Getting A Bit More Out Of Google Analytics

Getting A Bit More Out Of Google Analytics

It’s Module 4 of The Squared Course which covers the subject of Google Analytics, insights and using data to best effect.

As an avid user and fan of Google Analytics for several years now (like every SEO out there I must log in to GA at least 10 times or more daily), I thought that I would share some of my favourite features which don’t always get mentioned or used that effectively to help people to get a little bit more out of Google Analytics.

Whilst this list is certainly nowhere near comprehensive (you could write a book about the many wonders of GA, and some have of course – for example: Sams Teach Yourself Google Analytics, Google Analytics by O’Reilly and Google Analytics by Jerri Ledford, published by Wiley), in the words of Julie Andrews, “these are a few of my favourite things” 🙂 :


A nifty little addition which I only recently spotted on my GA interface.  I have no idea how long it’s been there – maybe it was there from the very start of GA, but I just never noticed it.

This is just above any individual view (to the right of ‘Add to Dashboard’), with the exception of ‘Real Time Analytics’, intelligence events, behaviour flow and experiments, which don’t have this feature, and allows you to create exactly that – a shortcut to that particular view – which then appears in a handy little list of ‘shortcuts’ right at the top of your left hand navigation so that you don’t have to constantly click through the various sections in the interface to find the report that you’re looking for.

You can essentially create your own little shortcut list of views that you want to see more often than others and just check that instead, digging into other screens which you don’t feel you need to see that often, from time to time, via the long way round, which, depending on the complexity of the report you’re wanting to run, can sometimes mean several clicks and loads, wasting valuable milliseconds of your working life.


In my dedicated ‘big year of learning’ (2014), in addition to The Google Squared programme, I’m doing a whole load of other studying to extend my knowledge base outside of SEO, around digital marketing, project management, web development and generally learning more. As part of this quest for extra knowledge I recently signed up to the Smart Insights website and took the Race Digital Planning course and qualification, developed by Dave Chaffey (RACE is a planning model which develops strategy in a very clear and forward moving manner – RACE itself being a mnemonic for REACH, ACT, CONVERT, ENGAGE – this can be extended to become PRACE, to include a PLANNING element).  Dave is a renowned and highly regarded digital marketing strategist and consultant, and founder of the Smart Insights content hub (which is excellent, a veritable plethora of planning templates and guides, and highly recommended BTW – as too is Squared of course, but you can never have enough learnings in my humble opinion in this rapidly changing environment – or pretty much anywhere else for that matter).

Throughout the RACE course Dave has each module with a recording covering the various aspects of planning and controlling a digital marketing strategy from initial analysis and creation of action plan to monitoring and measuring back to KPI control and achievement.

On one of Dave’s teaching module’s around digital strategy, he speaks of his experience of some of the biggest issues he finds when it comes to reviewing a prospective client’s digital marketing efforts in the internal organisational aspect of situation analysis, a fundamental of the well known SOSTAC planning framework, developed by PR Smith – SITUATION ANALYSIS, OBJECTIVES, STRATEGY, TACTICS, ACTION, CONTROL.

One of these fundamental mistakes that organisation’s make Dave claims is “Not having good dashboards” set up in GA. (i.e. clearly defined KPI’s visible at first glance in one dedicated area and immediate visibility on the contributors to it from a traffic perspective and even visitor behaviour effects on what has made that happen (or not – whichever the case may be).

Google’s default Dashboard is not particularly intuitive, giving nothing but the bare bones from a data perspective.

It’s essential that users looking to carry out any kind of analysis for a specific organisation or campaign, build their own custom dashboards so that they can get an instant ‘birds eye view’ of their most important metrics at any point.

Arguably, the most vital items to have on here are the various goals that must be set from a commercial perspective, right from the start.

On an ongoing basis, as you work towards perfecting conversions (CONVERT) on the reach (REACH) that you’ve achieved, these should be refined further, if not set up right from the start once you’ve defined what your objectives are and what ‘looks like success’.

