Articles in the Analytics 101 – The Basics Category

April 18 2008

Using the Google Analytics Dashboard

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The Google Analytics Dashboard is the first page that you see when you log-in to your Google Analytics account (well technically it’s the second page, as the first page lists all of your profiles). The Dashboard is the “homepage” of your Google Analytics account, and there’s quite a bit that you can do with it.

The Date Range Tool:

Starting from the top of the page, the first thing that you can control is the Date-Range Tool (or as a Google Engineer told me, the Date-Range “Slider”). That date that you see on your dashboard is the default setting for all Google Analytics profiles – the last 30 days. Clicking on the Date-Range Tool activates the menu:

Google Analytics Date-Range Tool / Slider

From here, you can do a few different things. You can click on any individual day in the calendar, to be able to view data for just that single day; you can click on any one of those “half-circle” tabs next to each week to view data for each individual week; or, you can click on the name of any month to view data for that entire month’s time. To choose a specific date-range, click on the first day of your desired date-range, and then click on the last day of your desired date-range. When you’re finished, you can click on the top-right corner of the date-range tool (either on the date itself or the arrow pointing down) to close the menu.

You can also compare any date to a previous date range that is equal in length to what you have selected. First, select your desired date-range. Then, from the drop-down menu under where it says “Comparison”, choose “Date Range”, and you will see the previous date-range become highlighted in bright green. Click on the “Apply” button directly underneath the drop-down menu to enable the date range comparison. Look at what happens to the items on your dashboard:

Google Analytics Dashboard with Date-Range Comparison

How fancy! Now, every element of your dashboard, and every element of every other report in Google Analytics, will have this Date-Range comparison enabled. To disable it, simply click into the Date-Range Tool, change from “Date Range” to “Site” in the Comparison drop-down menu, and click on the “Apply” button. You should be back to a single date-range view.

Finally, you can click on the “Timeline” tab within the Date-Range Tool menu to see a trending graph view of the calendar function. You can drag the window back and forth, and you can contract or expand the window by click-and-dragging one of the two silver buttons on either side of the window. It’s a fancier version of the standard calendar view – I’m a boring guy, so I prefer the regular calendar table :).

Export / Email Options:

Your dashboard can be exported to a PDF or an XML file format. All you have to do is click on the “Export” button, which is located towards the top-left of your Dashboard. Once you click on the “Export” button, a sub-menu appears with your two options (Note: for every other report in Google Analytics, you can export in a PDF, XML, CSV, or a TSV file format).

Clicking on the “Email” Button will send you to the Email Management screen, where you can send the report to yourself and other email addresses; enter in a custom Subject and Description Line; and choose the file format which you would like to receive your Dashboard. Or, you can click on the “Schedule” Tab, and have your Dashboard automatically emailed to you daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. You can also choose to enable an automatic date-range comparison in your scheduled report from this tab as well.

If you receive your report in a PDF file format, Google Analytics will not only send you the dashboard, but it will also send you each individual report that you have on your Dashboard at that time (Keep Reading for more on that).

The Trending Graph:

Google Analytics Trending Graph

Directly below both the Date-Range Tool and the Export / Email Options, you will see the Trending Graph (how can you miss it? :)) , which is available in almost every report in Google Analytics. With the Trending Graph, you can do a few different things. First, each point on the Trending Graph corresponds to one day – mousing-over any point will display a mini-window with that day’s date, and the number of Visits that occurred on that date. To change what the trending graph is graphing by, click on either “Week” or “Month” towards the right-hand side of the graph, and it will update accordingly.

Now, see where it says “Visits” to the far right of the graph? Click on that little arrow that’s pointing down to enable the Graph Mode menu:

Google Analytics Graph Mode Options

From here, you can change which metric the trending graph is displaying simply by selecting any one of those six metrics listed. The link in the middle, “Compare Two Metrics”, allows you to do just that – compare two different metrics at the same time. The second metric will be represented by an orange-colored line in the trending graph. You can also click on the link to the right, “Compare to Site”, to compare any metric for one individual page or one set of pages against the entire site. This comes in handy when you’re looking at one page, or a group of pages, and want to see how they are doing in comparison to everything (as a whole).

