We're building Akira an analytics based website using Microsoft Azure and WordPress. In the future, we're going to want to run experiments and test things on the site that will lead to higher conversions and more money. To do that, we need to start collecting as much data as we can right from the start.
In the realm of web analytics, Google still reigns supreme with the Google Analytics platform. Microsoft does have an Application Insights platform available from within Azure - but as of now doesn't provide the same level of detail one can get out of a standard Google Analytics setup. I'll be watching as Application Insights continues to develop though as it's always nice to keep everything under one roof.
Google Analytics collects data about the people using your website, where they come from, and what they do there. It's actually quite amazing the amount of data collected and made available to you (all for free, by the way). You can visualize funnels, see graphs of usage/visitors and traffic over time and track specific events that you're interested in (such as a click on a button or reading a page leading to a sale). We'll get into the analytics analysis and experimentation phase later, but for now, we just want to set things up so that all that data starts getting collected so it's available later on.
In Part One of the Installing WordPress Plugins series - we made some changes to the PHP settings in Azure so that we could install and run some of the more complex/larger WordPress plugins available. The Google Analytics plugin we're going to use is not one of them. We could have skipped that last lesson and come straight here, but at least now your site is ready to handle some of the plugins I'm going to ask you to install in Part Three. First, though, you need to know how to install a WordPress plugin on your site.
Installing a WordPress Plugin
The whole process is really simple and straight forward. Let's get to it and install a Google Analytics plugin.
- Login to your WordPress site. Remember to do that you want to head to your site's login page - http://akiracustomtattoos.azurewebsites.net/wp-login.php (obviously replace akiracustomtattoos with the name of your site if you're building something as you follow along.
- When you login - you're taken to your WordPress Dashboard. Have a look, but the part you're interested in right now is the plugins link on the left navigation bar. Find and click that.
- You'll notice that when you hover over Plugins - another navigation menu appears to go direct to installed plugins, add new, etc... That can speed things up for you in the future, but for now, just click on Plugins. When you do, you'll be taken to a page that shows all your installed plugins. From here, we'll do two things:
- 1 - Delete the Hello Dolly plugin. It comes installed as part of the default WordPress installation. You can leave it if you like, but I prefer to keep things as clean as possible. So hit the Delete button. It will say deleting and then be replaced with a message saying it was successfully deleted.
- 2 - Click on Add New to get to the massive gallery of available plugins for your WordPress installation. The possibilities are virtually endless and the ones you see in the gallery are only some of what is available. You can always build your own WordPress plugin or install one that is being sold or given away elsewhere by uploading it to your site instead of choosing from the gallery.
- You may notice that there is one other plugin already installed as part of the default installation - the Akismet plugin. Leave that one there. We'll set it up in the future as it fights spam. You will end up with spammers trying to take over your comments section/create user accounts on your site if we don't configure something like Akismet to stop them.
- From the Add New Plugins page - you'll search for the Google Analytics plugin, pick one and install it. Follow the step-by-step below to do that.
- 1 - Type Google Analytics in the search box. You don't need to hit enter - the search results will update automatically as you type.
- 2 - Find the Google Analytics plugin written by Kevin Sylvestre. You'll notice there are many, many plugins for Google Analytics and sometimes choosing the best one to do what you want to do is difficult. A couple of tips for choosing good plugins will be discussed more in Part Three - but notice the things I've underlined. In general, you want a highly rated plugin from a significant number of people. It should be compatible with the version of WordPress you are running and you should see that it is being actively maintained (last updated 3 days ago). There's never a guarantee that the plugin you choose if the best one, but those are pretty good indicators. Plus, you can always rely on Vital Point Analytics for recommended plugins.
- After clicking install, the button will change to installing, then installed, then Activate. During the installation process, the files are being downloaded to your Azure server and the necessary database tables are being setup. Installing is only half the process - you have to click the Activate button when it shows up to actually turn the plugin on.
