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The absolute beginner's guide for web analytics in start-ups

A step-by-step guide for Google Analytics and Hotjar Analytics

After setting up analytics in 15 start-up projects (and counting), we compiled the most important initial steps to create great web analytics. Quite on purpose this does not compile everything you can do within web analytics (it’s a lot), but it gets you to a great level with only one hour of work

The Playbook in Short

1. Setting up your Analytics

A. Identify your primary business and website  goals (write them down!)

B. Google Analytics: Setup goals and dashboards 

C. Hotjar: Setup heatmaps and recordings

2. Analysing your Data

A. Clarify what you’re looking for in your  analysis (write that down, too!)

B. Google Analytics: Monitor your dashboards, look for spikes and patterns to identify problems, and determine prioritized actions to take

C. Hotjar: Look at your session recordings to re-live real customer behaviour

1. Setting up your Analytics


Why every website owner needs analytics

The answer is very simple: to measure the success of your website. Whether it’s a personal blog, an online shop or just a static website, you will want answers to many of these questions and more: how many people visit my website? Where do my visitors come from? How many people converted into customers or leads? How does my website perform on mobile?

A) Identify the Key Objectives of your Website

Before installing any analytics tool on your website, you must be clear on what you are trying to achieve with your website. This makes it much easier to make meaningful analysis from web analytics. The most common website objectives are related to: 

  • Sales: purchase of your products or services
  • Lead generation: collecting e-mails or other customer data
  • Information: educating your visitors about your company & product

If you have clear objectives written out on a list, it will be much easier to set up your analytics and measure your success. Since most analytics tools provide you with extensive amounts of data, having clear objectives in mind will also prevent you from drowning in data browsing that is not relevant to these objectives.

B) Setup Google Analytics 

Google Analytics (GA) is just a great free and intuitive tool that is implemented quickly and easily. You need a Google account to install the tool. To implement GA to your website install it here and follow the instructions.

In the next step you have to generate a tracking-code snippet which has to be inserted into every page you want to track with GA for it to work on your website, which will result in a script like the one below. If you have difficulties to do this, there are great instructions on how to do this right here

Many websites today are built on Content Managements Systems (CMS), on which you actually don’t have to insert the script into the code of your website, but through a built-in plugin. You can find examples on how to to it for WebflowSquarespace and Wordpress right here.


Create your Goals in GA 

Goals are essentially the success measures of your website and should be the first thing you set up in your GA after installing. The important thing about your goals are that they should reflect the key objectives of your website identified in the previous step.

Your identified key objectives can be translated to actual clicks or visits on certain pages on one of your pages, which are traceable in GA if you set these up as goals. Examples of your goals in GA could be:

  • Sales: Visits to the purchase confirmation page (e.g. destination URL equals “”     or a click on a “Purchase” button)
  • Lead generation: Visits to the confirmation page after entering details in a form (e.g. destination URL equals “” or a click on a “Submit” button)
  • Information: a certain amount of visits to or time spent on a page (e.g. 2 or more minutes on URL which equals “”)

You should setup at least one goal in GA per website goal that you noted down in the first step to ensure that you have quantifiable results for each of your website goals.

You can create goals in the Admin panel. Click on ‘Goals’ and afterwards on ‘New Goal’.

Depending on the key objective you want to track, choose a template goal (e.g. “Place an order” for Sales) or create a custom goal.

Continue to enter a name for your goal, which should be representative of the goal (e.g. “Bought a product”), and enter the goal type (e.g. Destination).

In the last step, configure your goal details, which essentially triggers your goal to be counted (i.e. Destination equals “”). You can ignore the Value and Funnel options for now.

Before you save your goal you can click on ‘Verify this Goal’ to see what this goal count would have resulted in from data in the past 7 days. However, keep in mind if you just have set up GA, it might likely be close to 0, since it collects data only since tracking was implemented on your website.