In addition to using these to fine-tune conversion over time and check for bottlenecks, they also allow you to work on removing hurdles on the ‘ACT’ part of RACE via the monitoring of pre-defined events which will need to be tagged up beforehand in order to get the visibility required on these.

You can add pretty much every view to dashboards with the exception of course of those features / reports which I mentioned earlier, which could almost be described as dashboards in themselves.

However, choose wisely, as there is a limit on the number of ‘widgets’ (views / tables), that you can add to a dashboard, which is currently set at 12 maximum.

You can set up up to 20 dashboards with different views and content which you can then tailor according to the roles and responsibilities of whoever is going to be looking at the dashboard (for example, the team member who is running the day to day campaign may require greater granularity than the team member responsible for running the whole team).

To save time in setting up the dashboards that you need, there are also a number of dashboard templates which can be imported from the Google Template Gallery, include dashboards created by Avanish Kaushik, Googler, and author of Web Analytics and Web Analytics 2.0.  He’s also an Indian entrepreneur and his enthusiasm for GA and data analysis it’s safe to say is insurmountable.

You can find out more about dashboards in the Google Analytics help centre here:

Don’t delay in setting up dashboards from the ‘get go’ and choose wisely the most important data to improve your efficiency via informed insights.

Automated Email Reporting

Ever spent the whole of Monday export CSV spreadsheets from GA as part of your client reporting? Groan……  Ever spent the whole of Sunday evening thinking about it? Groan……

Well, if your it’s automated reporting you’re after and you’re not too bothered about a fancy design on your spreadsheets, using the Google Analytics email reporting facility is for you.

Simply visit the view / report which you want to send automatically by email.  Select ’email’ from the top of the screen (to the left of ‘customise’ and to the right of ‘export’ and a dialogue box will pop up, allowing you to rename the report title, adjust the frequency of the report send, the day of the week you want to send the report on, plus an area for you to add a personalised message.  You can attach an email report using various formats, including CSV and PDF of course.  You can also choose the period of time that the automated reports will run for (e.g. 6 months at weekly intervals on a Monday).  Automation heaven.

Event Tracking

Not everything can be set up as, or constitutes a goal, as such, nor can it be defined as such.  For example, a click on a key ‘Top Tasks’ link on a run of site feature, (e.g. ASOS customer signpost path selection ‘WOMEN’, ‘MAN’ and the number of clicks on it can’t be set as a goal, however would likely make a useful ‘event’ for the purposes of monitoring gender traffic).

Whilst ‘in page analytics’ feature is available in GA, I find it rather clunky and the figures don’t seem to add up (% clicked).

It’s much more intuitive from a visitor behaviour perspective to set up events so that you can see actual numbers of clicks on key areas to gauge activity with a view to using those insights to adjust as necessary and steer traffic in the direction you want it to go by moving site elements into more prominent positions or even changing the entire CTA or creative that’s presented.

Events in my opinion have two purposes, One – measurement of who’s clicking what (e.g. Women, Men – clearly provides us with further insight into the type of traffic we’re getting).  Two – Clear clues as to what works and where – i.e. the choices people make and responses to what we’re saying to them via our OVP (online value proposition) to use as guidance in any necessary adjustments.

Whichever way you use events,  you’ll need to ensure that these are tagged up correctly in your markup:

Here’s a simple example of the markup that’ll you’ll need to add to your pages:

<a href="#" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Videos', 'Play', 'Baby\'s First Birthday']);">Play</a>

This is an onclick event wrapped around a play button on a video.

You can find out more about setting up event tracking in GA here:

Assisted Conversions

Ever been asked the question, “How can we measure the impact of social in our media plan from a budget allocation and ROI perspective?”

Social is a funny one, because it’s not always that easy to measure the effects, both ‘halo’ and direct results immediately in pounds, shillings and pence.  Often though, for the bean counters the vague response “It’s about winning hearts and minds”, or “our competitors are doing it” isn’t enough.

Assisted conversions in GA, allow us to attribute some real monetary value from the like’s of social media as a channel contributing to conversions to financial goal completions.