- Once activated, you'll be taken back to your list of installed plugins and you'll now see the Google Analytics plugin there. We'll cover WordPress management at a later time, but occasionally plugins are updated by the developer. When that happens, you'll have an update notification and when you visit your installed plugins, you'll see a link to update the plugin. All you have to do at that point is click update and the new version will be installed and activated. You don't have to change any settings or anything - it just works.
- Congratulations, you've just installed your first WordPress plugin and your site almost ready to collect analytics data. I say almost because you now need to configure the plugin.
Configuring the Google Analytics WordPress Plugin
Most plugins don't just start working as expected right after installation and activation. Usually you have to set them up and the Google Analytics plugin we just installed is no different. Now, sometimes, it can be a pain the ass trying to find where you actually input those settings. Usually, you'll find the settings page for the plugin by hovering over Settings in the left nav bar and then looking for the plugin name. Sometimes, the developer will put the settings page as a main heading in the left nav bar. If in doubt or you can't find the settings page, check the details for the plugin (installation or setup tab) from the installed plugins page. It may be listed there.
For this Google Analytics plugin - it's found under the settings menu. We'll go through it step-by-step in a moment.
Google Analytics is what is known as a third-party service. That just means it isn't part of WordPress/Azure - it's a standalone company and the plugin we just installed talks back and forth to that service. 99 times out of 100 that means you need to setup an account with the company the plugin is trying to talk to. That is the case with Google Analytics.
All the Google Analytics plugin does is inject a tracking code into each page of your website. When someone visits, a bunch of data is sent to Google who collects it on your behalf, stores it, and lets you interact with it. All of that requires that you have a Google Analytics account, so let's set that up now if you don't already have one.
- Go to Google Analytics.
- If you already have a Google Account (from Gmail or other Google service) you can click Sign in, choose Analytics from the drop down and sign in with your existing account. I recommend making a new one if your other account is used for personal things. This helps keep business/personal matters separate. To do that - Click on Sign up for Free and follow the process. The start of the process looks like this:
- The video above gives you a better idea of the whole Analytics signup process, but after you click Sign Up, you'll be guided to accept Google's TOS for your country and enter your website's information and timezone. Once done, you'll end up on the Admin page of your Google Analytics account.
- From this page, you need the Tracking Id for your website which I've highlighted in the picture below. They always start with UA, have a bunch of numbers, then a dash, then another number like UA-123453334-1. Copy your tracking ID.
- Now we'll head back over to our website, Akira's Custom Tattoos and make sure we're on the settings page for the Google Analytics plugin. There is a box there for the Tracking ID, which we paste into and hit Save Changes. You'll see a message "Settings Saved".
- Congratulations. At this point Google Analytics is now talking to our website and collecting data as people visit. When you head back over to Google Analytics and login to your analytics account you see the following and some day you'll even start to see numbers show up.
In Summary - Installing and Configuring a Google Analytics Plugin
As you can see, it is super easy to install and configure most WordPress plugins. We've even taken the first steps to ensure Akira's site is collecting the kind of data that will enable decision-quality information to be generated from the data being collected. While Google Analytics is not the only web analytics platform available that we could use, it is by far the most widespread. I've been using it since it arrived so it's what I know and what I'm teaching, but you could follow the same steps to install/use a different platform if you're dead set against Google.
One word of caution - it can be tempting to install every plugin you can find. Why wouldn't you want to provide all that functionality if you can? Well, every plugin you install has both a storage requirement and a computing requirement. It uses up resources and can slow your site down - especially if you install a badly coded plugin. Nobody likes a slow site and it will hurt your chances of making it a success.
Too many plugins also dilutes the focus of your website. You want to keep it honed in on delivering the best of what you want to offer and not try to be everything for everyone. If it's too scatter-brained, it's hard to use and people are drawn in a million different directions. You want to take them from looker to buyer (the conversion process) as fast and in as straight a line/simply as possible.
Now that we know how to install and configure basic Wordpress plugins, in Part Three of the Installing WordPress Plugin series, we'll install a number of recommended plugins that make building a successful and profitable website thousands of times easier and quicker than trying to do it all from scratch.