Exclude your own (company’s) traffic

When traffic is low and you are working on your website frequently, you are likely to skew your data with your own traffic (and triggers of goals, for that matter). You can work around this by selecting a Filter and hitting ‘Add Filter’ in the GA Admin panel. 

Create a name that reflects what your filtering on, e.g. “exclude my companies traffic”. To do exactly this, you have to chose ‘Exclude’ on the filter type and chose ‘traffic from the IP addresses’ on the source and ‘that are equal to’ on the expression. To figure out which IP address to exclude, you can simply click on this Google link.

Implement your Dashboard 

Dashboards are an excellent way to quickly get an overview of your website performance and most important data in GA.

By default, no dashboard is setup – but we’ve got you covered: here’s a free start-up dashboard available for download which you can insert into GA within 1 minute. It will display your most important data regarding your website goals, traffic sources, conversion rates and more. You can customize your dashboard to your own needs by adding and deleting widgets with information you deem most important.

Snapshot of the Google Analytics Starter Dashboard

More inspiration for other dashboards can be found on the GA database, dashboards for specific purposes (ecommerce, mobile traffic, SEO etc.) can be found here.

Tracking your Traffic Sources

A major flaw from Google Analytics is that often you cannot directly identify where visitors come from, especially your direct traffic. This is especially relevant when you are pushing out content or using ads. You can however work around this by attaching Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters to the destination URL you are distributing. An example destination URL using UTM tags could be:

If you are not a pro with generating URLs with UTM parameters we’ve got you covered! We built a simple spreadsheet that automatically creates your URLs with UTMs in a list which are ready to post after you insert your destination URL and identifiers for your site traffic.

Snapshot of the automatic URL builder with UTM parameters (filled with an example URL)


Alerts keep you updated

We know you’re busy building your company, which is why you probably can’t check your GA data every day. This is where alerts come in handy.

You can set up alerts in the Admin panel. They trigger an email to your account when KPIs reach a certain point. These KPIs are widely customizable and can be anything such as a X% increase of your goals recorded, crossing a certain amount of traffic or dropping sales below a benchmark.

Other things to track in GA

There’s much much more potential to GA. If you want deeper analysis of your website performance, you should probably look into how to track other specific interactions with website elements (such as clicks on a button or video) with event tracking next. But for now you’re all set! 

C) Setup Hotjar

Since traffic is low at the beginning, it can be tough to get a feel for user behaviour just from Google Analytics. Hotjar’s web session recordings can give you much more detailed insights into your visitor behaviour. The tool stores user sessions on video and enables you to ‘re-live’ a user session. It also records all clicks, taps, scrolls and moves on your website and displays it on heatmaps.

Start your Recordings

Simply navigate to the Recordings panel and click on ‘Record Visitors’. The tool will deliver recordings with information such as browser type, OS, date, session length and the actual video itself. You can easily skip to clicks in a recording as they are highlighted in the video bar.

Snapshot of the Hotjar overview on your recorded web sessions

Create a Heatmap

Navigate to the Heatmaps panel and click ‘New Heatmap’. If you know what you’re looking for, Heatmaps are absolutely awesome, as this tool accumulates ever action of every user and displays the resulting heatmap on top of your website. Are users engaging with the site the way they’re supposed to? What content to they find most interesting? Hotjar’s Heatmaps will give you insights.

Hotjar offers further great tools such as conversion funnels or forms worth checking out. But for now, you’re all good!

2. Analysing your Data

A) Clarify your Analysis Goal

Don’t drown in your data

To prevent random browsing through various sources of data, find your focus, define your KPIs. What do you actually want to track? Your performance on mobile? Channel performance? Where users are dropping out? You will likely have identified at least parts of your analysis goals in the steps above.

You can easily get overwhelmed with the amount of data. Ergo: Try and focus on the goals that you set out and only look at data sources that can generate real findings for your problem. Again, writing down what you need can do miracles here.

B) Google Analytics 

Monitor your Dashboards

If you have set up good dashboards that monitor your true business and website goals, you’re half way home. A quick look on your dashboards will give you a good overview of your goal and website performance and act as a solid base for further investigation.

