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5 Things You Didn't Know Google Analytics Could Do

Google Analytics is a very powerful tool, able to provide valuable and actionable insight into the behavior of your visitors, the performance of your pay per click campaigns, and the impact of social media on your site. Wait! Didn't know about that last one? Neither do many seasoned web marketers who are scrambling to find new algorithms and software to better understand current problems and emerging trends. However, this article will shed light on some of the many functions that are possible from the comfort of your GA dashboard.

Mobile Reporting

With the rise of mobile search, mobile reporting has become a critical element in tracking the success of almost any website. However, tracking mobile traffic on traditional websites is not nearly as straightforward as tracking computer driven visits. Because a lot of mobile web apps use JavaScript for navigation, pages may be incorrectly tracked as just one page. Google Analytics resolved this issue by allowing developers to individually define Pageviews per their given needs, and in accordance to relevant mobile metrics. Google then aggregates the data, displays the number of visits, session length, bounce rates, and other insights about how users search and interact using mobile applications.

Google Analytics also offers developers the ability to define an “event” by adding additional categories, actions, labels and values. Events can be triggered by many different mobile actions such as a views of embedded videos, including starting, stopping, pausing, and load times; button clicks, downloads, and other data. The variety of information available empowers web app developers to reach a better understanding of which features of their applications are popular, which should be promoted and prioritized, and which require further development.

For mobile websites, Google Analytics reports traffic much the same way it reports visits to traditional websites. Visit reporting works for smartphones, such as iPhones and Android devices, as well as older internet capable phones. Tracking visits requires pasting a server-side snippet on the pages the developer wishes to track. Additionally, developers can track traffic from smartphones that visit their traditional website by going to the "Visitors" section in the "Mobile" tab of their Analytics account, or in the "Mobile Advanced" section.

Weighted Sort

The vast deluge of data that Google Analytics shares with users can be intimidating and difficult to properly analyze for actionable insights. For large websites, it can often be a herculean task to glean information that tells an accurate story, leading to myths instead of true insights. Misinterpretation occurs most frequently when users don't browse beyond the Top 10 results. Understanding this problem, Google Analytics recently unveiled Weighted Sort as an option to quickly and easily gain actionable insights into web traffic without creating additional tables or using other time consuming techniques.

This function is particularly helpful for keyword optimization and landing page optimization projects for sites with multiple pages. For example, if you want to sort your data to see which keywords have the highest bounce rate, you would click the bounce rate column to see the data in descending order. Unfortunately, sorting the data by bounce rate often shows a 100% bounce rate for keywords that may have only 1 visit. Obviously, this information imparts no real value, no actionable results, and would require further analysis to yield any beneficial insights.

Ideally, weighted sort steps in at this point with its focus on distributed value, and changes the results shown. Sorting bounce rates that are cross-referenced with the number of visits, and of course, using the algorithm to assign data point values, reveals more impactful and insightful information.

By taking this data, you can see which keywords are working and which aren't, which are failing at the landing page, and which are successful. Further insight into the optimization of landing pages can be performed using sub-dimensions that share pages on related keywords and allow you to see engagement.

Track SEO Rankings

Keeping track of your position on a search engine for relevant keywords could be a simple task for small websites, while a gargantuan one for those attempting to ascertain rankings for hundreds or thousands of keywords. Worse, one ranking tool could tell you that you are ranking in position 13, while another tool could tell you are on page 1 for the same search engine. This could be due to 'personalized search' or 'local results' that can influence rankings. However, Google Analytics is able to provide accurate information regarding your true rankings using a specialized filter system.

To track your keyword rankings through Google Analytics, you will need to add a new profile to your website on the Google Analytics dashboard. The new profile is necessary to prevent tampering and damage to existing filters. Click the new profile link on the right side of the overview of all websites that have been added to Google Analytics. Next, select "add a profile for an existing domain, then select the domain from the drop down list, and give it a unique name. Finally, click "continue" to create the new website profile, saving the data as the original profile.

Now you should be back on the profile overview page. Click on the edit link button next to the newly created profile. Next, click on the add filter link on the side of the profile detail page. You will need to add three filters altogether.

The first filter will contain the following information:

Filter name: Ranking 1
Filter type: Custom filter - Include
Filter field: Campaign Medium
Filter pattern: organic

The second filter will contain this information:

Filter name: Ranking 2
Filter type: Custom filter - Include
Filter field: Campaign Source
Filter pattern: google

The purpose of the first two filters is to segregate Google organic traffic. If you wish to include Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine in your results, make sure to change the information in filters 1 & 2 to include other search engines.

The third filter is the one that will ultimately produce your keyword rankings. The filter description is as follows:

Filter name: Ranking 3
Filter type: Custom filter - Advanced
Field A -> Extract A: Campaign term, (.*)
Field B -> Extract B: Referral, (\?|&)cd=([^&]*)
Output To -> User Defined: $A1 (position: $B2)

Field A is taking the campaign term that Google Analytics already has stored in its cookies, while Field B is going to parse the referral data with the regular expression. The regular expression, also known as the regex, extracts the "cd" url parameter, which Google uses to track your position in search engine results.

Since the filter starts working the moment it is created, you will only need to wait a few hours to see results.

To view your rankings, click Visitors > User Defined under website stats. The keywords should be displayed with the associated page rank of your ranking landing page. If there is not number listed then you are ranking on page 1 for that keyword, if there is a 10 you are ranking on page 2, 20 for page 3, etc.

Armed with this simple tool you can now easily track and analyze your website's keyword performance, and be alert for optimization potential that increases your website's traffic and reach.

