Digging Deeper With Analytics

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Google Analytics suffers from a perception problem.  It is the most commonly used website analytics package most likely because it is free and easy to use .  But few are compelled to truly discover what is possible with Analytics.  Whatever the reason, there is a lot of power under the surface that I think many could benefit from.  So without further ado, here are the “power features” of Google Analytics:


i. Profiles & Filters – In Analytics, a filter (or combination of filters) can be created to show only a certain subset of data, and this can be mapped to a profile.  Each user account can have up to 50 profiles, so this provides a sort of “view” of the larger application that you can use if you find yourself often needing to looking at certain subsets of data.  For example, what if you wanted to only look at your Canada traffic, separate from US, or Mobile compared to desktop? You could easily track these in separate profiles and make it possible to easily drill down into the reports to only reflect those subsets of users.

Below is a diagram illustrating the structure of an Analytics account:Analytics Structure

ii. Goals & Funnels – One of the real power features is the ability to specify goals and track visual conversion funnels based upon the progression from a landing page to the specified goal.  When you create a goal, you enable Analytics to determine the efficacy of any ad or form on your site.  Combine that with proper campaign tagging and you’ll be able to track through which campaigns are converting better than others.  Or even better, combine it with the pass-through of cost data from AdWords, and now you can see your exact customer acquisition costs and ROI.  Goals don’t necessarily need to be purchase or signup oriented either, though this is obvious the main use for them.  You could however also setup goals to track how long someone spends on your site, or how many pages they read.  This is the beginning of real accountability in your analytics data, as you begin to think about all of the goals you could set and test for.Converison Funnel

iii. Site Search - When you setup a profile for a website, you also have the opportunity to setup search tracking.  You just need to specify the search query parameter during setup, and Analytics will begin tracking for you, what everyone has searched for.  This can be tremendously valuable information as you try to determine what products you should be carrying, or what aspects of the site perhaps are difficult to locate.  To have that facility built in to Analytics is fantastic.

iv. Tagging – If you currently run advertising campaigns and want to track the results from the campaigns, Google Analytics provides a set of tags that you can add as query string parameters when specifying the destination URL of your campaign.  By adding these tags, Analytics will be able to track and properly attribute use trends and conversions, for the proper campaigns.  Again similar to Site search – these are things that can be accomplished outside of Analytics, but it sure is convenient that its already built in right there!   And what if you’re using Google AdWords for some of your advertising campaigns?  Provided you have integrated Google AdWords and Analytics products together, you simply need to toggle on the auto tagging option in AdWords, and the system will take care of munging URLs with proper tags behind the scenes.  And don’t worry if you’re not a techie and aren’t comfortable tagging your own URLs – Google has provided a tool to do this for you, if needed.

Analytics Tagging Parameters

v. eCommerce  – The eCommerce tracking is really pretty powerful.  On each checkout page, you just need to add a little javascript to create a transaction object and add each item that was purchased to the object.  Later, you’ll then be able to breakdown items sold compared to transactions and overlay this data with your goals and funnels.
eCommerce Report

vi. Event Tracking - This is the part where I get really excited!  Imagine you have a sophisticated AJAX or Flash application that constitutes numerous “virtual page views” that you’d like to track, even though the page does not refresh.  Doable.  Using a couple simple Javascript API calls, you can record a virtual page or an event and can run reports on the data just like other page data.  You could probably even do the same with your video, by pushing an event every few seconds to track just how deep into the play people are going.  Or, track the download of a static file such as a PDF, or outbound click to another site, using a JavaScript onClick event to report the event to Analytics.  This really opens the doors to possibilities for better client-side interface tracking.

Analytics Event Tracking

vii. Custom Reports – There is a drag and drop tool for building custom reports that can later be accessed just like the predefined reports.  Imagine you are reporting custom fields or have some specified view that you want to create in a single report rather than needing to refer to several others.  It is all possible here.  And when you’re done, schedule the report to be sent to you via email each week while you’re at it.
Analytics Custom Reports

There really is so much more here once you start to dig into the minutia, particularly as you start to look at how to combine and factor these features in very custom patterns.  So many details are customizable as well, either through account settings or via the API.  So if you haven’t gotten to know Google Analytics at a deeper level yet, perhaps it is time.  Try digging just a little below the surface and see what you find!