After reading some of our subscriber feedback, we noticed that many ConversionXL readers didn’t have a solid foundation with a proper Google Analytics setup.
That’s a problem, because if your analytics isn’t properly configured from the beginning, how could you ever expect to gather any insight?
When it comes to gathering visitor information, GA can’t collect or change data on visits that have already happened, which means time spent waiting to add or correct certain settings is data lost or damaged. Getting a jump start on collecting the right data is the first step to using that data for successful conversion measurement and tracking.
With that in mind, we’ll cover features at the Account, Property, and View levels in your Google Analytics setup you should be reviewing and using. All the tools, settings, and changes we’ll be talking about are accessed from the Admin section of your Google Analytics account, as seen below.
Organizing and Structuring Your Accounts, Sites, & Views
First it helps to take a quick look at how Google Analytics accounts are set up, and how your sites and reports are organized inside those accounts.
Each user of Google Analytics can have multiple accounts. Underneath each account exists one or more Properties, which are your individual websites.
Views, formerly known as Profiles, are where your reports live, and an array of options allows you to set high level rules that affect how you see all your Analytics reports. Settings for Ecommerce data collection, Site Search data, Goals, Filters, Segments, Annotations, Channel Groupings, Custom Reports, Content Grouping, and even Users can all be set at the View level.
Each Property (website) can have multiple Views, and creating additional Views opens up the possibility for deeply controlling and focusing your visitor data through the use of different Goals, Filters, and settings on each View. The main limit to Views is that they only collect data from the time they are created and forward, so if View #1 were created in January, and View #2 were created in July, View #2 would not have the data from January through end of June.
Create a Raw Data View to Dodge Data Loss
There are many Views you can create to Filter and section out your data, but the very first additional View you should create is one for “raw data”. This View should have only features that involve collecting data directly from trackers or Google: Ecommerce, Site Search, Webmaster Tools, AdSense, and Adwords. It should not use Filters or have Goals set up.
The Raw Data View ensures there is always a place to check what is being captured by your tracking code without any Filters or changes applied, providing a kind of sanity check for changes to your other Views.
If you’ve never created an additional View or changed the settings, your default View will be named All Web Site Data, and this one can function as your main View. Pull down the View menu within Admin and select “Create a new view”.
Name this one Raw Data or RAW DATA, set it to your time zone, and click Create View.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to activate Ecommerce and/or Site Search, authorize any Google products you have linked and that’s it. No other settings or Filters should be set up on this View.
Account Organization and Multiple Accounts
Follow the Keep It Simple principle with names, just apply the parent business name, or the website name itself. This will make your account labels clear, and searchable.
Each unique website for a business should have a Property set up to house it. Say for example you have an online store selling custom painted yoga mats, and a separate site focused on vegan cupcakes, each one of these sites should have a unique Property and its own set of Views.
However, if you have an interior design business, and it has both a blog and a store site set up under separate domains (i.e. www.JoesFancyInteriorsBlog.biz and www.JoesShopForGoodHouseStuff.com), you may want to consider using the same Property and tracking code for both. This relates to something called cross-domain tracking.
It can be complicated to set up, but worth it for site owners with a 3rd party shopping cart or multiple closely related sites.
If you plan to manage Google Analytics for multiple businesses, give each business its own account.
This policy makes it easier to pass off ownership of the account to the business itself if you’re working in a contract or agency role; respecting a business’s ownership of its site data is an important facet of responsible data management, and one that will make your life ultimately easier.
Unlock Hidden Power Features at the Property Level
At the Property (or website) level are key tools, and a lot of settings to influence the reports you have available to you.
Under the Property Settings, you’ll see the option to rename your Property, update the default URL, select a default View, set your Industry Category, and then it gets into the good stuff.
There are two major items within the Property Settings page:
- Display Advertiser Features (aka Demographic and Interest Reporting)
- In-Page Analytics (or enhanced link attribution)
The first enables a suite of reports that provide Google-based demographic and categorical interest data on your visitors, and allows you to use that data to create remarketing lists and research for your display advertising campaigns with AdWords; this data is also useful in crafting campaigns in any other display platform that leverages demographic data for targeting.
The second feature, In-Page Analytics enables a reporting feature that allows you to see your traffic behavioral data overlaid on your actual website, highlighting which internal links, navigation, and actions are most used.
