There are three certainties in life:

Death, taxes, and the need for Google Analytics for website owners.

Google analytics is the easiest and most popular system used to track website traffic – and it gets bonus points for being free.

While it’s pretty intuitive to use, it can seem overwhelming when you log in for the first time. The left hand navigation bar has more information than you’ll probably need, unless you eventually become a massive site with an extreme obsession for optimizing every aspect.

It’d be a waste of your time and mine to cover every feature here, but here are the essential stats you’ll want to check out frequently.

1. Home Page Overview

When you first check into your account, you’ll notice a date-based graph, and some info about the people visiting your site. For me, it’s extremely useful to set the date range to cover the life of your site. This will give you an overview of how you’ve done on a broad scale and whether you’re improving.

Beneath the graph, the stats I care about are Sessions, Pages/Session, and Avg. Session Duration. Your sessions are your total hits on your site (it’s kinda like the benchpress of the Internet world – the number that everyone brags about). The pages and duration stats are important because they give you an indication of how well your site grabs attention. The more interesting your site, the higher these numbers will go.

2. Where Traffic Comes From

On the left nav bar, navigate to Acquisition -> All Traffic. Here, you’ll get a list of how everyone found your site, in order of what source sent you the most. By changing the date range, you can see by day, week, or month.

For my sites, I use this to test how well certain strategies are working. If I spend 10 hours on a guest post, and that site sends me 5 visitors, clearly that strategy isn’t worth my time. If you notice that Pinterest is sending you loads of traffic, maybe a little more time spent there can pay bigger dividends.

3. Which Pages are the Most Popular

Navigate to Behavior -> Site Content -> All Pages. This view will show you which of your pages are the most popular. Understanding which pages do well can help you optimize your site. For example, if you notice that your About page is kicking butt, you could put an opt-in form there to add more contacts to your email list.

Also, if you’re running a blog, you can get a great indication of which types of posts are popular. The posts that show up near the top are the ones that people are the most interested in, so create more similar content.

You can also use the search bar just below the graph to find specific pages.

4. Mobile, Tablet, or Desktop

Head to Audience -> Mobile -> Overview. While this view isn’t terribly important for the overall success of your site, it does give you insight to how people are searching for your site. I’m guessing you’ll probably be surprised at the percentage of visits that come from mobile phones and tablets.

This is incredibly useful because there’s a good chance your site doesn’t cater to those crowds. Most sites, unless designed to be responsive, are clunky and difficult to navigate on a smart phone or tablet. Use this information to create a more user-friendly site.

Of course, there is some cool demographics information that you can glean from Google Analytics, but you do have to enable it in your account. You may be concerned about privacy issues with your visitors, but the demographics sections can help you cater your site to the audience you’ve attracted.

How has Google Analytics helped in your business?