Analytics in a Nutshell: An Introductory Look at Setting Up Google Analytics for CRO

An Introductory Look at Setting up Google Analytics for CRO

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October 29, 2017

How do you improve something? Anything. Any process, any action.
You start by understanding your baseline. You can do 10 pushups today, but after a month of daily pushups, you’ll be able to do more. Setting up Google Analytics for CRO for e-commerce stores is a way to measure/track by setting a baseline and tracking indicators in order to improve.

FREE Download: Save yourself from the missed steps and trial + errors and get the checklist we follow and keep in mind when setting up Google Analytics for conversion optimization gains.

“You can’t improve what you can’t measure” is how some people put it.

“What gets measured gets managed” is equally true.

Analytics is just a way to measure by setting a baseline and tracking indicators of improvement (or lack of improvement). But when you look at the Google Analytics dashboard, all of a sudden this simple concept becomes incredibly complicated.

And what you need to track for conversion optimization for your e-commerce website only complicates it further. You need accurate and timely data – and lots of it.

What sort of data do you need? ResearchXL (used by ConversionXL) divides their areas of research into four main categories:

Web analytics is the main tool used to measure quantitative data, like the number of visits to your website, number of conversions, and numbers of new or returning visitors.Quantitative data is all about the hard numbers, which is why you need to supplement that information with qualitative or heuristic research, which are more descriptive (they rely on customer surveys and feedback) but are also more open to bias and misinterpretation.

Since quantitative data is collected by a computer program in real time, you can be relatively sure you’re not missing anything – provided the analytics tool is configured properly.

That’s the kicker. You have to configure your analytics program, including Google analytics, to make sure collecting all of the information you need.

Configuration is a large part of the CRO’s job. We call it an “analytics health check,” typically offering it as a service to determine if a client’s analytics tool is working properly and tracking everything accurately.

At this point, we’re not focusing on one set of data over another, though we’ll be doing that later. Right now, we’re trying to collect as much data as possible from which to extract insights, and you can only do that when you customize the out-of-the-box settings on your analytics program.

How Web Analytics Works

Web analytics records every action of every visitor to your website in real-time, as each person interacts with the content.

There are many analytics tools that do this, all with similar features, but Google Analytics is the one most-often used – by more than 70% of the market.

Every analytics tool works by leaving a short piece of JavaScript code on every page of the site. This piece of code is called the “tracking code” or “snippet” which collects and sends user-action data back to the analytics program which presents the data to you in readable form.

One of the overview screens in Google Analytics
One of the overview screens in Google Analytics

Google Analytics isn’t only popular because it’s free (at least in basic form), but also because it is continuously updated, entirely customizable and has a large community creating customizations that are also available for free. Since Google Analytics is sufficient for almost all uses, it became not just the tool of choice, but the industrial standard for analytics tools.It’s one of those things that’s easy to learn but difficult to master.The non-custom version is usable by everyone and pretty self-explanatory, but the real depth of data only becomes available once you customize it. You’re basically transforming the tool from ordinary kitchen knife to a Swiss-army knife.

In the simplest terms, before you can rely on Google Analytics to give you the information you need to understand how your website is doing now, and how to improve it, you have to teach GA a few tricks:

  • What you want it to track
  • How to track it
  • How to report it

What to Track: Basic Metrics

Metrics are the bread and butter of digital analytics. Common metrics in Google Analytics are:

  • Sessions
  • Unique visitors
  • Time on site
  • Number of pages viewed…

And many more.

There are also what we call “dimensions,” like location, page, language, gender, product category etc. Some metrics are really a combination of two metrics, like “sessions per page” or “visitors per page.” You can also create custom metrics.

Once the actions are reported in metrics, we can draw some conclusions from them.

A good place to start is simply counting the number of visitors who actually interacted with any given content. That’s a good indication of the popularity of the content.

However opening a page means nothing if the user clicks in and clicks out after a few seconds. That is called a bounce. You want your bounce rate low. If it’s high, it means visitors aren’t finding what they hoped to find.

We can also compare certain types of actions or content for more insights, like finding out which types of content attracts visitors more than others, or which parts of the website may be experiencing usability issues. We can also compare the actions of different segments of visitors; for example, how visitors from different countries interact with the site.

The third way to draw conclusions is look for correlations. You’re looking for things like how one segment of visitors interacts with the site, or what sequence of interactions typically lead to conversion. You might select one category of visitors based on their largest average order value, then observe what interactions they had with the site to convert so well. Then you can use that information to optimize your site – essentially finding ways to tweak the user’s experience so they follow the same path as your successful customers.

Gathering this data is how CROs begin creating hypotheses to test, which leads to optimizing for conversion.

How to Track it: Segmentation & Events

One of the best features of any web analytics tool, including Google Analytics, is the ability to segment. Segmentation allows you to select different categories of visitors based on any number of characteristics – where they came from, what they were looking for, how much they bought, etc.

Sample of a segmented report in Google Analytics
Sample of a segmented report in Google Analytics

Event tracking

With some customization, any analytics tool can track individual events on your website. This will unlock further wealth of data and allow you to exploit it to gain more insights in the way your visitors interact with the site. By using event tracking, any activity on the website, from clicking individual links to playing videos and downloading files can be tracked.

An example of event goal in Google Analytics
An example of event goal in Google Analytics

Analytics categories like Goals and Conversions function on a ‘page view’ mindset. Event tracking is different – it’s more focused on user-experience. In Google Analytics, events are basically interactions, like downloading a PDF or e-book, playing embedded videos, clicking external links or call-to-action (CTA) buttons.

While event tracking requires customization and additional JavaScript code, it is relatively easy to implement and maintain using tag managers.


Your analytics tool can track your on-site goals too – if you configure it to do so. Goals are specific actions you want your users to do, such as viewing certain web pages, or watching a video, or spending a given amount of time on a page. Some of the most frequently used goals are “destination goals” that let you check whether the visitor actually got to a web page you define as a goal. An example would be a ‘thank you page’ signifying that the user completed a purchase on your website.

How to Report it: E-Commerce in Google Analytics

Google Analytics has a fully customizable e-commerce tracking feature that integrates with your e-commerce platform and allows you to view the performance of your website in Google Analytics, shown in terms of revenue. You can see the number of products being sold, average revenue per customer, the shopping behavior of your customers and other data that is highly relevant and actionable. This is also a customizable feature.

Yes, this was just a quick overview of setting up Google Analytics for CRO!

As you can see the digital analytics is the virtually indispensable tool for any eCommerce store. While it is theoretically possible to operate a web store without web analytics, it is not a recipe for long term success or growth.

Regardless of what web analytics tool you choose, it will open a new world of opportunities and provide insights not only into the performance of your web store, but also into the minds of your visitors. Learn to master Google Analytics and you’ll improve your website and compel more of your existing visitors to become customers.

Analytics is the key to increasing the revenue of your web store, and is possibly the most cost-effective way to do so.

This article is first in a five-part series of our Google Analytics for E-Commerce. To read the rest of the series, click here.

FREE Download: Save yourself from the missed steps and trial + errors and get the checklist we follow and keep in mind when setting up Google Analytics for conversion optimization gains.
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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.