Laser Focus Remarketing with Demographics and Interest Reporting
After the basic options on your Property Settings page, you’ll see a few more detailed options with descriptions and large On/Off buttons. The first of these options, under Display Advertiser Features, unlocks a suite of reporting and Remarketing tools that no online marketer should be without.
In addition to this major AdWords benefit, age, gender, and categorical interest data becomes visible through two sets of reports located under the Audience tab.
The instructions for updating your tracking code are really simple, even if you aren’t familiar with code. Add the following bolded line between the “create” and “send” lines of your tracking code, as shown below.
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXXX-XX’, ‘example.com’);ga(‘require’, ‘displayfeatures’);ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);
To read more about how powerful Demographics & Interests Reports are, check out this excellent article on Online Behavior. To learn more about creating remarketing lists, click here. (Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.)
But we aren’t done making tracking code changes, so don’t put your tracking code on your website just yet.
Explore Your Site For Top Performing Links with Enhanced Link Attribution
This powerful evaluation tool allows you to see distinct information for each instance of a link on your pages that you can access from the In-Page Analytics link at the bottom of the Behavior reports menu.
This information is vital to anyone wanting to improve their user experience and their power to persuade visitors.
For example: You’ve set up a landing page that repeats the call to action link to your sales page multiple times on the page: in the header, in a CTA button, twice in the body copy, and once in the footer.
Enhanced Link Attribution will allow you to view your page and see which link drove the most traffic to your sales page.
This requires another tracking code change to function. Just add the following line directly after the new line you added to turn on Demographic & Interest Reports. Like this:
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXXX-XX’, ‘example.com’);ga(‘require’, ‘displayfeatures’);ga(‘require’, ‘linkid’, ‘linkid.js’);
(Note: Do not copy and paste the full example code above. Copy the code from the Tracking Info page in the Property section of your account and add in the highlighted code from the example. This will ensure you don’t accidentally erase or leave out critical tracking information.)
The bold text is our Demographic & Interest reports feature, and the bold red text is the snippet needed to activate Enhanced Link Attribution. Two easy changes turn on an entire suite of powerful tools. With both of these changes to your tracking code in place, now you can deploy your tracking code on your website.
Most people will be using code that looks like the example script above. It is the “Universal” version of Google Analytics and it uses a file called analytics.js. This may cause an issue that makes the following error display when trying to load In Page Analytics:
You can get around this by clicking Load in Full View, which will open a new tab in which you see your entire site with the controls and page stats shown above it, and stat bubbles over links & important features.
To stop that error message and use full view mode every time, go back to your Property Settings page and select the “Full view mode” option.
One more important setting to keep in mind: Be sure to set your Default URL correctly for your website.
The box to enter the info is highlighted in the screenshot above. In this example, the site does not use the www. prefix so I have left it out. Make sure that www. is included if your site always redirects to that version, or leave it out if your site always redirects to the non-www version of your domain.
Chrome users: Grab the Page Analytics Chrome Extension to get the full view In-Page Analytics experience without having to visit Google Analytics first, along with other quick data access perks like the real time count of active visitors.
Connect the Dots to Profitable Data: Adding Webmaster Tools, AdSense, and Adwords
Three major Google products connect to Google Analytics to give you a more holistic view of your online efforts: AdSense, AdWords, and Webmaster Tools.
If you’re an AdSense and/or AdWords user, connecting these accounts will add powerful dimensions, metrics, and reports to determine how AdSense is making you money, and what traffic your PPC spend is bringing you.
Everyone should sign up for and connect Webmaster Tools.
Get Baseline SEO Data Through Webmaster Tools
In the era of Not Provided, pulling Webmaster Tools data in is the best (and basically only) way to see which keywords are bringing visitors to your site, which pages they’re visiting, and how that affects your bottom line.
Click Edit, and you’ll get a new window that will prompt you to sign in again. If you haven’t already added your site to Webmaster Tools, you’ll be prompted to do so, and you’ll need to complete the verification process.
You’ll have the ability to choose which Views have access to Webmaster Tools data for the website you’ve associated. Go ahead and associate all current Views with this data to make sure the reports are available regardless of the View you’re working in.
If you create additional Views, you will need to come back to this setting and add them to the list, since GA doesn’t automatically add new profiles to your Webmaster Tools access list; adding new Views won’t require you to verify again, just pull down the menu and check the box next to the View names.
