How to optimize Google Analytics to help you get more actionable insights
[Spoiler alert] This article contains my list of preset Google Analytics configurations to get insights that matter. Get the configured settings straight to your inbox. Find out how at the end of the post. (Originally posted on limorgoldhaber.co)
I USED TO USE GOOGLE ANALYTICS ALL WRONG.
I first started using Google Analytics in 2012, while I was the CEO of an early stage startup.
We needed to understand how people are using our product, but like most startups, we didn’t have the resources to pay for an analyst or software. Instead, we copy and pasted the few lines of code from the Google Analytics site and started monitoring the data. We thought (and hoped) we’d have answers to all our questions immediately.
In fact, we learned very little about our users and product from the Google Analytics reports. We just didn’t knowhow to ask the right questions or how to turn all that data into actionable insights. Since then, my startup closed and I joined the amazing team at Waze (Google)
In the process, I experimented a ton with the different features Google Analytics has to offer, and collected a list of the must-have settings to speed up data analysis and website optimization.
Now I will share it with you.
UNDERSTANDING THE 4 FUNDAMENTALS OF GOOGLE ANALYTICS
To understand the rationale behind each item on the list, let’s clarify first how Google Analytics works.
Google Analytics is based on data collection, processing, configuration and reporting. First Google Analytics collects the data on your site, then processes it based on the set configurations and provides an output in a form of different reports based on an ABC structure: Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions.
The way you configure your Google Analytics account and define the reports you’d like to view, can help you understand how users find and interact with your website/product.
FILTER OUT THE NOISE
If you’re anything like me, you visit your website a lot (if you don’t — you should). However, that creates noise in the data and makes it difficult to understand how users are actually experiencing your website. That is because users may find other pages or features on your site more interesting than you originally thought. They might get stuck or leave your signup before completing the funnel, although for you its seems simple and fast. There are many more reasons but the bottom line is:
Processing internal traffic = inaccurate analysis
To avoid that, we need to add a filter that excludes processing internal traffic. The easiest and most common way to do that will be by filtering out specific IP addresses:
(It is highly recommended to create a raw data view before creating any new filters that can be used for back up and checks when needed)
1. Click on Admin > Filters > Add Filter
2. Name your filter — “Exclude Internal Traffic”
3. Select a predefined filter type, using the following conditions respectively: Exclude, Traffic from the IP addresses, that are equal to
4. Add the IP address you’d like to exclude
5. Click “Save”
In addition to this filter, there are many more useful filters you can add to align with your reporting needs (I added my favorite to the kit you can download at the end of the post). They provide a flexible way to modify the data within your reports and can help put a focus on the data that matters the most.
KEEP TRACK WITH YOUR MOST CRITICAL METRICS
One of the key metrics for any business is conversion rate. In order to get conversion rates numbers in Google Analytics you have to set goals, which makes it one of the most important features to set.
There are 2 types of goals you need to set upfront:
Primary goal: your most important business metric. This could be sign-ups, newsletter subscribers, etc.
Secondary goal: supporting goal. For example: if you have a blog, you probably want to track the number of subscribers and their conversion rate as primary goal. Your secondary goal could be total posts read, specific content downloads, etc. The more people read your posts, the more likely they are to convert to subscribers (your primary goal).
Goals are located under the Admin tab. Keep in mind that you can’t delete goals, only make them inactive.
KNOW EXACTLY WHAT WORKS (AND WHAT DOESN’T)
Setting an overall conversion goal is great, but it doesn’t tell you much about the way your site works from within nor about your users.
Lets say your newsletter subscribers conversion rate stands on 3%.
How do you optimize based only on this number?
Where do you start?
It could be that your readers are only interested in specific types of posts you write, or only in the content upgrades or freebies you offer. You may find out that signups are mainly from mobile, or from specific parts of the world.
By using segments and groups you can learn more about your users and the way they engage with your site. You have a starting point (or a few) to optimize your site.
You can create segments from almost any facets of your user data. Including: time on site, visitors who completed or didn’t complete a goal, visitors to specific pages or groups of pages, users from specific locations, specific device types and many many more. You can create groups of specific types of content (lets say blog posts, or better yet — specific type of blog posts).
To create a segment, all you have to do is click the +Add Segment in the data view of any report (see image below).
Try to think of interesting segments for comparison. For example — how your desktop users are engaging with your site comparing to mobile users. Other ideas could be: new users vs all users, compare users from different parts of the world, etc. If you have a segment you’re interested in analyzing but can’t find it in the list — you can always create any custom segment or import one from the Google Analytics Solution Gallery.
