Analytics & Your Measurement Framework
If you have a website, you need to treat Google Analytics like it is one of the most important aspects of your business, because it is. If your GA account is set up correctly, you will be able to see what is working on your site, where you’re having problems, and what could be optimized for better user experience and the conversions that follow.
All of this is essential to a website that is run as a business. Everything you do and everything you want to do is either going to be proven wrong or validated by what you see in your Google Analytics platform.
Google Analytics (GA) was launched after Google acquired the Urchin web statistics analysis program in 2005. Since then, GA has become the most used analytics platform on the internet and has helped millions of companies make more informed decisions about their business.
Unfortunately, Google Analytics does not come perfectly pre-packaged. You have to build your platform yourself. Because of this, a lot of GA users are working from the wrong data, are collecting bad data, or have left their accounts exposed to hackers who would corrupt their data.
Many other users, who have a basic understanding of GA, don’t have their accounts organized properly. At best, they are working inefficiently. Most are missing valuable information their analytics program is trying to show them.
An improper Google Analytics setup can result in you making decisions based on incorrect or incomplete data. You could be negatively impacting your business and your users by implementing a strategy that was created using these faulty statistics.
The key to having a successful analytics account is to have a strong organizational structure.
How To Setup Your Account
The No. 1 mistake I see over and over again is an improper setup. Implementing Google Analytics the wrong way can leave you making decisions based on false data.
We’ll discuss accounts, properties, views and reports in more detail below.
So without further ado, here is how you should set up your Google Analytics account to avoid faulty data.
There are four levels to your Google Analytics platform, and you need to make sure that you’re well-organized every step of the way.
- Account: This is the highest level of GA. It is what you see as soon as you log in.
- Property: Each property has its own piece of tracking code that it uses to collect data from your website.
- Views: A subcategory of a property, it is a container for various reports GA provides.
- Reports: This is where you get to see all of the data you’ve been collecting.
What separates one property from another, or one view from another is a filter. With filters, you can direct Google Analytics to collect only certain kinds of data. Filters can prevent spam or ensure that only social media traffic shows up in a social media report, for example.
This is the 10,000-foot view of your GA platform. So let’s start at the most basic point.
When setting up your Google Analytics account, make sure to use a basic Gmail account that reflects your business. We use firstname.lastname@example.org. It just makes things easier to have a master account, especially if there is any kind of turnover at your company.
As you set up your account, documentation is key. Before you get started, have a list of properties, views and filters that you want to implement (we’ll explain each of these below). Keep track of as much information as you can, because it will make your life easier as you go through the process.
Change History: This is a place in Google Analytics for you to keep track of all of the changes you’ve made. You should be utilizing this as much as possible. It gives you a look at how up-to-date your account is, and if you have multiple people working out of the platform, you’ll want to document what’s been done.
Trash Can: The trash can is Google’s way of asking “Are you sure?” When you delete something from your GA platform, whether this is a property or a view, it will stay in the trash can for 30 days before being deleted. That way you can double and triple check that you’re deleting the right thing.
This is where organization is critically important. You need to have a proper naming convention set up and certain properties established to protect your business.
Here is what the Google Analytics properties for a company called Next Steps Digital would look like.
There are three different properties set up, but each of them is critically important.
Backup and Recovery Property
I don’t see nearly as many people implementing this property as I should. This is the first thing you should do when setting up your properties. You never know what could happen. You could make a mistake, your data could get corrupted and then you will lose everything. But having a property with no filters ensures that you have all of your data and a clean starting point in case the worst should occur.
E-commerce (Debug) Property
Think of this as your place to experiment. You don’t want to test filters you’re unsure of in a property that actually matters. Make sure you have a debug property to use as your playground. Do what you want to do, test what you want to test without worrying about whether it is perfect. Once you have everything down pat, you can confidently apply a working filter to views in master properties.
Master Analytics Property
This is where the magic happens. As soon as you’re done experimenting, you can launch your master property. This will be where you have your best data. This is where you will be able to investigate, interpret and make decisions. You’ll be confident that you’re working with the correct data.
