Advanced Google Analytics Features

Advanced Google Analytics Features
This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Advanced Google Analytics for e-Commerce

Advanced Google Analytics topics will be covered in this series but before we get there and if you haven’t heard – we just published our first in-depth e-book: Google Analytics Basics for E-Commerce. If you haven’t dared look past the first page of Google Analytics data, this book was written for you. Because you can do so much more – and the benefits are real:

  • Higher conversions
  • Higher revenue
  • Data you can trust

But, some of you are ready for more. More detail, more features, more benefits.

Our new blog series (and imminent e-book Part 2) will take you deeper into Google Analytics, teaching you how to customize and configure your GA account to precisely fit your needs.

They say the first step to solving the problem is knowing it exists in the first place. Or, you might say:

The first step to implementing a feature is knowing it’s there.

And this is what we are attempting to achieve in this post – to point out the features you’d want to implement if you knew they existed at all.

Account management

Creating a Google Analytics account is just the first step in using analytics to track your website traffic. Once you create the account, you become an administrator of that account by default. If you are the only person taking care of your site analytics, that works great.

But, that’s usually not the case.

Usually, you’ll have multiple people who need access to your analytics account, which requires creating multiple users and deciding what privileges to give them.

Google Analytics Account Management
Google Analytics Account Management Screen

Google Analytics allows for multiple levels of access. For example, you can allow one user to edit the Views, but not Account or Property configurations. Or, individual users may be granted “read only” access, so they can see the data, but not modify settings.

Adding a new user is very simple – you just need to put in the Gmail address of the person you want to grant permission to access the account. That’s it.

The caveat? The e-mail must be registered in Google accounts, which means the new user must have a Google account or create one prior to being able to access Google Analytics.

BestFriend@yahoo.com need not apply.

Once you’ve granted access, you can give the new user one of four levels of privileges:

  • Manage users
  • Edit
  • Collaborate
  • Read and analyze

Our motto is: You can never be too careful with granting privileges. Worst case scenario: High-level privilege can be (ab)used to lock you out of your own Google Analytics account by an angry employee. But often, the harm is more benign than that, like a well-meaning user who introduces a filter that blocks traffic reports. This will cause a data loss for the entire period the filter has been active.

Ouch.

When adding new users, make sure that you have established a policy for account management that outlines who is responsible for what and requires annotating every change made. Which you can, directly, in Google Analytics.

How to Make Annotations

Annotations are a very handy feature of Google Analytics. A good account policy would be for every user to write an annotation on any change they make to the account. Ideally the note should include the date the change was made, the type of change, who did it and what they expected to achieve (the reason for the change).

To create an annotation, just click on the triangle below the chart in any of the reports.

Create Annotation
Create Annotation Screen

If the person responsible for analytics account management ever changes or leaves the organization, an accurate log of all changes kept through annotations will enable their successor to quickly get up to speed and shorten the transition period to a bare minimum.

Creating Custom Dashboards and Reports

As we covered in Google Analytics Basics for E-Commerce, Google Analytics allows you to establish custom dashboards. Dashboards can have up to 12 widgets and you can have up to 50 shared dashboards per view. These dashboards allow you to see the most important metrics and reports at a glance.

Custom dashboards and reports
Custom Google Analytics dashboards and reports

To create a useful dashboard, you need to spend some time with your account and decide what metrics and reports are the best representatives of your website performance. They will usually include your most important KPIs and metrics.

Custom Dimensions and Metrics

Sometimes, the default metrics will not be enough to fully analyze your account traffic. If that is the case, you can define your custom dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics. You can access these in your Property Admin screen.

Google Analytics Property Admin Screen
Google Analytics Property Admin Screen

Creating a custom dimension involves defining its scope and name.

Scope means whether the dimension is connected and measured to a hit, session, use or product. For example, session scope dimensions will be measured for each individual session and reported on per session basis. An example of session type dimension is Source/medium, keyword and so on. A product scope dimension may, for example, be the brand name of the product.

In order to enable analytics to track custom dimensions, you need to insert a code into the Google Analytics snippet. Once you do that, Google Analytics will contain the custom dimension and all you have to do is to create a report with it.

Custom metrics require defining more properties in addition to name and scope, such as formatting type and, optionally, minimum and maximum values. Once more, you need to add some code to the Google Analytics snippet, so that your metrics are actually transmitted to Google Analytics.

An example of the code that needs to be added to your tracking snippet:

ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’, {
‘dimension15’: ‘My Custom Dimension’
});

The exact content will depend on what your custom metric/dimension is and detailed instructions are provided by Google support.

Importing Data into Google Analytics

Not all of the data you need or want is reported automatically to Google Analytics, but you can always import data into Google Analytics. There are a few ways to do this.

You can import the data using .csv files. It can also be imported by creating a Google Docs Sheet and importing data automatically. Alternatively, you can use Reporting API of Google Analytics to send the data to your account (this method is also used by spammers to send junk data to your analytics account).

Google Analytics Data Import
Google Analytics Data Import

Most people use this to import metadata the metadata that makes the most sense for them – it’s an individual thing.

For example, a content marketer might want to track the word counts for blog posts on their site (to see if they get more views or conversions on longer articles rather than shorter ones), or post authors, neither of which is reported by Google Analytics, but are very useful to know. You can also import advertising data and offline data that you want to have in your Google Analytics reports for comparison.

