Google Analytics under the microscope



I’ve spent some time this evening looking at Google Analytics. (Now the data is being collected.) And I’ve got to say I’m impressed with the scope of what I’m seeing. First, since last night, more stats have been collected, there seem to be some missing from today yet (maybe ~12 hours behind at the moment). When I signed up, I went ahead and created profiles for 4 websites that I run to have some different things to look at. I’ve spent about 30-45 minutes looking through the stats for just one of those.


This is definitely a tool that an information junky (me included) could find using quite a bit. Don’t that let you think that it lacks in it’s ability to summarize though, there are definitely nice, “executive overview” pie charts and graphs that can give a good snapshot of whatever metric you’re interested in tracking. One thing I’ve not spent enough time with at this point is defining goals, but everything else seems to be logging up stats just fine.

The main site view gives a summary of page visits vs. page views, referral sources (search engines, links from other sites), a world map with dots to represent locations of viewers (bigger dots more viewers), and a breakdown of new vs. returning users. (One thing should be obvious, since we’ve just started keeping stats, EVERYONE is a new user during the initial stats.)

There are also conversion, marketing and content summaries (conversion is converting visits to a specified goal which I haven’t investigated configuring yet.) The marketing summary shows the top five sources of visits (msn/google for instance, or other sites with a link to your page), then you can see the top five keywords, and top five campaigns. Initially, the default campaigns are referral, organic and direct. Direct is for those that type in the address directly, organic are search results and referral are links from other sites. I suspect this would be an adwords tie-in, where a specific campaign could be analyzed to see how it rates vs. search engine visits or links from other sites.

The Content Summary, shows top 5 entrance pages, top 5 exit pages and top 5 pages of content (regardless of whether the user entered, exited or just browsed there.) There are also stats indicating the increase or decrease since the last reporting period.

What’s overwhelming at first are the other details that can be gleaned (these were summaries that I’ve discussed so far.) For instance, in the reporting period on one of the lesser trafficed sites (browsing as I’m typing…) It appears that 75% of visitors use Internet Explorer 6 on XP, 12.5% use Firefox on Linux, and another 12.5 % use Netscape on XP – ok – well most any good stats package can break down viewership like that, but with this you can also cross-reference… say I look at the 75% of IE 6 on XP users and decide I want to see what search terms they may have used to arrive and compare to the others. This is called Cross Segment Performance and allows you to reference a primary segment of users against a second set. Very interesting possibilities for learning about the visitors of the sites. Note, that the browser/platform match I’ve used to illustrate this with is nested inside 1 of 5 main areas of stats (10 different types of data tracked in this area) within the content optimization reports area (there’s also a marketing optimization area with another 4 main areas)

Like I said, information overload, but it doesn’t have to be. There are good summaries for those that just want that, and interesting ways of getting at the detailed data (and cross-referencing.)

I’ve used a number of stat tracking programs. From Webalizer and awstats to the Stattraq plugin for wordpress and the adsense logger for wordpress. Each of them have different benefits. Right now, my favorite has been stattraq for the nice summary of how many users visited an hour, what searches were the tops for the day/month/year and what referrers where the most common (mixed in with search referrers). Analytics compares favorably in this case, filtering out search visits, from referrer links which is nice, and gives a good summary of popular pages (which for some reason I can’t get stattraq to say anything other than multiple page views for visitors.) Analytics gives easier access to general location information, although Stattraq makes it easy to do a whois lookup on an IP which I find kind of handy (identify if someone from the LOCAL Bellsouth DSL connection hit the site, vs. someone in TX/GA/ wherever).

Compared to Webalizer, analytics is certainly more “management friendly” webalizer gives you a nice picture of raw data and sometimes has to be interpreted before passing it along. I remember one time having to explain //////////////cmd.exe?asdfkljsd;lfkjsdhfkjgdasdfasjk;lj entries which I wish I didn’t have to get sidetracked into the “oh let’s ignore that one it looks to be an attempt at exploiting the server…oh that looks like a legitimate visitor…” However, depending on what you’re looking for Webalizer can still have it’s use (Analytics uses a javascript applet in the page, so if you have pages that don’t have the javascript, or if you’re tracking error 404 visits, etc. webalizer can be useful.)

Adsense logger – admittedly is not really in a realm of competing with the kind of statistic gathering of Analytics, but it does track page views and clicks. (And can track which ads on the page are more likely to be clicked, which color combinations, all time clicks for pages, percentages, etc. even down to the IP address of the “clicker” and what the referrer was and what the ad was.) I don’t see a way to keep track of ANYTHING like that in Analytics. That much said, they’ve integrated with Adwords, maybe at some point they may consider doing the same with Adsense? It would make sense to have a “one stop statistics/marketing/advertising information center”.

Anyway, I’ll likely continue to use the other tools, mainly because I can see what I want quickly (stattraq and adsense logger have become my two favorites just for the quickness of viewing and the daily overview they give.) I’ll also add Google Analytics to my commonly used tools. Maybe note every day, but from time to time.

Ok – I’ve had a chance to look at the goals and “funnel” setup. It’s interesting, you can basically define a URL as a goal (“thanksforyourorder.htm”) say, you can also define steps along that way that lead up to that goal (productpage.htm, shoppingcart.htm, enterinfo.htm, placeorder.htm, confirm.htm) for instance. This way you can keep track of where along the way you may be losing visitors (is our cart to complex, the product page not user friendly… etc.)

Interesting, so technically to track adsense it would have to be defined as a “goal”. It appears that it’s geared mostly towards shopping cart, or inquiry/contact form results kind of goals.

The only thing I haven’t mentioned, which I should is that you can, of course, adjust the time period that you’re analyzing from the default (most recent week) to hourly, daily, monthly…. etc.

If nothing else, it’s certainly worth the price of admission… and then some :-)

—update

As I thought about it I recalled there was a feature that I saw the first day that I don’t see right now. That’s the “site overlay” which supposedly enables you to view visitors clicks on your website. You see, with the “site overlay” you basically have a flash component that loads with your site, and you can see superimposed information about navigation clicks tracked through your site. I’m thinking it could be one of the changes they’ve made to deal with heavy load is to disable that. I’m sure that was a resource intensive feature. Hopefully that feature will be back soon as I was curious to see it in action. (Although as much stuff as in there, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve just lost the “tree” where this existed.)

–updated 11/17 9PM EST –
Now, it’s been another 24 hours without new data it seems, so they may have run into another hurdle. Here’s an updated support document on the issue from yesterday afternoon my time…

Update: 11:28 AM PST. Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

Currently, report updating for Google Analytics is experiencing delays. As a result, you may not be seeing any data in your reports even after implementing the Analytics tracking code.

We are currently in the process of updating all reports. You should be able to see these updates in several hours. While this is going on, you may notice different reports updating at different rates. Once this process has completed, all data should be restored to your profiles. Please be assured that this update process has no effect on data collection.

We apologize for any inconvenience. This reporting delay is associated with unexpected demand for Google Analytics. Under normal circumstances, the data in your reports will be at most six hours old.

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