There are other properties that you can implement as well if you want something specifically designed for different channels or domains. But these three properties give you the basic organization you need to properly handle your account.
I also recommend using numbers to help you organize. Especially if you have many views and properties, it makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for. And if you need to explain how to find something to someone else in your company, you can just give them the property and view numbers to lead them to the right report.
Views are subsections of properties and will take you to the reports you are looking for.
I recommend setting up the views similarly to the system used to name properties. It makes it easier to navigate the properties.
There are four different views that are absolutely a necessity. All of your properties should have these views:
Unfiltered View (Do Not Modify): This report is meant to have no filters on it for the sake of posterity. If something goes wrong in another view, this will serve as your backup.
Sandbox View (Filter Validation): This is where you’re going to test filters for other views in this property.
Testing View (Analyst IP Only): This is another testing view. This will only show you how your computer is acting on your website. Use it when you want to test whether a specific action, like a goal completion, is going to be tracked by GA.
Master Data View (Production): This is where your good, validated data is going to live.
If you don’t have a lot of experience with Google Analytics, you might just assume that all of the information comes in correctly because Google knows all.
But this is far from the case, and is why each of your views (with the exception of the unfiltered view) is going to need good filters to provide the right data.
Filters define what reports show. They are important because there are a number of things that can affect what GA reports and prevent you from getting the information you need. It could be that spam or website crawlers are artificially inflating your numbers. It could be that you have a long string of query parameters throwing off your numbers when it comes to individual page counts.
The way you solve these problems is by setting up the proper filters. A filter can be designed to keep spam or crawler activity out of the reports in a view. Another filter can exclude query parameters so they are not over-counted.
Not every page is going to have the same filters, but there are a number of filters you should be applying to most of your views.
Be careful, though. Before you add a filter to your master view, make sure you have tested it to see that it is working properly. Because they work in sequence, filters can block more data than you expect if they are written wrong. Incorrect filters can throw off your data even more than not having them in the first place.
The Four Parts of Google Analytics
When you log in to your Google Analytics platform, you’re going have access to a number of reports that Google has automatically generated for you to get a better grasp of what is happening on your site.
The power of Google Analytics can also be a detriment to people first starting out. You could spend all day going through each of the reports Google Analytics generates for you. So before you start wasting your time, you need to know what you’re looking for and where to find it.
Google Analytics has four reporting tabs that will hold the vast majority of the information you want:
These tabs and the reports under them are available for each view you have set up. Each property’s views and filters will modify what data flow into these reports.
Every online marketer should know what is in each of these tabs and how to find the reports under each tab that mean the most to their business.
As you begin to familiarize yourself with the platform, here is a look at where and how you can begin to gather information about your website.
Audience – Getting to Know Your Users
Everyone thinks they know their customers. But just because you think you know the people buying your product, doesn’t mean you actually know.
With the Audience tab, you’ll be able to break down exactly who is coming to your website. From gender and age, to mobile device and interests, you’ll know the types of people who are coming to your site and why.
Here are the four most important questions you can answer with the Audience tab.
Who are my site visitors?
Go to Audience > Demographics > Overview.
It’s a fairly simple question, but an important one. You have to understand who is coming to your website because that will help you figure out why they come. If you can answer “why,” then you’ll be able to build content that fits their needs. Do that and you’ll never have an issue selling your product.
What devices are they using?
Go to Audience > Mobile > Overview.
This is a quick way of checking whether your mobile site is up-to-date.
Mobile sites generally have fewer page views and conversions and shorter session durations because of the nature of mobile users. However, if you see a major dropoff, then you have an indication that your mobile site is not optimized.
In general, people use mobile to research products before they buy, so it is to be expected that your mobile conversion rate will be lower.
But if you think what you see is too low, then you should look at other reports and figure out how mobile users are interacting with your site.
With the Demographics report in the Audience tab you will be well on your way to understanding your customers. It will show you the age and genders of the people visiting your website. The Interests report will further your understanding by showing you what other kinds of things your users are searching for.
Where do my best converting users live?