Adding Webmaster Tools unlocks the reporting available underneath the Acquisition section of your reports, giving you data on the keywords that are driving search impressions and clicks that lead to visitors. It will also give you your most popular landing pages, and geographic locations.
The Geographic Locations report can become particularly useful if you’re finding that good portions of your buyers are coming through organic search are from countries that don’t inherently use your primary language.
For example, here we see Brazil is the #2 source for search impressions, yet only received 400 clicks from search, a huge difference from the 18,000 clicks that came from the #1 location. This is likely because Brazil’s primary language is Portuguese.
When looking at popular Brazilian shopping sites, like Walmart, we can also see there is a huge difference in design aesthetic from US based sites.
Using a tool like Optimizely, you can easily send visitors from a specific country to a page that’s created for their native language. Telling Google to serve the foreign language page is a little more difficult, but you can find out how to do that here.
Unlike other tools like Demographic data or AdWords linked data, Webmaster Tools data is segregated from your other reports, but it’s the best place to clearly see this valuable keyword information.
Improve Your Site’s Ad Revenue with AdSense Data
If you run AdSense ads on your website, here’s the place to connect your Google Analytics account to AdSense.
You’ll be asked to log into AdSense, and choose a primary Property (i.e. website) and View or Views to use with your AdSense data. Connecting these gives you four additional reports under the Behavior section of GA’s reports, and 8 metrics to use in Segments or Custom Reports.
It’s an opportunity to match your visitor data in a holistic, advanced way with your AdSense data to really fine tune your advertising revenue.
Gain More Power Over Your PPC Spend with AdWords Data
If you are spending money with AdWords, you should absolutely connect Analytics and AdWords. The cross-tool functionality is extremely strong between these two products, and linking them together unlocks major benefits in both tools.
In AdWords, you get:
- Access to your Analytics Goals and eCcommerce Transactions to use as conversion metrics
- Ability to use Analytics data to build laser-focused Remarketing lists
- Additional metrics from Analytics that you can use directly within AdWords reports
In Analytics, you get:
- Enhanced and more accurate Multi-channel Funnel data
- 10 built-in reports powered by your AdWords data that quickly give you actionable information
- 20 additional dimensions and 12 additional metrics to use in your Advanced Segments and Custom Reports
eCommerce sites in particular will benefit from connecting to AdWords. Merging Analytics eCommerce revenue tracking with AdWords spend tracking means you can create reports in both tools that will show you how to spend your advertising dollars to see real revenue gains. People using AdSense and AdWords will see similar revenue and spend benefits.
Every AdWords user can benefit from linking to Analytics even without using any of the AdWords-centric reports within Analytics through the use of one major feature: Google Analytics Remarketing lists.
Choose from one of four pre-determined or basic Remarketing list types, or create a unique list of your own based on Segments.
It’s possible to create Segments from many facets of your visitor data:
- Time on site
- Visitors who completed or didn’t complete a goal
- Visitors to specific pages or groups of pages
- & even combinations or specific orders of these visitor metrics
For example, if you were a retailer specializing in clothing, you could create a segment to remarket to visitors who spent more than 3 minutes on your site, visited the t-shirt section of your site, visited your shopping cart page at least once, but didn’t convert; that series would allow you to use display retargeting through AdWords to encourage engaged visitors to return and complete their purchase.
Making the connection between Analytics and AdWords will require that you have Administrator level access to both your site’s Analytics and AdWords accounts.
It takes about 11 steps to link the two products together, but it’s thoroughly worth it.
Two View Settings That Sanitize Data and Increase Your Reporting Power
Going back to the View level, there are two extremely beneficial options on the View Settings page that can both clean up your page reports and add new ways to report on visitor behavior.
Keep Your Data Sane: Exclude URL Query Parameters
This unassuming box, marked optional, is critical if you have:
- tracking parameters appended to your URLs or
- system-generated navigation/content URLs that include parameters
This field is a lifesaver to anyone who has a shopping cart system that adds query parameters at the end of URLs, or uses unique campaign tracking parameters in their online marketing. It is comma separated, case sensitive list of parameters you want Google Analytics to strip from your URLs.