The “Site Usage” Window:

Below the trending graph is the Site Usage window. These six metrics are the very basics of your website’s data. This report window is the only item in the dashboard that you can’t play with (sorry!).

The Report Windows:

Google Analytics Report Window

Finally, below the Site Usage window is each individual report window. By default, Google Analytics gives you four default Report Windows: Visitors Overview, Traffic Sources Overview, Map Overlay, and Content Overview. When you create a Goal within your profile, Google Analytics adds a fifth window, Goals Overview, and when you enable Ecommerce reporting, it adds a sixth window, Ecommerce Overview.

All of these windows (or widgets, or reports) can be moved around to your liking. Simply click-and-drag the gray heading part of the window, and drop it wherever you’d like. You can also close any report window, thereby removing it from your Dashboard, simply by clicking on the gray “X” on the upper-right hand side. Finally, you can click on “View Report” to be taken to that particular report’s main page.

Any report in Google Analytics is available to be added to your dashboard, which will add one of these report windows for you to play with. This, in essence, “saves” your work, because when you click on the “View Report” link, you will be taken to the same report page with your exact same options that you had enabled or disabled when you clicked on the “Add to Dashboard” button.

Look for a follow-up post next week, where I will talk about creating an effective Google Analytics Dashboard, and what you can do with one.

March 31 2008

Why are Conversions in Google AdWords different from Goals in Google Analytics?

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Q1 of 2008 started just the other day (or so it seems) and here we are, about to begin Q2. Many marketers and business owners hold quarterly status meetings, right after a quarter has ended, to evaluate the performance of their online initiatives. Specifically, they meet to evaluate their paid search campaigns (and, they should). Chances are that they are advertising with Google AdWords. Chances are also really good that they are using the Google AdWords Conversion Tracking Feature and have a Google Analytics account running at the same time. Which, of course, makes me very proud 🙂

And, if you’re like me, you like your data like Lieutenant Commander Data – with “android-like precision”. (Yes, I just dropped a Star Trek reference. My Co-Worker’s “Resistance is Futile” blog series has inspired me to reference Star Trek more often, so you have her to thank for it).

Unfortunately, due to several factors, data collected by ways of javascript and cookie creation cannot be 100% precise, no matter how hard we try to make it such. This is something that I am always reminded of when I receive a question from a client or a fellow co-worker that sounds somewhat like this:

“I am looking at my weekly / monthly / quarterly reports, and Google AdWords shows that I have received 74 conversions…but when I log in to Google Analytics, I see that I have 88 Goal Conversions for the exact same Conversion Point. Which one is right?”

There are many possibilities here. Before I can answer this, let me explain some things:

What is Google AdWords Conversion Tracking, and how it works:
The Google AdWords Conversion Tracking is a block of javascript code that is placed on a page of your website where you want your website’s visitors to ultimately wind up. This is normally a “Thank You” page that a visitor sees after they fill out an inquiry form, or a “Receipt” page that a visitor sees after they buy something from your Online Store. When a visitor lands on a page with Conversion Tracking, a cookie is placed on the visitor’s computer and data is sent to a Google AdWords server, registering this conversion and then assigning the credit for the conversion to the proper keyword, ad, ad group, and Campaign.

What is a Goal in Google Analytics, and how it works:
A Goal in Google Analytics is when someone visits a page that has been defined as a Conversion Goal within a Google Analytics profile. The idea behind what page(s) to select for Goals in GA is identical to choosing which pages to place AdWords Conversion Code on. However, Google Analytics only requires its regular tracking code to be present on that page in order to record a Goal Conversion. Upon entering your website, up to five cookies are set on a visitor’s computer, whether they reach your Goal Conversion page or not. GA takes the number of visits to your Goal Conversion page(s), and simply does the math throughout its reports.

So…why are AdWords and Analytics Conversion Numbers Different?
There are a few different reasons:

A. Cookie Deletion / Cookie Blocking Habits
Depending on a user’s browser settings, they may be blocking the AdWords Conversion Tracking cookie, and not blocking the Google Analytics cookies, or vice-versa.

B. Script Location on Conversion Page
Because these are two different scripts, there is a possibility that one script will “execute” before a user closes their browser or leaves the page, before the other script had a chance to execute.

