I have used Google Analytics since well before web 2.0, but only recently did I spend a few hours reviewing their Conversion University course material and pass the Individual Google Analytics Qualification test to receive my Google Analytics certification. The tool is an indispensable part of any web user experience designers workshop and while a certification does not mean you’ve mastered the tool, it does allow you a solid baseline of understanding and reiterate the value of that the tool possesses.
Google Analytics is also less of a single tool than it is a compilation of strategies, trends, analysis, prospectives and possibilities. It is less about being the best at the long jump, and more about being athletic. Being comfortable with the web application is important, but so is being able to apply the data to real working websites, e-commerce sites and other web properties
Prior to even knowing what the proper taxonomy of terms where for GA, I was using event tracking in flash videos to track visitor trends for how far into a section they would watch, was adding page tracking to PDF downloads and logging outbound affiliate links to capture data on where I was sending qualified leads to partnerships. The GA certification process is more about the how-to rather than the why, when, or what this means, as much training is, but it allowed me to reflect on the best tips for successfully mastering Google Analytics.
#1. Profiles, Profiles, Profiles.
If you are only using one profile per website, you’re doing it wrong. I know, seems odd that you would have to have two or more profiles for any website, since the concept would be you’d already have all the data stored, so why couldn’t you just segment and partition what you were interested in seeing. Truth is, segmenting is only one way to slice the data.
The reason to have more than one profile is to keep one unfiltered, raw data set always available to capture all the traffic. Filters, once applied, removed that filtered data from the data set, alleviating the end user from having to always segment, or hiding certain user data from portions of the account users who you may not want having access to ecommerce data for example.
It’s easy to think of profiles are different ways to understand your web traffic. Your marketing website, your web application, your reporting portion of your web app, a forum, shopping cart, subdomains, help center, even an intranet. You can have up to 50 profiles per account, so go nuts. Profiles can then have users, filters and goals attached to them. So profiles could also be setup for your marketing department, customer service team, web managers, and content editors.
With no additional tracking typically required, you can begin setting up new profiles, fitlers, users and goals straight through your GA account.
#2. Regularly Express Your Regular Expressions
RegEx is a like spinach. When you were younger, you hated the sight, smell and taste of it. Now that you’ve grown up a bit, you realize it’s power, flexibility and overall value. Every effort you spending making more time for spinach or regex, the better your life will be. Learn by any means necessary. I’m no master, but these resources have been helpful:
- Regular Expressions at Smashing Mag
- Google Analytics Regex Training Presentation
- Regular Expression Comic at xkcd.com
- Regular Expressions for Google Analytics
#3. You can’t win if you don’t score a Goal
Setting up goals are easy. Determine what is or isn’t a goal is easy. So why do must sites not have goals? No idea.
Your goals are your objectives. Pages visited. A checkout process or funnel. The amount of time spent on the help center searching for an answer. If they downloaded that PDF, watched that video, clicked that big, shiny neon green button. Whatever it is, set up a goal or goals, this allows you to take actually advantage to the single coolest stat in all of GA. (Keep reading)
#4. The data is in the details
Lovely sparklines ramble across the interface that making trend analysis and Edward Tufte smile. A logical hierarchy from accounts to profiles to users, filters and goals, to profile segments, custom reports and per report filtering, sorting, viewing and saving to your dashboard or exporting for further spreadsheet love. Create annotations on the main timeline to communicate with your team traffic spikes, PR news, site updates and features added. Customizations that follow you like friends, twitter followers or Linus’s blanket from one of your accounts and profiles to the next. They even now have a dashboard builder that allows you to create a quick, personalized overview of your site with just the details and data you want to see.
#5. The $ Index.
Staring into etrade stock trader can feel like falling into the number abyss. Everyone would always prefer one or just a few numbers to be lively indications for they things they are interested in tracking. The stock marketing tries this with the S&P 500, or the 200 day moving averages; baseball with batting averages and a pitcher’s ERA. The more you look at data however, the more the data looks back at you. There will be no end to all the new ways to slice and spread these numbers, and while statisticians are raking in the profits and laughing their number crunching tails off, the UI department is working to tell an effective, time-efficient story with all this data overload.
With Google Analytics, the $ Index is your pot of gold. Sure, page visits, unique visitors, keywords and ecommerce revenue are important numbers, but to understand your website is to understand how each page is helping or hurting your site’s ability to perform and convert.