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Five (and a half) essential Google Analytics tips

Updated | 6 months ago

Tags: Strategy, Google, Analytics

Effective online marketing begins and ends with web analytics. Careful analysis of the detailed reports available for free via Google Analytics (GA) will tell you a great deal about the health of your website, how hard it works to generate sales and what you need to change.

GA also helps you to identify where your marketing resource is best spent. In tracking how many conversions occur as a result of a link from your Facebook Page or from a piece of email marketing, for example, you can determine the return on investment (ROI) for each of your touchpoints - even print.

Here are five essential tips for making the most of Google Analytics.

Define goals and funnels

A Goal (sometimes referred to as a conversion) is any desirable activity on your website. A goal might be

  • purchase confirmation page: your visitor has become a customer
  • mailing-list sign-up thank you page: your visitor becomes a prospect
  • product detail page: your visitor shows interest
  • product sheet download page: your visitor becomes engaged
  • contact us page: your visitor becomes a lead

Setting up a goal is as easy. On your GA Overview page, click on the "edit" link under the Actions column, then choose to "Add goal". See the Google Analytics help page for more.

A Funnel is the path you expect the visitor to take which leads them to a goal. A funnel, for example, for a product purchase from an email campaign might be:

Campaign landing page > Product detail page > Add to basket page > Checkout page > Credit card entry page > Thank you page

Funnels are useful because they help you to identify problems in your page flow by showing you how many visitors exit before fulfilling at each stage of the funnel. If most visitors make it through to the "Add to basket" page but no further, this might indicate that there's a usability problem with the page which needs addressing.

You can build a funnel once you've set up a goal - and through the same interface. See the Google Analytics help page for more.

Understanding $index and page values

$index enables you to measure the value of every page on your website and to identify pages which aren't pulling their weight.

When you create a goal you can (and should) assign a goal value to that page. The value you assign isn't important in absolute terms, but should express the relative importance of that page. Let's say a mailing list sign-up is twice as important as your contact us page. You might give the former a value of 20 and the latter a value of 10.

Once your goal pages have a value, GA will begin to calculate the value of every other page in the website by analysing the role each page plays in contributing to a visit to the goal page.

GA looks at all the paths taken to all the goal pages on the site and, based upon an equation, assigns an $index (or page value) to each page. This $index is expressed in US dollars but that's irrelevant. The numerical value of each page should be seen as a relative indication of that's page's contribution to the website.

When viewing your "Top content" report, it's worth ordering by $index so that you can see which pages contribute most - and least. Once you have this insight you can factor in your funnel pathways and prioritise pages which need some attention to improve their effectiveness.

More on $index and page values.

Campaign tracking

GA has a powerful method for monitoring how many visits we made to a specific web page (or even downloadable document) as a result of the visitor clicking a link in an email newsletter, Twitter post, Facebook update, banner ad, reciprocal link, non-Google paid keyword or any other digital touchpoint.

To use campaign checking you need to add campaign variables to the landing page URL which you use as the link in your email, banner ad and so on.

Let's say that you want to link from your emailshot to

With campaign tracking, you should instead use this link

Looks complicated, but luckily Google have provided an excellent tool for generating this URL.

Every click on that link is recorded by GA as having come from an eflyer, specifically the Autumn newsletter which was used as part of the New product launch marketing campaign.

You can analyse results in your Traffic Sources > Campaigns report.

Traffic sources

If you want a quick overview of where your traffic is coming from (and what proportion, for instance, comes from your social media touchpoints or from search engines), your first stop should be the Traffic Source > Referring Sites report.

This is often a useful way to build up a picture, over time, of how your touchpoints are contributing to your traffic, and enables you to identify trends.


A simple trick - but one that many GA users don't know about...

Whenever you launch a marketing campaign or make a change to the website, you should get into the habit of annotating your stats. To do this, go to your Dashboard and click on the small grey arrow beneath the main chart.

Click on the "Create new annotation" link and enter a date and a note (eg, "New season launched" or "Autumn email sent").

The annotation appears throughout GA as a small white speech bubble at the appropriate date to remind you that something happened - so you can explain that sudden spike in your page visits!

And finally...

Not quite a sixth tip because the feature has only just gone live - but make sure you look out for the new Real-Time Data reports which GA is rolling out.

You can sign up for early access to real-time analysis on the Google website.


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