You can find ‘Assists’ via ‘Conversions’ -> ‘Multi Channel Funnels’ -> Assisted Conversion

Here you will see the various channels, e.g. organic search, paid search, social network, referral and a column which is entitled ‘Assisted Conversion Value’ – a monetary value on the traffic from that channel’s contribution to financial goal completions.

Real Time Traffic

If you have a campaign running which you’ve high hopes for and want to see it’s effect with near-on immediacy, Real Time analytics is for you. I have to confess, it’s highly addictive too.

Real time brings Analytics to life, allowing you to see activity almost as it happens on your site. It’s reasonably accurate too, with just a few seconds lag between your traffic and the data coming ‘alive’ in your ‘real time’ analytics view.  If you have a TV ad campaign scheduled for a set time, or suddenly set off a huge paid search campaign, or there’s an event that you’ve done something big on social media for, Real Time can give you reassurance that something’s actually happening as a result of that.

As you would expect, you can’t pull reports from real time (otherwise it wouldn’t be real time, in any event), so it is pretty much a one on one view – nevertheless very useful and again, be warned – Highly addictive 🙂

Search Engine Optimisation

As SEO’s continue to justify their existence (me included) in a ‘not-provided’ era, a return to rankings positions as (one of) the only possible measurements for success has ensued.

The Search Engine Optimisation section on Google Analytics can provide a great deal of insight here, and I suspect a little underutilised by many, rather like Google Webmaster Tools (there’s definitely a trick or twenty missed out on there ;)).

Certainly, the Search Engine Optimisation feature in Google Analytics is tucked away in darkest corner of the Acquisition section of the reports, but it’s certainly worth digging out and adding to your ‘shortcut’ list to bring it into the light.

In particular, the average position view of the Queries report gives clear sight on areas that need further work (of course, with this view, you want the graph to be coming down in it’s path rather than up).  I’ve worked on quite a few projects over the past year or so which were affected by Penguin algorithmic updates and as well as using a range of other discovery tools around links and analysis this view allows me to really dig in to see the queries that are struggling and that my have issues with links going to their URL.  Incidentally, GWT queries view is also excellent for identifying problem URLs on larger sites with huge amounts of backlinks in legacy.

There’s a whole host of info here, you just have to dig in and root around.

It should be noted that there is a data lag on the Search Engine Optimization Features in GA, with no data available for the previous two days.

You can find out more about the data available via Search Engine Optimisation Feature in Google Analytics here:


My final list of ‘favourite things’ is annotations.  Simply, because we all have dying little grey cells and and it’s a great way of taking a note (more or less it’s definition) of something worth commenting on that you want to remember later on.   For example, if I’m working on a site which is affected by extremes of weather then I’ll often put a note e.g. ‘torrential rain’, ‘hottest weekend of the year so far’, so that when it comes to reporting and referring back I can immediately see something which may have contributed to traffic which was outside of control and related to weather.

During the recent World Cup I put notes on GA to say ‘First England Match’ for example as UK wide traffic no doubt took a hit online as everyone tuned in to watch the match.  It’s always good to be able to have a logical explanation when it comes to client reporting and also for my own sanity.

Annotations are easy to add – On any view you’ll see the graph showing traffic and then below the dates on the graph (bottom axis), you’ll see a little drop down (tiny arrow).  Click that and a little section appears into which you can pop a note.  Check that the date is correct of course.  If it’s not either click on the graph on the date you want to pop a note on or change it manually in the date picker on the comment box and put your note in there.

Close the annotation arrow back up again and then you’ll see a little text box on the graph showing that someone put a comment on that particular date.

More Resources

I do hope that you’ve found something useful in my list of favourite GA things.  We are very fortunate that we have access to such an insightful suite of data analysis tools in Google Analytics.

To get started with GA there’s also a handy set up checklist to get campaigns off to a flying start:

There’s now even free training and qualifications that you can take in the form of Google Partners.  At one time there was a charge (I think I recall it being £50.00) to take these qualifications, but now it’s free.  Google are even dishing out certificates and additions to your profile page showing these certifications so certainly worth taking.