing and buying behavior. Google makes it fairly simple to get started on tracking and analyzing, but the tools support an intricate level of detail, which takes time to master.

There’s a lot here. It’s going to take some time to get familiar with all these tools, much less comfortable. So let’s get started by setting a goal… something to keep our interest up.

Woops. Out of music… Bitches Brew is finished. Time to put on something new. Since I’m feeling a bit sleepy, the toss up is between something loud and fast like Metallica to wake me up, or something smooth and mellow that won’t piss me off. I’ll go for the smooth and mellow, some deep house from Ben Watt out of the Lazy Dog series. Don’t feel like being pissed off right now.

Ok, that problem (music) solved, let’s get on with the show.

Goal setting in Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a powerful tool, but most of this power is far beyond most people’s knowledge. What we’re going to do is very lightly touch on a feature called “goal setting” which will allow you to measure the effectiveness of your web pages for leading readers where you want them. That is, converting prospect’s into customers.

In a nutshell, a “goal” is a web page that sits at the end of a “process.” The process is the chain pf activities you create leading the viewer to the goal. If you want to make money from your web pages, that goal will end in the customer parting with cash. We’re going to start a little slower though, and track registrations for the email newsletter.

Tracking email newsletter registrations with Google Analytics

To show you how to set up goals, I’m going to walk you through the two goals set up for Website In A Weekend for measuring newsletter subscriptions. Later, once this article gets published, I’ll add another goal starting from here and ending at the same page.

Here’s the procedure, written out:

  1. Navigate to the “Analytics Settings” page for your account profile. If you just started out, this is easy: you will have just one account.
  2. Find the profile you want to track. If you just started out, this is easy: you will have just one profile.
  3. Click the “Edit” link to the far left, as shown in the screenshot, to take you a page allowing you to define goals.
    Editing Google Analytics Profile

    Editing Google Analytics Profile

  4. Now, you should see a table that looks just about like this one:
    Analytics allows 4 goals per profile

    Analytics allows 4 goals per profile

    The red box [1] is the source URL, where you the user start into my funnel. The green box [2] is where I want you to end up. Make sure you remember to check the “On” box as shown in orange [3], otherwise, Google won’t collect any data!

  5. Now we get to the real action, setting up the conversion funnel. Check out the tall screenshot below:
    Setting up a Google Analytics funnel

    Setting up a Google Analytics funnel

    Important: Make sure you check “Active Goal” as shown in the yellow box. Otherwise, GA won’t collect any data. Proceeding down the page showing the details for G2 in the previous screenshot, the second red box is where I want you to end up… by going through the newsletter page. This means you subscribed to the newsletter! The green box is a name for my convenience. The lowest orange box is the path I am tracking: if you were reading “Building An Audience Using Confirmed Opt-in Email Newsletters” and clicked on the link to take you to the newsletter page, this funnel will track it.

    The online help is very good. Read it to understand how “Match Type,” “Case Sensitive” and other parameters are defined. I’ll have a link below with an excellent layman’s explanation of these terms. They aren’t difficult to understand, take the time now to get it right.

    Later, after this article gets published, I’ll set up G3 such that it tracks your clicking from this page, to the Confirmed Optin article page, to the newsletter page, then to the subscribers page. But I can’t do that until I have a URL for this article.

Here’s what G2 looks like right now, 2 hours after I set it up:

Newsletter tracking funnel from Confirmed Optin article

Newsletter tracking funnel from Confirmed Optin article

I’ll post a comparison screenshot in a month or so. Y’all jump on it and sign up for the newsletter!

Much more information on Google Analytics

Goal setting can be complex, and is worth the time to master. These links might take you deeper into GA than you really thought you might want to go… but all the information is free, so dig in! Here’s some great links to get you on your way:

  1. Analytics Talk from EpikOne’s Justin Cutroni goes into very good detail on definitions you need to know on the terms used in goal setting and defining sales funnels. A must read.
  2. Online Marketing (Ireland) provides a very nice explanation GA funnels. Highly recommended.
  3. Here’s a great article on “How To Track WordPress Comments & RSS In Google Analytics” from Robert Kingston’s “Branding Rant” blog.
  4. Setting goals for blog registration requires adding Google Analytics code to the wp-login.php page, which may not be tracked by the Google Analytics plugin. (I should read the code… nah… I leave for the reader: dig through Joost’s source for GA Plugin to see whether he inserts tracking into the wp-login.php page.)
  5. Takayuki Miyoshi’s Contact Form 7 now allows tracking. That’s pretty cool! Now you can stuff your posts and pages full of hidden offers and measure the response.
  6. Ran Nir of Conversion Counts gives us an absolutely superb recap of 10 goals all websites serious about the online marketing – in any field – should be tracking: comments, social bookmarking, newsletter subscriptions, catalog (or whitepaper) requests, new accounts (or blog registrations), feed subscriptions, file downloads, call back requests, leads, and sales.

Searching on Google will get you plenty more, but I liked these and I think you will too.


  1. Google Analytics is a daily use tool for me. But I did not use the goal function after using it for 3 years. Just use it to keep track of my visitors.
    .-= Jayce´s last blog ..How to hack Facebook account profile =-.

  2. This is golden, boy (Dave) wonder.

    You manage to explain something that could so easily be dry and dull as ditchwater in the wrong hands, in an incredibly intuitive way.

    I need someone to love me who can tailor their analytical prowess to my particular situation. I imagine fulfilled by about 20 posts similar to this, my digital belly would be full and actionable insights would be popping from every orifice.

    For now though, I have to ask: Where do if I want to ask someone questions to give me a hitch up on the analytics scene?

    I read Kaushik, sure. But so few people give out killer tips like this – even in a paid environment – using visual cues the likes of which work really well in webinar and video contexts.

    Perhaps a webinar series on cute analytics for WordPress from Dr WordPress himself?

  3. Hey Dave, several of your links are unlinked – numbers 1, 2 and 3 have no link as I type this. :(

    (Yes, I’m still here – just not commenting so much)
    Ricky Buchanan´s last post ..MovieCaptioner 42


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