Go to Audience > Geo > Location.
In the Geo report of the Audience tab, you’ll get to use an interactive map that shows you the country, region, city or metro area that your users are accessing your website from.
You’ll be able to look at the statistics in the Geo report to tell you where people are converting.
You can use this information to target specific areas in a PPC campaign or more traditional forms of marketing.
For some, figuring out geography for their e-commerce store is a hassle, but with Google Analytics it will only be a few clicks away.
Who are my best-converting users?
Go to Audience > Demographics > Age.
This will take you to the Age report, which won’t give you what you need by itself. You’re going to want to add a secondary dimension.
The secondary dimension could be something like Gender or Channel to give you a clearer picture.
Once you figure out who is visiting your website, you can take the next step. Who is converting on your website?
Every site is going to have multiple segments of people that visit. This could be women ages 35-44, or men 65 and older. What you need to learn is which of these segments of people are the most likely to convert on your site.
If we look at this example report, we can see that male visitors are much more likely to visit the website. Because of this, they are converting at a higher volume. However, once women are getting to the site, they are much more likely to convert.
This site should be looking at a way to reach out to its female audience and attract more of the users who are spending the most money.
Acquisition – Where do your users come from?
The Acquisition tab is designed to give you an idea of where your users are coming from. Are they coming from Google searches? Maybe you have a strong brand on Twitter that drives a lot of your traffic. With this report, you’ll be able to identify which channels are feeding your site traffic and which aren’t, so you know where to devote your energy.
Here are the five most important questions you can answer with reports available under the Acquisition tab.
Which channels are sending the most traffic?
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
To find this information, visit the Channels report under the Acquisition tab. This will provide you with a summary of which channels are driving traffic to your website. This is the basis of everything you’re going to do in the Acquisition tab.
You need know where your users are coming from. Once you figure that out, you can determine where they are on the internet, and come up with a strategy to best capture their attention.
Which channels are sending the best traffic?
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.
Here, there is an important distinction to make – most does not necessarily equal best.
Let’s take a look at this channel report. Social drives nearly 700 more users than the next closest channel.
On first glance, you might think that this company should put more of its resources into social because of the traffic it generates. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that it has a conversion rate of .02%, by far the lowest on the site.
Referral traffic has less than half the number of views, but has a 6.17% conversion rate. Referral traffic is from outside of Google search, such as from a link on a website. This company should focus on increasing its referral traffic, because it seems to send users most likely to convert.
Just because you have a lot of users, doesn’t mean you have the right users.
Is your email marketing campaign working?
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and click on “Email.”
Email is key to nurturing your leads. It is your way of getting in touch with your customers directly.
You use it to subtly (or sometimes not so) nudge your users further along the conversion funnel.
Because it is so important, you need to know whether your email marketing campaign is giving you the results you’re expecting.
Is your paid search campaign working?
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels and click on “Paid Search.”
You’re paying every time someone clicks that link, so you need to make sure that you’re getting the results from PPC that you’re looking for.
Once a user visits your site through a PPC ad, this report will show what they’ve done and how they’ve interacted with the site.
Check to see whether your PPC users are converting at the rate you expect them to. This is the best place to start, because you’ll know whether the revenue you’re generating is enough to sustain your campaign.
Is your social media strategy working?
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and click on “Social.”
Before you delve too deep into your numbers, you need to think about the big picture. What is your goal for your social platforms? Let’s revisit the report from the previous section.
If this example is your business, is social a success or a failure? If your goal is to increase your brand awareness, then it is wildly successful. It is driving great traffic to your site. However, if your goal is a conversion generator, then it isn’t doing nearly as well.
Whether social is working for you is going to vary from business to business, but this report will help you find the answer to the question.
Behavior – What are users doing once they hit your site?
You want to use Google Analytics to take a look at your users’ entire journey. Learn how they get to your site, how they interact, and what they do after they leave. You want to see it all.
Reports under the Behavior tab are going to show you the second step. Investigate what your site users are doing, where they’re going and what they’re signing up for.
Here are the four most important things you can learn from the Behavior tab.
