If you don’t know already, Google Analytics rolled out some major changes to the platform on October 20th – changes that push Google further up the ladder as a potential solution for enterprises looking to easily obtain actionable data from their web analytics programs. These changes come almost a year-to-the-day after Google rolled out significant changes in 2008, including advanced segmentation and custom reporting. This year, the features allow for even more detailed segmentation of visitors, and more advanced data analysis. Here’s a quick list of this year’s new features:
- 20 Goals (up from 4) per profile
- Engagement goals – for example: a visitor viewed 10 pages in their visit
- Advanced filtering of reports, based on metric or dimensional conditions
- Advanced custom variable tracking - you can now track 5 custom variables instead of just 1
- Algorithmic driven intelligence, and automated alerts to make use of this intelligence
- Sharing of custom reports and custom segments
There are facets of these changes that are significant in-and-of-themselves, and some other minor changes, but these listed are the major ones. I’m going to cover a couple of them below, and how they impact various business types.
Additional Goals Per Profile & Engagement Goals
[flickr]photo:4098661153[/flickr]Being able to track only 4 goals in a profile was incredibly confining and forced many businesses to have to create multiple profiles simply for tracking more than 4 goals. This leads to even more complexity if you’re using special filter-specific profiles along with your main profile. If you have 4 goals, and you have special SEO tracking profiles setup, and you’re filtering traffic for a certain region for another profile, you have 3 profiles to analyze. Creating a fifth goal would push you to needing 3 new profiles, for a total of 6 to analyze now!
Needless to say, the additional goals save analysts a fair amount of time in more complex analtyics accounts. Now goals exist in 4 groups of 5. This allows for more liberal use of goals, for things like views of a single critical page. In the past, to save goals, analyzing this would have been done by simply looking at the unique pageviews for the page. Now it can be added as a goal and more robust data can be looked at in conjunction with it’s occurrence.
Google has now added engagement goals also; which allow a goal to be created based on how many pages a visitor consumes in a visit, or their time on the site. This is extremely helpful for content focused sites (blogs, news sites, etc.) or communities where engagement is critical gauging success.
These features are live and active in all Google Analytics accounts already; go try them out!
Advanced Custom Variable Tracking
Prior to this change, only one custom variable could be tracked for each visitor on the site. This meant that if you were running a community site, where you had many segments of members that you wanted to see the unique behavior for, you could only use this one variable. So, you could use it for “male” and “female”, but not for age. Or you could use it for “19-25″, “26-35″, “36-45″, etc., but not gender. One way around this was to submit values like “male_19-25″ and then filter them in the reporting. Not a great solution, but that is all in the past now. Google now lets you use up to 5 custom variables. So our community site could use one for age, one for gender, and still have 3 left to work with.
In addition to the added volume for custom variables, users can now decide if a custom variable is visitor based, or session or page based. So, you can set a custom parameter for the session based on any activity, like posting on a wall. This would allow you to segment all reporting by visitors who had posted on their wall during a session. But couldn’t you track this with a goal? Yes, there are a couple of other ways you could gather data for this segment, but custom variables allow you to do it without creating pageviews (trackPageview) or events (trackEvent), making reporting “cleaner” in many cases.
This feature isn’t rolled out yet, but Google says it will be in “coming weeks”. It is expected by the end of November at the latest.
These features I’ve highlighted, and the examples I’ve given really are only the tip of the iceberg for how Google Analytics can now be used to report on segments of visitors. The ability to collect more visitor specific custom data and analyze activity based on it has been looked as one of the major differences between an advanced analytics platform like Omniture, and Google Analytics. While still not as robust as Omniture’s offering in this department, Google’s is a major step in that direction, and far easier to implement and use. It is exciting to see Google continue to push the other vendors, and the field of analytics as a whole. Just as exciting is it for analysts such as myself to be able to gather far-more advanced data from an easy-to-use and fast reporting application. Kudos to Google for pushing the product to a new level.