C. Different Servers
The Server that processes AdWords Conversion Tracking is a different server from the one that processes Google Analytics data. So, much like reason B above, one server may have finished receiving information, but another server may have not finished receiving information before a user leaves the site or closes their browser.

D. Certain Google Partner Sites
Some of Google’s Search Partner Websites (where your ads may appear) cannot have their Conversions tracked with the AdWords Conversion Tracking script. However, if you’ve coded your URLs for Google Analytics, you will still see a Conversion for “google / cpc”.

E. Google AdWords can assign a conversion to a Campaign within a 30-day period
A user may not convert right away on their first visit to your site – they may come back some days or a couple of weeks later, and then convert. If you run a report in Google AdWords one day, and run the same exact report with the same date-range a week from when you ran it the first time, chances are you may see a different number of conversions between the two reports. Google Analytics cannot go back in time and credit a prior campaign or keyword with a conversion – it can only give credit for a Goal Conversion as it happens.

The combination and the mixture of all of those reasons makes it almost impossible for the AdWords Conversion Counter and Goals in Google Analytics to be identical figures.

Final Question: “So, which one is the right one / which one should I be looking at?”
The answer here is both of them. Keep in mind that neither Google AdWords nor Google Analytics are accounting packages or server logs – you cannot use those for official bookkeeping or record-keeping. I like to say, use the number of Conversions in Google AdWords and Goals in Google Analytics as guides, while analyzing and evaluating trends and habits, not for accounting purposes.

March 27 2008

Where are all these people coming from?

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So you’re getting a lot of traffic to your website. That’s great! A good amount of your website’s traffic is converting. Awesome! You’re even getting some returning visitors to your site, and they are buying things, too! What could be better than this? (Of course, you could say “Winning the Lottery!”, but that’s not realistic).

The first question that comes to mind about your website’s traffic is usually “Where is the traffic coming from?”, or some variation of that. This is something that we all want to know, whether to satisfy our own curiosity or to properly optimize your cost-per-click campaigns. Using Google Analytics, let me show you a few different places where you can go to find out the origins of your traffic.

1. The “All Traffic Sources” Report
This is normally where most everyone goes to know where people are coming from. It’s found underneath the “Traffic Sources” section (obviously). Now, you need to understand that, by default, Google Analytics groups all traffic in four separate categories, or, “mediums””:

Direct – Usually represented by (direct)(none), this is all of the traffic that either types in the URL of your website by hand, or accesses your website via a bookmark. Copying / Pasting your website’s URL and clicking on “Go” or hitting the Enter key also counts as direct traffic.
Referral – A referral is any visit from any website that links to yours. Usually appears with the name of the website or IP address (Example: myspace.com / referral)
Organic – Any traffic originating from an organic search engine listing. As of this post, Google Analytics automatically recognizes 39 different websites as search engines, but this number is always changing. (Example: google / organic)
CPC – Traffic that originates from a pay-per-click marketing program, such as Google AdWords. You’ll see it listed as “google / cpc”. Note: you will need to have your URLs coded with Google Analytics URL Tracking on all of your non-Google AdWords Paid Search campaigns in order to see them listed as “cpc”. Otherwise, they will be lumped in with the “organic” listings. Visit the Google Analytics URL Tool Builder Page to learn how it’s done.

2. The “Referring Sites” Report
This report is one of my personal favorites. I really like to look at this report, so I can see who is either linking to me or referencing me in a blog or message board. This report is also found in the “Traffic Sources” section, and it will list any website which you have received at least one visit from. The best part about this is that if you click on any website listing, you can see the exact page where your link is found, and you can also click on the small “double-window” icon next to the full page path to go to that page, to see your link on their site.

3. The “Search Engines” Report
Finally, you can use the Search Engines report to view your total amount of search engine traffic. You can also click on the “paid” link next to the segmenting tool to view all paid Search Engine traffic, or you can click on the “non-paid” link to view all organic / non-paid Search Engine traffic. Clicking on the name of the search engine that’s listed there will allow you to segment that search engine by keyword, so that you can see which search terms are responsible for bringing you traffic.

These three reports are a great start for you to start to see where all of your traffic is originating from.

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