How are people using your site search?
Go to Behavior > Site Search > Overview.
It’s not something a lot of people devote a lot of time thinking about. However, the site search is one of the best ways to determine what your users are thinking about.
They have questions they want to ask, and site search is their forum for asking those questions.
This site search report was taken from Google’s example analytics account. The gopher is a mascot used for the Google Go program. Based on this, there is a demand for a gopher product, even if it doesn’t already exist on the site.
These are the kinds of insights you can gain from looking at your site search report.
How many pages do users visit before they buy or submit a form?
Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Search for “thank.”
Most websites are going to use some form of thank-you page or confirmation page when someone has submitted a form.
You can use this report to search your content to see how many people have visited that page. If you’re looking for a thank you page, you can do it like so:
Once you find your thank you page, you’ll be able to start deriving insights. How many pages are your users visiting before submitting a form? Is this a significant change from your average user? Start to break down your data and get more information on the people who are submitting forms and triggering thank you pages.
What is my most viewed blog post?
Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Search for “blog.”
People pour thousands of dollars worth of resources into their content marketing strategy. Blogs are a big part of this, and if you’re not tracking the results, you might as well just be screaming your opinions at people walking by.
Part of the reason you run a blog is to see what content people are interested in and why. This will help you better understand your audience’s needs. Then you can create content that meets their needs.
But it all starts with seeing the views to your blog to figure out what your audience is most invested in.
Is my website too slow?
Go to Behavior > Site Speed > Overview.
One of the quickest ways to increase your conversions is by making your website faster. People are impatient and want their results quickly. If you’re quick, they’ll reward you.
Pages should load in just a few seconds (or faster), or you could be losing visitors.
There are a number of reasons why your site could be slow, but you’re going to want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to increase your speed.
One of the best ways to see if you have a problem is by looking at the Site Speed report.
Some speed problems are going to be unavoidable. But in this report you’ll be able to see how fast different browsers are picking up your website and how fast individual pages open, as well as how well your site works in other countries.
Conversions – How are your users spending money?
Everything in the other tabs is meant to lead you to this. Conversions are the backbone of online marketing. Whether you’re trying to make a sale or just gather leads, this is why you’re online.
The Conversions tab was created to give you the insights on the success of your campaigns, but also to give you information about who is converting and how conversions happen.
Conversion reports help you find your customers’ pain points, giving you the opportunity to fix them and make conversions come easier.
Here are the four most important questions you can answer with the Conversions tab.
How much money am I making?
Go To Conversions > Ecommerce > Overview.
This is the most basic question of any business. Because of this, Google makes it easy for you to find. Once you set up your enhanced Ecommerce settings, you’ll be able to track this quite easily.
If you want a quick look at how you’re doing, the enhanced Ecommerce report is going to give you what you need. You will see day-by-day and week-by-week exactly how much your conversions are making for you.
Are people signing up for my newsletter?
Go to Conversions > Goals > Overview.
You’re going to have to customize your Google Analytics profile no matter what you do. Many GA users create goals for specific views.
Goals are user actions taken on the site, i.e., conversions. One of the most common goals tracked is form submissions, because forms capture contact information, which enables further marketing to these leads.
Once you start tracking your submissions, you’ll know exactly how well your landing page is encouraging users to complete your form.
This report can also help you identify potential pain points. Maybe your form is too long, or maybe people are having trouble getting to the page. No matter what the issue is, you can recognize the need to optimize your forms and/or the pages they are on based on information in your Goals report.
Are there holes in your sales process?
Go to Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization.
Shopping cart abandonment is a problem for any business. You have people who have expressed interest in purchasing your product and are ready to pull the trigger, but for whatever reason they just don’t do it.
With the funnel visualization you can see exactly where people are dropping from your sales process. You might expect people to add items to their cart without buying, but once they start the checkout process you want to make sure they complete it.
In this example, the business should check its payment step to figure out why there seems to be more people dropping from that stage. If they can identify what the issue is and fix it, they’ll probably start bringing in even more conversions.
Which products and goals are making me the most money?
