Starting tips for using Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a powerful and easy-to-use web analytics tool. However, although it’s straightforward to use its reports, there are some basic practices, customisations and required skills which make the tool even more powerful. Here are a few things that can make a basic Google Analytics implementation better.
Getting your house in order
In addition to accurate data, clean data is crucial for generating insights. So once you’ve verified your data you need to ensure you’re filtering, storing and maintaining it correctly.
Filters– these are crucial; you want to make sure your data is clean, so exclude any internal visits, that is traffic generated by you and your company. Similarly, you might want to improve the quality of your data by implementing a lowercase filter, so that any URIs with different cases are merged into one, removing duplication.
Profiles – Now that you’ve adhered to the first rule in analytics (filter your data) you need to break it. Create a back-up profile with no filters on at all, so that you always have access to all your data.
URL parameters – another recommended data cleaning procedure is to strip out any unwanted URL parameters from your reporting. Doing this will allow you to more accurately report on pages in GA by combining pages in your reporting which are differentiated by unrequired URL parameters. This could also be an opportunity for creating a new profile, with the inclusion/exclusion of different combinations of URL parameters based on their importance to reporting and the site.
Customising your analytics
Whilst the out-of-the-box Google Analytics can provide some great reports, you’re not going to get any real insight until you’ve tailored it to your site. There are two parts to this – customising the tracking of your site, and customising the reporting within the console.
As well as implementing the GA tags on every page of your site, you can customise the tracking to allow Google to report on what makes your site different. For example, you can use custom variables to report on the different areas of your site – categorising pages into different types or tracking those visitors who log into your site.
You can also use event tracking to determine how people are interacting with your site. For example you can track links to external sites, monitor how many people click on email address links, or track how often errors appear on the site.
There are a number of ways to customise the reporting within the console. Segmentation can allow you to uncover all sorts of insights by breaking down your data into more targeted groups. Custom reports allow you to take the standard reporting that Google provides and make it more tailored to your site, creating a new version of an existing report and adding the relevant goals and metrics to report on it. It also allows you to drill into dimensions that are of particular interest to you, perhaps looking at landing pages by source to determine how different landing pages affect the conversion of different referring sites.
If your site has a search facility, make sure you track it! Google Analytics reporting on this drips insights, and by simply typing in the search parameter your site uses into the GA profile settings, you can uncover what’s being searched for, where, and with what results.
Things that aren’t obvious
There are a number of things in Google Analytics that aren’t immediately obvious. I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of them.
Firstly, cross domain tracking. If your site spans more than one domain or subdomain, then just pasting in the standard Google Analytics tracking code onto all of these pages isn’t going to cut it. If you want to treat these different domains as part of the same site, then you need to tell GA this, so that cookies set by the different sites can be shared, and the data passed across. Failure to do this will mean that you’ll see your site appearing as a referrer within its own reporting. Unfortunately the support for this page isn’t as clear as it could be, but this is an absolute necessity for accurate reporting.
Another confusing quirk is the required step checkbox within Google Analytics funnel reporting. This filters visitors to the funnel, so that only those who enter the funnel through this step are reported. However, and this is the unclear bit, this only applies to the funnel visualisation report. It has no effect on the number of visits which convert against this goal. To determine how people converted having seen this page, you’ll need to build an advanced segment.
Helpful skills and tools
In addition to pimping your GA account as I’ve just described, there are a few other ways you push GA to better help you get more out of it.
Whilst being on top of your AND/OR logic is helpful for constructing some niche advanced segments, learning regex can really help you get GA do exactly what you want. This also comes into its own for building more complex filters, and for filtering reports within the console.
If you’ve got this far, you’ll have realised that although you can clean, customise and segment your data in Google Analytics to your heart’s content, when it comes to really interrogating that data, it can fall down a bit. Excel can help here, and is also useful for building bespoke reports using your data. Although GA’s dashboard reporting has improved of late, if you want to get something truly bespoke and in a tool which everyone can understand and get access to Excel is probably your best bet. There are a number of third party tools out there which can assist with exporting your data into Excel, and then allowing you to refresh the data within Excel, rather than having to copy and paste each time the report needs updating.
Last but not least
The best way to learn how to use Google Analytics is to dive in and use it. Make sure you read all the latest blogs – the blog role in the Google Analytics blog is a good starting point. There are new tools, reports and hacks coming out all the time!