If you aren’t already familiar with URL parameters, a little background is in order. A URL query parameter is a parameter and value pair (e.g. param=value) that can do a variety of things like track where visitors came from, hold information about a visitor’s shopping cart, or pass messages from one page to another. They are extremely useful and also quite common, but they can muddy up your page statistics if you aren’t using Exclude URL Query Parameters.
Why? Because Google Analytics counts every single unique URL separately by default. Let’s see an example of how leaving query parameters in your GA data can lead to problems, and how Exclude URL Query Parameters solves it.
Clicking on this ad for Moo that appeared on Facebook…
Takes me to this URL…
The query string is bolded above. It starts with a question mark, and each parameter and value pair is separate by an ampersand. The query parameters in this URL are:
In this example, Moo is wisely using UTM query parameters to track how their Facebook campaign is doing. UTM tags are used by Google Analytics to help create tracking labels, and Analytics will automatically strip them from the URL, so you don’t have to worry about adding them in this Exclude URL Query Parameters tool; we only need to focus on custom, unique parameters like the one highlighted below.
Since the parameter “nan_pid” is unique, and is not automatically stripped from the URL by default like the UTM parameters are, their pages reports will start looking something like this:
So instead of seeing all the traffic for us.moo.com rolled together into one line item, there would be multiple lines, one for each unique URL created by each unique “nan_pid” value.
This makes it much harder to create at-a-glance reports for how the overall traffic of the home page is performing.
So how do we solve this?
By entering the parameter name, “nan_pid” in the Exclude URL Query Parameters field, Google Analytics will automatically strip nan_pid and any values associated with it from the URL. It will stop Analytics from showing a list of pages like the one above, and instead attribute the pageviews, sessions, etc to the home page.
If you already have URLs with parameters in your reports, adding them here won’t alter those. Try to add your parameters from the very beginning, or as soon as you implement any new parameters on your site. Remember, the Raw Data View you set up earlier will still capture the full URL with the parameters in tact if you need to troubleshoot.
Tap Into a Keyword & UX Goldmine by Activating Site Search
If you have a search function on your website and it uses query parameters, you have access to important keyword insights that can improve your SEO efforts, as well as important user behavior metrics.
Site search data has the potential to revolutionize your user experience efforts by telling you exactly what your visitors want from your website when they get there. Four main reports in the Behavior section of Analytics, 6 additional dimensions, and 18 metrics provide a rich repository of what Jared Spool refers to as “trigger words,” terms that tell you what people really want to do when they visit your site, but that you may be overlooking in your internal linking structure.
Setting Site search Tracking to On opens up a menu that allows you to list up to 5 parameter names used in searches on your site. So if the search box in the header of your site used “q=search+term” and an advanced search page used “advq=search+term”, you would add both q and advq to the box labeled Query Parameter.
There is a checkbox option to strip the query parameters associated with search here also, which means you won’t have to include your search query parameters in your Exclude URL Query Parameters list.
If your site uses categories within search, you can list those separately in the Category Parameter box after turning that sub-feature on.
A good example of using both the search term and category boxes of the Site Search feature would be if you had a search by department function, similar to Amazon’s search feature:
So if Amazon were to use the query parameter “term” for the search box info, and “cat” for the department, or category, and they wanted to strip the search terms from the URLs, but keep the department parameters so they could see the categorical totals by URL also, their setup would look like this:
If your site search doesn’t use query parameters, you’ll have to leave this off. If your site search doesn’t use query parameters currently, it will require either a change to your search engine (best option) or your tracking code (can cause issues if not implemented correctly).
Use Goals to Define and Measure Success
What is one of the most vital tools for conversion optimization and overall performance tracking, yet still overlooked by many new to Google Analytics? Goals. There are as many uses for Goals as there are definitions of success for websites, so let’s get into what Goals are and how to set them up.
What Goals Are & Why They Matter
First, a brief definition of Goals:
- A Goal in Google Analytics is a set of criteria defined by you to measure if visitors are performing certain actions on your site.
- A Goal conversion is completed when a visitor performs a Goal-defined action.
- Goal completions count once per session, so if a single visitor fills out the same contact form five times in a single session on your site, they will only be counted as one conversion for the contact form Goal.
- Visitors can complete more than one Goal per session. So if Goal #1 is “visit the contact form thank you page” and Goal #2 is “watch a video”, and the visitor performs both of those actions during their session, they will count as a conversion for both Goal #1 and Goal #2.