Importing this data requires creating custom dimensions and metrics, so to view the imported data, first create the necessary dimensions and metrics. Importing data is done at the property level.

WARNING: Be careful not to upload any data that can be used to identify users/visitors to your website, usually abbreviated to PII (personally identifiable information). Google does not allow recording any PII data in Analytics reports and violating this policy may lead to locking your account down by Google.

As a mirror image of importing, you can also export data from Google Analytics. There are many ways to do this, but one of the best ones in our opinion is to use the Google Sheets add-on.

Using this add-on, you can connect a sheet with your Google Analytics account and use a reporting API to extract the data directly to the sheet. That way you can create dashboards that can contain more than 12 widgets and custom reports

Custom Channel Groupings

Custom channel groupings are configured through the View menu. It is commonly used to organize your acquisition reports so you can at one glance deduce which are more efficient. You can also use it to differentiate between ad campaigns and see which one draws the most customers.

Use custom channel groupings to organize your multi-channel funnel report – for example you may want to separate your Facebook page from the rest of social traffic, or create a Community channel with reports on traffic coming from the blog or forum you maintain. This is one more feature that requires some planning and foresight on your part and should be implemented based on experience with your traffic over time.

Query Parameters Exclusion

If you maintain an e-commerce website, you probably have many product pages. And, sometimes, you will have multiple, dynamically created web pages for some options of your products (like different colors or some other option). These are created using query parameters.

Google Analytics will report each of these parameters as separate pages. You can imagine the resulting clutter this introduces into your report! Pretty soon you’ll have hundreds of reports and will be hard-pressed to identify the most popular product pages.

Google Analytics Query Parameters Screen
Google Analytics Query Parameters Screen

To solve this problem, you can use the query parameter exclusion.

You can find this option in your View Admin tab, under View Settings. Using RegEx you can define the query parameters Google Analytics will ignore and file under their respective pages. So, if you have 40 products with 5 different variations, you will get reports with 40 instead of 200 product pages.

JavaScript, Custom Events and Google Tag Manager

Google analytics relies on JavaScript for all its reporting. The Analytics snippet itself is a piece of JavaScript code and is implemented on the pages to send reports to the Google Analytics server. JavaScript is a high level language used to modify how the visitor will see the page.

Using JavaScript, you can influence what is reported to Google Analytics and how it is reported.

For example, you can add custom dimensions and metrics, as we have already seen. Another use of JavaScript within GA is to create custom events.

Custom Events

“Events” are specific visitor actions that are reported to Google Analytics when a certain condition is met. This condition is called a “trigger” and you need to define both: a report that will be ‘fired’ to Google Analytics and a trigger that will cause it to fire.

For example, an event may be a visitor reaching 25% of the scroll depth on a web page. This event is defined by a trigger: visitor has scrolled to 25% of the page. That trigger sends off a report to Google Analytics that a certain page has been viewed. Other triggers include a visitor clicking on a link or downloading a file from the site, etc.

Google Analytics will report none of these events by default.

You must tell Google Analytics they happened and initiate a report. This is done by adding custom scripts to your website – which are called tags.

Google Tag Manager

You can guess the possible problem here, right? If we need to implement this script on every page of the site, it will be a heavy load. And we might miss adding it somewhere. And all of those individual scripts would be a nightmare to update.

This is what we use a tag manager for.

Tag manager is an app that allows you to insert, change or remove tags from the website, check their functionality and maintain a change log. One of the most used Tag Managers is Google Tag Manager. We’ve devoted an entire chapter of Google Analytics Advanced for E-Commerce to Tag Manager – it’s that important.

Sharing and Importing Custom Properties

Finally, Google Analytics allows you to share and import many custom user defined properties, including dashboards, reports, metrics and dimensions, channel groupings and segments. Anything you create for your own Google Analytics view can be shared with other users and even other accounts.

Google Analytics Solutions Gallery
Google Analytics Solutions Gallery

This is done through the Solutions Gallery. Its interface is very similar to Chrome Extension market. Here you can find many custom created properties made by some of the most famous analytics gurus, such as Avinash Kaushik, or even from the people who created Google Analytics itself. Those can be very helpful, although you should be aware that your individual situation may differ and that some of their metrics may be useless to you.

Tools that Complement Google Analytics and Tag Manager

In addition to Google Analytics and Tag Manager itself, Google has created supplemental tools.

One of the most useful is In-Page analytics.

This used to be a part of Google Analytics reports, but has recently been separated and made into an extension. Using this tool, you can make detailed analyses of each individual page on your website.

Google Analytics In-page Analytics
Google Analytics In-page Analytics

Google Analytics Debugger checks how the tracking works and you can use JavaScript Console in your Chrome browser to read the status of your tracking.

Google Analytics Debugger
Google Analytics Debugger

Any error will be detected here and you will be able to repair it.

Both of these valuable tools are free Chrome extensions.

Google Tag Manager Assistant allows you to check how many tags are on the website and which of them fire correctly. This handy tool enables you to easily diagnose your tag setup so you can quickly fix any errors.

Advanced Google Analytics Conclusion

Without advanced customization, Google Analytics is useful, but very limited. To fully use its potential, you must dig a bit deeper than the default settings.

This is especially true of events, and only once you implement some custom event tracking will Google Analytics be able to truly shine. We will cover multiple advanced Google Analytics posts in this series.

Series NavigationGoogle Tag Manager for e-Commerce Stores >>

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Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.