VISUALIZE THE FUNNEL
Now that we’ve filtered out internal traffic and set our goals and segments, it’s time to optimize the funnel.
First, you want to understand how users find your website/ blog/ product. Google Analytics offers an entire section on Acquisition, which includes all sorts of valuable reports. That’s out of scope for this post. Instead, I’d like to share two useful tools with you to better track the way users get to your website:
Webmasters tools: Allows you to track which keywords are bringing users to your site, the pages they’re visiting and their overall impact on your goals.
To connect webmaster tools to your Google Analytics account, you’ll need to Add a property for your site on the Webmasters tools and connect it to Google Analytics.
UTM parameters: This one is a must use for any campaign, ads or newsletter you’re launching. UTM parameters are simple tags added to your links. Adding these parameters allows you to view how your campaigns impact conversion rates and user engagement throughout the funnel.
The fastest way to create UTM parameters for your links is by using the Google Analytics URL Builder. UTM parameters are case-sensitive so make sure to keep your parameters consistent.
Now that we have two tools to help us track the top of the funnel, lets dive into conversion rates and user journey:
When optimizing a website, one of the key ways to use Google Analytics is to identify conversion uplift opportunities. I like to do that using Custom Reports. However, creating a custom report can take a long time (especially if you’re not an analytics expert).
A quick way to hack this is by using Google Analytics Solution Gallery. There are tons of free custom reports available for you to use. You can even edit the reports to fit your specific tracking needs.
Two noteworthy reports:
- Conversion rate split by device category and browser(by Craig Sullivan): Identify any technical or UX issues for specific browser and/or devices (add device segments). Any issue identified here is low hanging fruit.
- Day of Week & Month (by eGenie.biz): helps identify the day of the week and month that users convert the most.
AUTOMATE YOUR TRACKING (USING CUSTOM ALERTS)
The success of any startup depends on how quickly it can turn insights into actions. To be able to do that you need two things:
- Configure which data you want to review and how
- Get alerts whenever there’s an event in your data that requires your attention
We’ve already covered the first part (you can always add more to it based on your specific business needs). Now it’s time to tell Google analytics when you want to be notified. The way you do that is through Intelligence events.
There are two types of Intelligence events in Google Analytics:
1. Automatic alerts - preconfigured for you. Used mainly to surface irregularities in your day-to-day data.
2. Custom alerts - as hinted by the name, this alert type allows you to configure the changes in metrics that matter to you and are worthy of your immediate attention. I’ll focus on this type of alerts as they’re the ones that will make sure you’re not missing anything important (to your business).
To create a new custom alert go to:
Intelligence events > overview > custom alerts > manage custom alerts > new alert
You’ll then need to create the name of the alert, set the trigger and how you want to be notified (email/ mobile), it’s that simple. BUT don’t be tempted to set too many alerts or your Google Analytics account will start acting like the boy who cried wolf.
That said, you do want to set up some basic alerts for your goals and meaningful spikes (or drops) in traffic. So I suggest starting with this basic list of alerts (add your own):
- Goals: Spike/drop in goal completion/ performance (for each of your goals)
- Sudden spike/ drop in traffic
- Sudden increase in 404 page page-views
UNDERSTAND WHY A CERTAIN ALERT WAS TRIGGERED
Simply getting an alert is not enough. You need to know why. What caused the change in your goal/ traffic? Can you tie it back to a specific marketing campaign? an ad? Or maybe you just won another referral.
For that the great folks at Google Analytics invented “Annotations”. You can use Annotations to keep track of everything that might impact your business. For example: weather extremes, marketing campaigns, product launches, industry developments and tracking issues.
There are many posts out there that explain how to use Google Analytics Annotations. My personal favorite is one written on the Kissmetrics blog.
FINALLY, CUSTOMIZE YOUR DASHBOARD
Another way to spare your time viewing your reports on Google Analytics is by customizing your dashboard. Get all your important metrics in a single view. You can create a new dashboard through Reporting > Dashboards or search for a dashboard that suits your needs on the Google Analytics solution gallery. Either way you can edit the dashboard to fit your needs.
BONUS: DOWNLOAD MY GOOGLE ANALYTICS OPTIMIZATION KIT
The kit includes my preset Google Analytics configurations, which you can customize as you please. Go to the original post on my blog > Add your email at the bottom of the post and I’ll send it to your way.