Those of us who play with Web analytics have gotten used to the way Google tweaks its Google Analytics product all the time. Sometimes you log in and a button is shifted or moved or colored differently. Always be testing, right?

Google is in the midst of an upgrade to Google Analytics that is more than a few minor UI tweaks. Google Analytics Version 5 is a pretty hefty revision. While the smooth gradient interface design is an incremental upgrade, there are enough improvements in organization and reporting features that make this update more than skin deep.


One of the hard parts about getting started with Web analytics has been that all of the reports have had names that are confusing or organized in a way that only a Web analyst would love.

The new version of Google Analytics makes some solid improvements in this area. The "Visitors" tab now has labels that make sense to a marketer. "Demographics" reports tell you about the location, language and custom-variable stuff.

"Behavior" reports tell you about how often visitors are coming to your site, the difference between new and returning visitors, and the duration and depth of visit.

"Technology" reports let us reminisce about the glory days of browser/operating system (OS) reports and look to the near future with reports on mobile visitors.

Google Analytics screenshot.

The rest of the sections in the new Google Analytics are equally improved. This is, for those who have already gone through the learning curve of interpreting Web analytics reports, primarily cosmetic. But for those who are struggling to use Web analytics tools, it makes the on-ramp a whole lot smoother.

Event goals

Goal-tracking is one of the great features of any Web analytics package. It is also one of the most underused. In real estate, for example, you might want to set a goal every time someone fills out a lead form, or looks at the contact page, or looks at some other page.

Before this update, goals could be set for viewing a certain page (i.e., "Thank you for contacting me. I’ll respond in 24 hours or less"), for viewing a certain number of pages (i.e., "People who look at eight or more pages are relatively serious about finding a property"), or for staying on the site for a certain length of time (i.e., "People who stay on my site for more than one minute have a noticeable improvement in remembering my name or my brand").

The ability to set these goals and assign a dollar or point value to them is very powerful. It’s powerful because you can start to look at visits that complete those goals to help inform decisions. For example: Did the people who saw the "Thank you for contacting us" page get to the site via social media or paid advertising or organic search?

So goals are great and have always been great. But they’ve been tied to an old Web paradigm: the page view. If you didn’t create a specific goal URL (or do some fancy JavaScript that distorted your page view count by mimicking a page view for Google Analytics) you couldn’t track a specific action by Web visitor.

With event goals, now you can include things that visitors do on a single page as a goal. This sounds super nerdy, I know. So here’s an example:

1. A visitor arrives on your real estate website.
2. They click on a link to download your iPhone app.
3. That click brings them to another site (iTunes).

In this example, the visitor has done something that’s probably useful for you. But in the former version of Google Analytics you couldn’t make this a goal because clicking on the download button didn’t bring the visitor to a new page on your own site. You could track the click but you couldn’t make it a goal.

In the new version you can make that event (clicking the link to download the iPhone app) into a goal for the site. Then you can start to use this information just like you would for other goals: i.e., "Where are the people who download the iPhone app located?" "Are they new visitors or repeat visitors?" and so on.

In this example, you could replace "download your iPhone app" with any number of things that don’t generate a new page view on your own website.

For example:

  • Click the Twitter or Facebook or other social media link.
  • Click the "Download Market Report PDF" link.
  • Watch a video through to completion (requires some semi-fancy JavaScript).
  • Click a button on your Flash widget interface.

Lots and lots of dashboards

Google Analytics screenshot.

I’ve saved the best for last here. If you’ve survived the bit about event goals you’re totally ready for this one: customized dashboards. Yeah that’s rights: dashboards. As in: You can have more than one dashboard.

Again, for those of us Web analytics geeks, a big challenge in helping decision-makers do their job is getting them useful reports. Generating those reports is time consuming (aka expensive).

The reason generating reports has been so time consuming is that the default reports pumped out by Google Analytics includes stuff that may not be relevant to most decision-makers (see: bounce rate).

The latest version of Google Analytics lets us have full control of the dashboard so we only show what the decision-maker needs. And since we can now make more than one dashboard, we can make role-based reports.

We can now make separate reports that only show relevant information for each person or job in the organization.

For example, we can make separate dashboards for the following people/tasks:

  • "C-level" dashboard: Reports on geography and conversions, plus one other report that is related to a specific project in which the HiPPO ("highest paid person in organization") has taken an interest.
  • Marketing manager dashboard: Reports on visitors, traffic sources/conversions, campaign performance
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) dashboard: Branded vs. nonbranded keywords, organic vs. paid traffic.
  • Social Marketing dashboard: Visits per social network, social campaign performance.
  • Conversion Specialist dashboard: Page-value reports, landing page performance, bounce rates, exit pages.

And so on. Each task in your organization can have its own, focused dashboard. That way you won’t spend your time wondering about reports that nine times out of 10 are only loosely connected to your website goals (see: bounce rate).

Overall, we’re looking at a significant move forward for Google Analytics’ ability to help people make decisions. Organization, improvements in tracking website goals, and the ability to create multiple custom dashboards are three of the improvements to this version that you can start using today.

Google Analytics screenshot.

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