Google Analytics is a free tool offered by Google, which allows a user to capture vast quantities of data about the demographics of a site’s visitors and the on-site behavior of those visitors. It has a number of features and abilities that can have even the most detail and data-driven person drooling.
I’ll be covering the following:
- Remarketing Lists
- Content Grouping
- Site Search
- Display Enabled Demographics
- Multi-channel Tracking
Still, before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s make sure that everything is set up in a way that will allow for the best return.
Below are the five best practices for getting reliable data into Google Analytics
- Code Placement – make sure that the code is placed on ALL pages of your site, including sub-domains, other domains you own for the same purpose, etc… , and that on each of these pages, the code appears before the closing head element tag, </head>. This ensures that Google Analytics has a chance to start recording behavior, and maintain a continuous thread on a visitor, before the visitor has a chance to leave the page.
- E-Commerce Tracking – If your site allows for transactions of any sort, ensure that your e-commerce tracking is set up correctly. This could be a post on its own, but trust me, this should be reviewed thoroughly. Commonly missed items to include in programming this are setting up the categories and actual product names.
- Connect Google Products – Google allows you to make the sum of its products more valuable than their individual parts. You can see your AdWords advertising spend and associated attribution metrics within Google Analytics, if you link the two. This is a great way to see the return on investment (ROI) of your advertising efforts. You can also connect AdSense, so that you see the revenue generated by ads being served on your sight.
- Set Up Goals – If you have features on your site, chances are you wanted visitors to use them, and you find those engagements valuable. Setting up goals allows you to see where those valuable actions are taking place, by what demographic, from what sources, taking what follow-up actions, etc…
- Filtered and Unfiltered Views – Filter your main views to remove internal visits and those from partners working with you. You don’t want to think that there are people buying millions of dollars of merchandise, only to find out that your IT person was running a test. Make sure that you have an extra view created in your admin panel, so that you have a record that is unbiased by any filters, rules, etc… you may have put in place to clean up data. This should remain off to the side, collecting data, until needed for quality assurance and troubleshooting is needed.
That’s it for the base. Now, let’s get to the fun stuff.
Remarketing lists are ways for you to set up a pool of previous site visitors that you would like to send a particular message to. You could advertise a great deal on purple cardigans to people surfing the web who had previously visited your site, and looked at cardigans, … or purple tops, … or purple cardigans. You can get as specific or as general as you like, and set up lists for people who speak Dutch, visitors who in general enjoy soccer, those who signed up for a newsletter, anyone who came to your site no later than 4 days ago, etc… The ways to segment users are incredible, which means that you can be as specific with your future messages to visitors as you like.
Remarketing has proved to be an incredibly effective tool. It generally has a higher return on investment than ads in a similar space that don’t have this layer of targeting. It is also a great way to re-engage with potential customers, without sending yet another email.
How many times have you wanted to see how one type of page on your site compares to another? How your product detail pages compare to your video review pages? How your customer testimonials pages compare to your contest pages? I know I do that kind of analysis all the time.
Normally, in order to do this comparison, you would either create a massive export of all of your page performance data, then use Excel or some other spreadsheet to assign group names to various things, and then use Pivot Tables or sums or who knows what to get down to just how those groups, in aggregate, performed. You could also do a big filter in the system to see one set of data, record it, then filter for the other set, record that, and so on.
The Content Grouping feature within Google Anlaytics makes this much, much simpler. What it does is allow you to set up rules in the admin to assign those kinds of labels to groups of pages ahead of time, which will then be available right in the user interface, so that you can see the aggregate data without doing any kind of export or filtering.
I highly recommend this feature, especially to anyone who updates content frequently. This feature helps to make sure that you know that those areas that are getting attention are worth it.
This feature may be the biggest gold mine within Google Analytics. It allows you to see what people are looking for when they visit your site. This may seem rather blah, but it is far more valuable than the searches that people do in order to GET to your site (the organic search queries that have pretty much gone away from reporting, anyway).
When someone does a search for something on your site, they are telling you many things. They are telling you 1) what they want, 2) what they think you should have, and 3) what wasn’t already clearly available to them when they entered your site. All three of these things are incredibly valuable.
Seeing what a user searched for on your site, and seeing what they want, is an amazing set of information to get for free. Many companies pay millions of dollars doing research, setting up focus groups, etc.. to find out what they in-demand item of the day is. Google Analytics can capture that information for you, and record on it over time. Sift through this information to see which products you might want to add to your offering.
That a user puts in a search on your page, at all, indicates that they feel, in some way, that you might be a good fit for a given item that they want. They are telling you what could be relevant to your industry or store. This type of search can help guide your content creation for your site, as well as inform your advertising partners which terms to potentially include in their marketing or bidding structures.
Finally, if you review the terms that people are frequently searching for on your site, and an item pops out at you as “but, they could have gotten to that via the navigation menu”, than it might be an indication that a revision to your page layouts may be in order. Take a look at a few of those terms, then ask friends outside of work to go to your site, looking for those things, and find out if they also didn’t immediately find the direct way to those things.
Display Enabled Demographics
This is a relatively new feature, which pulls into your Google Analytics system the immense data that Google collects on what people are generally looking for on the internet. After enabling this feature (and adding one extra line of code to your pages), Google Analytics will begin to attribute to your site’s visitors things such as age, gender, and the topics that those visitors often spend time reading about on the internet.
This information can greatly ease the creation of profiles your company might want to set up related to who the typical customer is, which demographics are the most engaged, spend the most, order a lot of small value items, and more. You can then use the profiles to help inform your content creators, your ad copy writers, and your marketing strategists.
The topics of interest reporting, which breaks down into categories of interest, affinities, and in market segments (what people were looking to buy on other sites of the internet at the time that they engaged with you). Using this information, you can greatly increase the effectiveness of your Display advertising campaigns, as you will already know which topics and interests to target that will likely yield returns. This is also a great way to find ideas for “off-topic” or “wild” pieces of link creation fodder, such as infographics and blog posts, which, while not specifically about you and your company, could be of great interests to those who are already your target audience, while giving them something they value as a bonus.
Google Analytics tries to make it easy for you to see how every type of effort you are putting into making your online business work is actually performing. The way it often tries to summarize these efforts is by indicating the channel that various traffic to your site came in on (e.g. Paid Search – which represents your advertising efforts on Google or Bing).
The most commonly used sources of traffic are usually automatically categorized by Google Analytics into one of those many buckets. However, sometimes there is so much going on, that confusion sets in, and traffic gets lumped into the “Other” channel. If this is happening a lot, you can use Custom Channel Groupings to help Google Analytics define types of traffic sources or you can use what are utm tracking parameters (a series of parameters that start with “utm” that are placed at the end of URL’s you use) to hard code those definitions.
When all of the various channels are properly being tracked, it is easier for you to use Google Analytics to find out which channels return the most of any particular type of action (newsletter sign-ups, sales, social interactions, etc…). This kind of data can be used to help define budgets for your various internal departments.
Another item within this that can be especially handy for a well-coordinated company, is the ability to see how campaigns run across many channels perform together. You can assign utm params to indicate a campaign name for your social, paid search, email, display, etc… channels who are all running messaging designed to empower a particular initiative within your company (e.g. a big sale, an outreach event, a new release of a great product, etc…).
If you and your company can enable all five of the above features, you will be on a more solid data footing than the majority of competitors in the market. Seldom do users of this amazing tool make use of all it has to offer, but the numbers can speak volumes and return millions.