Go To Conversions > Ecommerce > Product Performance.
Just as important as figuring out how much money you’re making is figuring out how you’re making money.
The Product Performance report is going to give you the information you need to see how each of your products is performing.
In this example, we see the Waterproof Backpack (second line item) has one of the lowest buy-to-detail rates, which shows the percent of people who view the product and end up purchasing.
This could be because it has one of the highest price points (Average Price) of any of the products on the site, but there may be a landing page issue that is causing friction. These are the kinds of things worth noting and investigating when you’re looking at the Product Performance report.
Advanced Topics – ‘Not Set’
In a report, “(not set)” is Google Analytics’ version of a placeholder. Whenever the algorithm encounters something it doesn’t know what to do with, it will show up as (not set).
There are several issues that could make the dreaded (not set) appear. Here are a couple of the most common issues that result in (not set).
There are a number of other reasons you can see (not set) show up on your Google Analytics reports. Some issues are more serious than others, but there is always a solution. The three we went over are the most common, but by no means the only reasons.
- Keywords: This can occur with both paid and organic search traffic. If you see (not set) in paid search, this means you have not correctly connected your account or tagged your keywords. Go back and make sure it is set up properly. For organic keywords, this could occur because of something you’ve manually tagged as organic traffic.
- Hostname: If you see (not set) in your Hostname report, that means you have spam bots trying to dump information on your website. You should fix (or prevent) this right away by establishing a hostname filter. Find the report at Audience > Technology > Network, and click on the Hostname primary dimension.
- Landing Pages: One of the most common places for (not set) to appear is in the Landing Pages report (Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages). By default, user sessions expire after 30 minutes of inactivity. If someone spends 30 minutes on one page, then clicks to another page, it will appear as (not set), indicating that GA doesn’t know how the user got there. Fix this lapse in behavior reporting by increasing the time of your sessions. The (not set) placeholder can also appear if your tracking code is not set properly, so check your coding with Google Tag Manager.
Advanced Topics – Conversion Funnel
It takes a lot of work and research to build personas, but you do it because you want to create conversion funnels around these personas. You’ll track these funnels through Google Analytics to see what might be improved and where you could have issues in your funnel.
The funnels will help you visualize your customer journey. Once you have decided on your personas, you will be able to create a customer journey map. Think realistically about where you plan for your customers to go on your site as you continue to push them along your conversion funnel.
Once you have mapped out this plan, you will be able to see whether your conversion funnel matches the behavior flow report in Google Analytics.
This will allow you to see how different segments of your users interact with your site and where they drop off in the process. If you see a lot of users dropping at a certain page, you will know that you need to make changes to the page to keep users moving.
The ideal outcome is a conversion funnel and a customer journey map that lines up with the behavior flow report.
Advanced Topics – Enhanced Ecommerce
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the enhanced ecommerce setting is meant for users on an ecommerce website.
It is an additional plugin to Google Analytics that will track certain features, such as views of specific products and how much revenue individual products have generated.
One thing to keep in mind is that you should not have the enhanced ecommerce tag along with the regular ecommerce tag for the same property. This can result in compromised data.
With enhanced ecommerce you can track five different kinds of data:
- Impression Data: Gives you information about a product that has been viewed. Track information like brand, color, price, or collection.
- Product Data: Gives you information on individual products that have been added to shopping carts. Track the brand, price, category, or quantity of these items.
- Promotion Data: If you have a specific promotion that you’re trying to push on your website, this will let you see how it is performing. Track specific creative or ad positions.
- Action Data: Track specific actions taking place, similar to goals. Track steps in the checkout process, coupon downloads or redemption, or views of shipping information.
- Product and Promotion Data: This helps Google Analytics interpret the data that it gets about specific products. You can track things like removals from shopping carts, views of product details, and clicks on a product link.
Enhanced ecommerce is an incredibly useful add-on to GA. However, it can be complicated to implement, so I would advise finding someone with experience to make these changes to your site. You don’t want to mess up GA tags that are already on your site, so make sure you’re adding enhanced ecommerce tags correctly.