1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. SEO

Trench Warfare: Google Analytics’ Best Updates, Common User Mistakes

The best updates and features of Google Analytics such as multi-channel funnels and Universal Analytics.

We recently had a sit down with Jen Cykman, Web Analyst and Instructor for Cardinal Path, a digital analytics and marketing agency that offers training seminars on Google Analytics.

Jen is a self-professed data nerd that likes nothing better than to sit down and hover over a big ball of data and tease it into actionable marketing insights. She’s helped folks at both ends of the experience spectrum from novices to experts, quants to marketers.

We asked for her view on the best updates and features of Google Analytics, a favorite tool of hers and ours.

QSo what are the most significant changes or updates to Google Analytics in the last year that users should be paying attention to?

A – One is Universal Analytics. Announced at the end of October, this is a new version of the Google Analytics tracking script that takes web analytics to a whole new level. Among other things, it will bring analysts cross-channel and cross-device measurement abilities, and reveal how visitors come into websites via multiple devices.

It would be powerful to be able to observe, for example, that a high-value customer segmentation prefers to visit your site via a particular device or phone, or that they use devices on weekends but desktops during the day. Currently in a limited beta run for large enterprise businesses, its will be really exciting when the tool is finally delivered to the masses.

Another very powerful set of reports are multi-channel funnels. These were introduced mid-2011,  but as of yet, not enough people know how to use them.

Multi-channel funnels are a way to identify you “exposers” vs “closers” and give credit to any“assists” from channels like social media or display marketing, which don’t often get the credit they deserved, being lumped into the “branding” initiatives group. “Funnels” can help you see how much time passes between initial exposure and the actual conversion, and how the different channels play together to convert your visitors.

It’s not just the last click that gets credit anymore; now we can show how and when each marketing channel helped to bring in the consumer. This is a MUST for any display, social, or email marketing professional.

Lastly, anyone who hasn’t started conversion optimization testing yet (and has a conversion rate of less than 100%) should be playing with Content Experiments. This is a replacement for Google Website Optimizer that has been integrated into Google Analytics. It’s a simpler tool than GWO, and those looking to do any kind of advanced testing will likely move on to bigger and better tools pretty quickly, but it’s great for those looking to get started with A/B testing.

Brian Eisenberg tells us to “Always Be Testing” and you can take that to the bank with Content Experiments. If you have a situation where you have competing theories on the best text for your call-to-action, or a 1-page versus 3-page shopping cart, use Content Experiments to let your users tell you what works best.

QWhat other tools do you recommend as complementary to Google Analytics?

A – For advanced conversion optimization testing, I’m a huge fan of Optimizely, and I’ve heard great things about Visual Website Optimizer.

For user experience data, I like Clicktale and CrazyEgg. For consumer feedback, try surveys from Foresee or 4Q.

Then there’s usability testing. You don’t need to invest in lab-based, eye-tracking studies that can be exorbitantly expensive. There are lo-fi solutions that work well, such as simply putting together a focus group of neighbors who know nothing about your site and asking for feedback. Alternatively,  you could sign up with, where you set up a scenario, ask someone to navigate your website, answer questions, and perform certain tasks, and then you get a video of what they do and say while they’re perusing your site. It’s $30 per test which to me is a bargain and certainly cheaper than lab tests. There are obvious advantages to some of the more expensive tools and fancy labs, but lo-fi testing is better than not testing at all, that’s for sure.

Q In your Analytics classes, what are the topics that attendees seem to get the most “ah-has” out of?

A – In our Google Analytics 101, people love discovering all of the reports they didn’t know existed, and learning enough to be comfortable navigating all of them and using the tool as it was intended.

In Google Analytics 201, one of the biggest opportunities people discover is campaign tagging, because it’s relatively simple and something almost everyone should do, but many don’t do it consistently or at all. It’s very easy to fix and it’s great to be able to immediately see how different marketing channels are contributing to your bottom line. Huge impact here.

In Google Analytics 301, cross-domain and subdomain tracking tends to be pretty illuminating. A lot of marketers are tracking visitors across multiple domains and they wonder why Google Analytics doesn’t do that for them automatically. It’s easy to setup and usually pretty key to getting accurate and reliable data.

Q – In your experience, what are the most common misconceptions or mistakes when it comes to Google Analytics?

A – Allow me to respond so:

1) Sticking the analytics code in the wrong place on the website. Or they put it in the right place but think that’s all they can or need to do.

2) Not implementing cross-subdomain tracking. One extra line of code is all it takes. Remember you can track subdomains as individual sites (which is the default setting) or as one aggregated site.

3) Not utilizing custom variables which are so powerful. For e-commerce you can track membership levels, people who put items in their cart, or even visitor ID numbers (making sure you’re abiding by the Google Analytics terms of use, of course). For blogs, you can track commenters as a separate segment of your visitors, popular categories, tags, level of engagement – you name it. If Google Analytics doesn’t automatically segment your data the way you want it to, custom variables can help you get there. And if you are not sure how to implement or work with custom variables, my classes will fix that! ☺ I love what I do and I love to help people understand how Google Analytics can help them be more impactful in their organization, and generally better marketers, analysts and developers.

Cardinal Path offers Google-certified training seminars on Google Analytics and Adwords throughout the US and Canada.


Category SEO
SEJ STAFF Jenise Uehara CEO at Search Engine Journal

Jenise is the CEO of Alpha Brand Media, home of Search Engine Journal. Based in the San Francisco bay area, ...

Trench Warfare: Google Analytics’ Best Updates, Common User Mistakes

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.