- You can have up to 20 Goals in a single View, and they are arranged in four sets of 5 Goals each.
- You cannot delete a Goal once it’s created. You can change the criteria, but any history that Goal collected under the old rules will stay the same.
- You can pause data collection and hide Goals from your reports by switching the Recording setting off.
Why Goals make a big difference on your reporting:
Setting up Goals will add the data showing your conversion rate, number of goal completions, and your set value in the Summary version of many of the standard reports under the Conversions header.
Goals are also a subtab of all the primary Google Analytics reports that will allow you to focus in on your Goal data.
It will also add 4 additional dimensions and a minimum of 14 metrics you can use in custom reports or segments.
Creating Goals For Your Site
You’ll find your Goal settings in the View column of the Admin screen of Google Analytics.
You’re given two options at the top of the box which will list out all your Goals: +New Goal and Import from Gallery.
If you aren’t sure where to begin with setting Goals and need some inspiration, try Import from Gallery. It will open an overlay with tools to show you different pre-made Goals that were submitted by users and provided by Google.
In the Gallery you’ll be able to filter by category and rating, and sort the results based on rankings. Icons next to the solution titles will tell you what features the solution has. There are multiple things that can be imported, like dashboards, custom reports, and segments. Look for the ones with a flag next to them to review solutions that have Goals.
If you want to create a Goal of your own, click on +New Goal to begin the process. There, you’ll be given a choice between 11 common use case templates, and Custom.
Choosing a template will prefill the name on the second step, and preselect the most appropriate type of action the Goal will be tracking. Selecting Custom will take you to step 2 with nothing preselected or filled in for you.
There are four types of tracking that can be applied to your Goals. You can only track one of theses values per Goal, so each action you want to track will need a Goal of its own.
The four types of values you can specify are:
- Destination – A page on your website that a visitor must hit.
- Duration – A length of time your visitor’s session must last.
- Pages/Screens per session – A number of pages each visitor must view per session.
- Event – A visitor must complete an action that results in an Event matching the filter specified.
For this walkthrough, we’ll use the Event value tracking type.
On this website, I have been tracking outbound clicks from the site to the business’s Facebook page as Events (this process was made simple by use of a WordPress Plugin for managing Google Analytics). But I’m also tracking all other outbound clicks, but getting people to visit the Facebook page is the most important of those possible Events.
These outbound click events are labeled this way:
- Category – Outbound
- Action – domain of the site, in this case www.facebook.com
- Label – the actual URL of the page visited, in this case /AdellesCoffeehouse
I have many different kinds of outbound clicks on this site, and a few different Facebook pages linked from this site, so I chose the Label of “/AdellesCoffeehouse” for the criteria this Goal will check for, because it is the most unique and specific item that represents what I’m trying to track.
Next, I leave the Event value as the Goal Value for the conversion. This Event counts each time the link is clicked, which is the count I want to use. If I wanted to assign a specific dollar value, I could click the switch button and enter a dollar amount.
The last option, “Verify this Goal” allows me to check my entries by showing what percent conversion rate I would have based on the last 7 days of data. This tells me that Google Analytics was able to take what I entered as Goal criteria and confirm that there is matching data. When you’re doing this step, do a gut check on whether the conversion rate sounds accurate to you. If it’s very high or very low, you may have set something inaccurately. If it’s 0.0% you have either made an error, or simply don’t have any data yet.
Click the Create Goal button, and you’re done!
Goals will automatically begin collecting data as soon as they’re created, and you can test them immediately by visiting the Real Time tab in your reporting and looking under Conversions. Test your Goal yourself by visiting your site and perform the action you outlined in your Goal with the Real Time Conversions report open in another window where you can see it as you test.
You should always test any new Goals or other big tracking changes you make right away. This allows you to catch potential data errors before too much time elapses, and keeps your Views consistently coherent in the story they tell.
Conclusion & What’s Next?
As you can see, even a “basic” Google Analytics setup isn’t as simple as copy & pasting a few lines of code. Hopefully though, this guide gets you jump started on making Google Analytics an invaluable asset in your conversion optimization efforts by getting you set up with cleaner data, better organization, and a few good Goals.
There are many other tools like Filters and eCommerce that can make your GA data the go-to source for turning visits into revenue. There’s more coverage of those tools and more on how to use your reports effectively coming soon.