Analytics Training, Day 1

Google Analytics is a free web analytics package used to track a websites' visitor metrics.  Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a training event in Chicago hosted by Webshare, LLC.


After registration and picking up some real basic Google shwag, the day started with a simple introduction to web analytics.  As wikipedia states it, "Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of internet data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage."  The instructor, Dave, then recalls early metrics used to track site traffic such as the hit counters.  Problem with those, of course, is that they don't offer us any insight as to how our visitors are using our sites.  Along came products such as Awstats and wusage

Once you start using an analytics tool such as the suite provided by 

Google, its important to know what your goals are.  Lead generation?  Ecommerce?  Directing users to call a phone number?  Once you know what you are really asking of your visitors, you may then begin  to optimize your site to reach that goal.  A process that you may have seen before breaks it down like so:


1. Take Action

2. Measure

3. Learn

Other notable slides from the morning glossed over the importance of keeping that data in context.  Remember that averages can be misleading, even when using analytic tools.  For example, just because one keyword has a higher conversion rate than another, it may not imply that those conversions lead to higher revenue.  Keep as many metrics in focus as needed to better analyze your visitors.  Remember to look at the big picture.  Understanding analytic data means understanding:

  • Segments such as visitors' browser or source
  • Context - what if the traffic is coming from your competition?  What is your competition doing?
  • Trends - use tools like Google Insights to help monitor current or past events

Some other interesting tidbits...

  • When viewing reports, the Comparison view may help visualize the data
  • Filters may be helping or hurting your data
  • Supposedly, Google has far more infrastructure dedicated to Analytics than to its Search systems
  • Averages can be misleading
  • Fire Cookies is a great plugin for Firefox (firebug) for analyzing cookies


After a buffet style lunch, Dave continued the seminar with Campaign concepts for Google Analytics.  As simples as it is to set up, its amazing that some people don't use it to help analyze how traffic arrives at their website.  Some ways you could use campaigns include:

  • Vanity urls in print that redirects to urls for example "" could actually point to "" using a 301 redirect or similar method.
  • Using custom tools or online link builders such as Googles' own link builder, you could easily run email newsletter campaigns to draw in traffic.

Learn more about tagging links for campaigns here.

Dave ran through most of the reports in the afternoon session.  The Content -> Site Search report is an amazing feature that allows you analyze what your visitors are searching for and how they are refining their searches to try and find answers.  Configuring Google Analytics site search and knowing how to read the reports will surely help you improve your sites search engine and content layout.

We also briefly covered User Defined Variables and Custom Variable.  User Defined Variables are values that you can provide to the GA page tracker to be reviewed and crossed in content reports.  The can still be used, however, Custom Variables offer more flexibility and allow for more data to be stored.  Custom variables allow for up to 5 sets of custom data to be stored including category, action, and scope.  You can learn more about Google Analytics custom variables here.

Other bits from the afternoon...

  • Content Drilldown has a great, but limited, report:
    • Content -> Navigation Summary
  • Sites like offer heat maps for better visualization of how traffic is viewing and interacting with your site.
  • Motion charts, while hard to grasp at first, offer a wealth of data through a 4 metric interface: X, Y, Color, and Time metrics that can be set by the user.  May help determine:
    • Branding - Marketing effectiveness
    • Lead Generation - Guiding traffic or obtaining information
    • E-Commerce - measuring ROI


Some Questions I fielded during day 1

Q. Is there any way to move a profile?

A. No.


Q. It was recommended not to delete the first profile created for an account, why?

A. Because it gets 'sticky', hard to edit remaining account information.  You might actually delete the main account.


Q. Whats the difference between 'direct' and 'referral' traffic?

A. Where the session begins.  Direct traffic is entered into the address bar or clicked from a bookmark, email link, or link from another non-web source.  Referral implies the traffic landed at your site from a non-search engine web source such as from another web site.


Q. Do Conversion (goal) values affect Ecommerce totals?  How does that work?

A.  Yes, entering a value for a conversion may affect your Ecommerce totals if the conversion page is the same as your transaction page.


Q. Can you enter negative values for the Conversion value fields?

A. Yes.


Q. How do you connect TV ad campaigns to Analytics or how does Analytics know when your ad is playing on TV?

A. Advertisers would have this functionality if they purchase their ads from Google.  Google offers and AdWords-type interface for launching national TV campaings.  To find out more, click here.


Q. How do you use Analytics Site Search feature to track multiple search terms or categories?

A.  Setup the Site Search differently across multiples profiles under that sites profile.  This answer was pretty vague and the clarification added at the end of the day didn't help much either.  I set up this configuration on some of my profiles and will be monitoring its success.  I'll update once I know the best way to accomplish this.


Q. We have a funnel setup for a Shopping Cart that has pages that may POST back to themselves.  These show up as 'exits' in Analytics funnels.  How do you improve on a funnel so that they don't show as exits?

A.  Use query string parameters to differentiate the steps.  This was the answer given by the instructor and may work in some cases, however, in our case the pages don't post back as part of a step, but as part of an option change.  I think this may be another situation where we accept these post-backs as exits and leave it.  I'll update this answer if I get a better one through my tests.


Q. When would you use the Event Tracking features instead of Campaigns?

A.  When tracking internal actions.  Campaigns should only be used for driving traffic into your site.  Its not recommended to change a campaigns' source or medium once the user has entered your site.  If you are trying to log actions by a user once they are on your site, this may be when you would want to use Event Tracking.