Acquisition Reports

If you can identify spikes in your dashboards, it is easy to get more information this incident. Click on the widgets in the dashboards where you identified irregularities to see the full GA report, and check out related reports. A very basic report that is good to start with (aside from your dashboard) is the Acquisition > Source / Medium report.

Snapshot of the GA “Acquisition” > “Source / Medium” report

The above screenshot is a good example of why UTM tracking can be very valuable. We can identify here that organic search on Google and referrals on Medium were two of the top three traffic sources. By far the top acquisition channel, however, is merely indicated as “direct / none”, which essentially means that Google Analytics doesn’t know where the traffic came from. 

Here’s where the Campaigns report comes in handy:

Snapshot of the GA “Acquisition” > “Campaigns” report

In these rows we can see much more clearly where visitors came from. For example, the second campaign name refers to the LinkedIn group called Growth Hacking Tactics. The fourth campaign name refers to a Reddit post in the group Startup Community. All these campaigns we individually defined, and you can do it super quickly with the free URL builder mentioned above.

Additionally, you can also connect AdWords to your GA in order to understand your PPC campaigns and to Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console to learn about search traffic to undergo Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Audience Reports

These reports tell you many things you need to know about your traffic. You can learn a lot about your visitors' age and gender (Demographics), their general interests (Interests), where they are located (Geo > Location), which language they speak (Geo > Language), how often come to your site (Behavior), and the browsers & devices they use to see your website (Technology and Mobile).


As you have already set up your goals in GA under the instructions above, this report will give you a detailed overview on how many conversions your website has received (Goals > Overview). It will also display on which pages they happened upon (Goals > Goal URLs). It’s also possible to see the path visitors took to complete the conversion and reach that goal (Goals > Reverse Goal Path).

C) Hotjar

What are you testing?

Hotjar published 8 heatmap tests that explain how to read and utilize your heatmaps in the best way. It’s great to check these out if you want to know where to look when solving for a specific problem that you identified through your GA data. 

Re-live the Customer Journey 

Looking at video recordings will probably give you the most detailed insights on user behaviour. Looking at 10-15 recordings (per device) is likely enough to identify patterns.

To begin with, select sessions that are between 1 and 3 minutes long, since these will likely be user that really engaged with your website and didn’t simply churn on first sight. You can skip to specific actions the user took, as they are indicated in the scrollbar beneath the video. Red dots are clicks, yellow dots are page switches, grey bars are scrolls, white horizontal bars indicate that the user was typing something.

Snapshot of a Hotjar User Session Recording. Check out all the information that comes with it!

 Look out for:

  • Scroll stops: What do people look at for an extended amount of time?
  • Clicks during recording (red dots in video bar): what do they really engage with?
  • Screens before exit: which content causes visitors to churn from the website?

More tips when looking at recordings:

  • Add custom tags while watching the recordings. What happened during this session? Examples could be “exit on price page” or “didn’t finish video”. This will help you prevent losing insights from a viewing a recording and also help you identify patterns as tags accumulate in different viewings.
  • When using chat on your website: do people really engage with an automatically opened chat window, or do they just click it away? If yes, consider leaving it folded and not automatically open a chat pop-up. Especially on mobile such a window can cover the entire screen and harm the experience of your users.

Determine your next Actions

It helps a lot if you make hands-on suggestions on what to change. This can be related to website content, setup, acquisition channels etc. On the basis of your analysis, rank your findings and recommendations by importance and distribute this to relevant people in your team. Implement the necessary changes and reassess your user behaviour. If you found that you want to significantly rebuild your website, you might want to have a look at this playbook for making awesome landing pages. Have you found problems in your growth strategy? Then you should look at the tools that the Growth Machine provides you with.

You’re all set! 

Good job, you should be at an all-around good level regarding your web analytics now.

How was your experience when dealing with your web analytics? Is the playbook missing anything important? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at We’re happy for any feedback!

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