Tracking the Error Rates of Forms

Filling out forms online is well known, not only for tracking conversions but also for losing visitors. Though user drop-off will never completely end, you can use the Google Analytics event tracking feature to improve your conversion rate by analyzing and optimizing the form to make the process easier and more efficient. With just a bit of tweaking, Google Analytics can track which fields users are actually filling out and which fields are objectionable. This provides actionable insight, telling you which fields should be included to garner the information you require, and which should be removed to lower form bounce rates.

Before you begin, make sure Google Analytics is installed properly and not generating any errors. If you are not familiar with Google Analytics event tracking, you may learn more about it here.

Tracking a user's actions in an event is done by calling the _trackEvent method:

_trackEvent(category, action, opt_label, opt_value)

From Google:

  • Category (required): The name you supply for the group of objects you want to track.
  • Action (required): A string that is uniquely paired with each category, and commonly used to define the type of user interaction for the web object.
  • Label (optional): An optional string to provide additional dimensions to the event data.
  • Value (optional): An integer that you can use to provide numerical data about the user event.

To track each time someone fills in a field, you will need to add some JavaScript. We recommend using the jQuery JavaScript library to accomplish this as detailed by Duncan Morris of Distilled:

There are three important things to do to your forms page:

  1. Reference jQuery in the head:
  2. Use the jQuery url parser. This requires uploading it to your web server and referencing it in the head of the page just like step one:
  3. Add the necessary javascript to make the event tracking work:
    $(document).ready(function() {
      var currentPage = jQuery.url.attr("path");
      $(':input').blur(function () {
        if($(this).val().length > 0){
          //pageTracker._trackEvent("Form: " + currentPage, "input_exit", $(this).attr('name'));//old GA Tracking code
    	_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', "Form: " + currentPage, "input_exit", $(this).attr('name')]);//new GA Tracking code

Once you have event tracking setup and working for a day, you can check your metrics by visiting your Google Analytics dashboard. Go to the Content section, view Event Tracking, then Labels, and compare the first column that shows your form fields to unique events. This will show you which form fields are causing people to abandon your site.

With this information the determinants of your forms' success can be more accurately gauged, allowing you to establish which fields are succeeding, which are failing, whether your form is too long, or if you are just a victim of casual user disinterest. This will ultimately help you to focus your optimization efforts on areas that have the greatest impact on conversions and ROI.

Measuring Impact of Social Media

Social media is an ever-growing part of SEO; however, measuring its impact is about as easy as guessing what will be the next viral video with a billion hits. Google Analytics, in a roundabout way, can show the impact that your social media efforts are having on your conversions.

Advanced Segments

One way to measure the impact of social media on your conversions is the advance segments feature of Google Analytics. This feature will isolate traffic coming from specific URLs, i.e., the social networks you wish to track conversions from. Segmenting traffic is necessary so that when you run reports you aren't getting data from all social network traffic, but only traffic that comes from specific efforts such as content produced.

You will first need to define what counts as a conversion, which could be a user visiting the page that comes after filling out a form. You will also need to use Google Analytics' link tagging feature so your links can be tracked and sorted in Google Analytics. This spreadsheet provided by the Conversion Scientist will help you generate tagged URLs. Now you need to use advanced segments to isolate the traffic coming from the social networks you tagged.

After you've defined what a conversion is and have isolated your traffic for analysis, you can process the data with a custom report. The report should reveal to you how many conversions you are getting from each social network you have tagged by comparing how many visitors you received to how many completed your defined conversion.

Firefox's Better Google Analytics Plug-in

Another way to track social media is the Better Google Analytics plug-in for Firefox. The plug-in basically enhances Google Analytics with a compilation of scripts from Greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that allows users to customize the way web pages look and function. In addition to other features, the scripts allow users to retrieve data from multiple forms of social media, including Digg, Sphinn, Mixx, Reddit, StumbleUpon, delicious.com, and Yahoo inLinks (case-sensitive to the URL).

Installation of the plug-in is easy:

  1. Install the Greasemonkey extension for Firefox
  2. Install the Better Google Analytics Plug-In
  3. Log-in to your Google Analytics account to see the reports

The plug-in will pull the social media metrics into your Google Analytics Content Detail reports. The icons on the report are interactive. For example, if you have zero Diggs, you can click the Digg icon to go to the Digg submissions page.

Armed with this data, you will for once be a little ahead of the social media game by gaining an understanding of the impact of your efforts on each network. You can make changes to your landing pages to reflect your findings, or find out what else may be the source of high or low conversion rates.

The Learning Curve

As the web continues to grow and change, not only will the metrics that are measured change, but the proper reporting and interpretation of data gathered will need to adapt. Google understands this more than most, and consistently updates its Analytics software to optimally interpret current trends. However, developers and Analytics users remain responsible for priming and manipulating their data beyond the established defaults provided by Google. Experimentation is no longer solely the realm of pay per click campaigns, but should be embraced in all online efforts. Through trial, error, some introspection, and of course, a Google search of techniques other marketers are using, you will find innovative and practical ways to use your data that will improve your performance online.

About Emily McClendon

Emily McClendon is an SEO specialist currently working at NeboWeb. She has had the privilege to work with a talented team of creative and innovative individuals to understand the nuances of interactive marketing. Emily enjoys sharing her research and understanding of current trends and tools in the online industry through original, informative content. She is also a contributor to Environmental Leader, iMedia Connection, and Promotion World.

Article Contributors included:

  • Ken Hammond, Copywriter @ NeboWeb
  • James Charlesworth, Senior SEO Specialist @ NeboWeb
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