Articles in the Analytics 101 – The Basics Category

April 30 2008

Creating an Effective Google Analytics Dashboard


As advertised in my last blog post, I wanted to show some ways to create an effective Dashboard in Google Analytics, and some of the things that you can do with it. As inspiration, I’m digging through the archives and I’m sourcing a blog post from my favorite blog author, Avinash Kaushik, titled: “Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards“. (Note: he wrote this blog post 2 months before the current version of Google Analytics was released with its customizable dashboard and fancy AJAX-based functionality).

Adding reports to your dashboard.

As I talked about last week, you can add any report to your dashboard in Google Analytics. All you need to do is click on the silver-colored “Add to Dashboard” button, found on almost every report page toward the top-left of the page. After clicking on that button, you’ll get a message across your screen, indicating that the report has been added to the dashboard. Google Analytics will now show a new one of those moveable report windows to your dashboard.

The very important part to understand here is when adding reports to your dashboard, Google Analytics will “save” the exact report view, tab, and options that you had selected before you clicked on “Add to Dashboard”. This is an unbelievable time saver for even quicker access to the exact information that you need, with the segmenting and drill-down options that you had put together. To access that “saved” information, simply click on the “View Report” link toward the bottom of the new report window, and GA will take you there.

Limit yourself to a maximum of six reports!

Six may seem a lot (or not enough, depending on your situation), but the purpose of a dashboard is to isolate the absolute most important elements for you and your business, so that you can get a quick overview that anyone within your organization can look at and understand. Think of this as the front page of your local newspaper – you have your top stories and teasers to other stories found within the newspaper right on the front page. If you want to keep reading further or dive into an individual section (Business, Sports, Classifieds), you’ll have to open up the paper and go there.

Also, when you export the Google Analytics Dashboard to a PDF file, six reports is the maximum number that you can get to fit on one page.

It’s not just about statistics – it’s also about insights.

A common mistake is that people add reports to their dashboard that are mere statistical figures (Visits, Pageviews, Top Content). Try narrowing down your “statistics only” dashboard reports to about 1, at maximum 2. The other four reports should be items that can give you insights (which can then allow you to take action) on your website, your shopping cart, your landing pages, or your blog. Remember, Google Analytics “saves” the exact current view of your report when you click on the “Add to Dashboard” page, so it’s OK to have your report segmented, with a different view and the Ecommerce or Goal Conversion tab on, excluding a certain keyword or traffic source and sorted by the Revenue Column. There’s no rule against it.

The Dashboard isn’t frozen after you create it.

As item #1 of Avinash’s post tells you, your Dashboard isn’t carved in stone after you create it. You can (and should) continue to modify and tweak it over time, as your business evolves and your needs change. You can also create separate dashboards for different people. You can create a dashboard for your CEO, your Marketing Manager, or the new junior analyst you just hired. Simply create a separate log-in for each person, and have at it. (Google Analytics displays the dashboard based on the user log-in. If you’re logged in as the Administrator of your account, changes you make to the dashboard will not appear to other users when they log-in. Also, every log-in email address must be a Google Account first).

Don’t be afraid of a little date-range comparison!

Comparing your current data to data from a previous date-range can give you an idea on how things are going for you. Have your organic conversions from Yahoo increased over time? Has your Cart Abandonment Rate gone down lately? How did you get so much referring traffic from MySpace this month in comparison to last month? You can start to answer these questions by a simple date-range comparison, which we also talked about in last week’s blog post. Once applied, the items on your dashboard will immediately be refreshed with date-range comparisons and context-oriented figures everywhere!

Just have some fun with it.

Finally, if you haven’t really done anything with your dashboard since opening up your Google Analytics account, just go in there and have some fun. Add some different reports, move them around, delete the ones you don’t like, and play with the date-range feature. Pretend you’re a 9 year old kid with a box of 124 Crayola Crayons and miles and miles of fresh, out-of-the-dryer white tablecloth and go to town on the Dashboard. You may surprise yourself on what information you discover about your website by simply playing with your dashboard.

If you keep your dashboard simple, easy to understand, and full of context and insights, you will have created an effective Google Analytics Dashboard, regardless of your industry or business goals.

April 18 2008

Using the Google Analytics Dashboard


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?


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.

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