Google Analytics: A Closer Look

See how Google Analytics has changed and how it can affect eCommerce

The new version of Google Analytics isn’t exactly new; it’s been available for months. However, many have avoided it for the sake of efficiency, especially those in eCommerce. While the old version runs fine and has become comfortable for many people, the new features and available data make switching over a logical decision. The decision to make the move might soon be made for you, as Google has begun making it the default version and gives me the impression that the old version may not be around for much longer.

The most noticeable change is the new interface. A first glance, especially for those of you who have been using GA for a long time, will likely strike you with terror. You’ve probably thought, “I can’t find anything here,” as you move your cursor to click ‘Use Older Version.’ However, if you take some time to look around, you’ll find some things that might excite you. Everything has been streamlined and the interface is more intuitive. Google has crammed a ton of information into drop tabs that nicely organize into a few main categories. Here are some of the more noticeable changes:

  • Site overlay is now known as In-Page Analytics. It’s also now listed under the content tab. It’s been around for about a year now in Beta testing on the old version and is fully operational in the new one.
  • Mobile traffic tracking has been expanded to show manufacturer, model, interface type, OS and more while featuring all the same attributes as your standard traffic tracking. You can even see how many transactions came from these phones, which has great eCommerce potential.
  • A Visitor Flow graph has been added to show how people are navigating a site and can be sorted by a variety of filters.
  • Multi-channel funnels have been added, as well as assisted conversions, allowing you to see exactly how different channels are working together. Seeing how many conversions are coming from what campaigns is a powerful tool.
  • A Social Media component has been integrated, allowing you to use Analytics to track the effectiveness of your Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media campaigns in conjunction with the rest of your marketing strategy.

It’s important to note that these new features require no additional JavaScript or variables to be added to your site. They all come featured.

My favorite portion, aside from the new interface, is the change in the conversion attribution algorithm, which in turn also changes how GA defines a page visit. Before, a “visit” was defined as the user landing on the Web site. Regardless of how many times the user came back, one session was counted as one visit no matter how many referring sites there were and conversions were awarded to the last referring site before the purchase. The problem with this was that it was impossible to accurately track visits from mailing campaigns, organic traffic, etc. This has all changed.

Now, a user’s session ends once they leave the website. So, if I use Google search to land on VerticalRail.com, click around a bit and leave the site to go to Facebook then that session ends. It is counted as a visit from Google and a new session begins once Facebook lands me on the page. Even if I use Facebook to turn around and come right back to the same site, it still registers as a visit from Google and now a visit from Facebook. Also, if I don’t leave the landing page and then go to Facebook, this counts as a bounce for Google, even if I use Facebook to take me right back to the site. This also ignores time spent on page. So, if I used Google to land on this blog page, read it, left it open for 15 minutes and then left for Bing, it would still be counted as a bounce. Basically, no matter what engine or link brings a user to a site, that referring site gets credited a visit and the session immediately ends once they leave. There is no longer a 29 minute inactivity period before a session is terminated.

Additionally, a user is only counted as a “new visitor” on their first session on the page. Once they leave the site and arrive again, a new session begins and they are considered a “returning visitor” from now on. Is this indefinite? Will someone be listed as a new visitor again if they clear their cookies? Is it based on a session ID? These are all questions that come to mind but remain unanswered. There is currently a feature that allows Analytics to track Time to Purchase, so I would assume there exists a way to indefinitely track a user’s history with a site, but I can’t be certain. We’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how it unfolds.

All of these things lead me to believe that Google is trying to address many of the accuracy issues that led people to using GA in conjunction with programs like Omniture and the like. It’s important to remember that with these changes, it’s essential to pick one analytics program and stick with it. Google Analytics is going to show different metrics than other programs and it leaves room for error if used in conjunction with other statistics programs. A more streamlined interface combined with increasingly robust data makes it an incredibly valuable and powerful resource, especially for those in eCommerce. Overall, I believe that the direction Google is taking GA is a great step in the direction of being able to use a singular analytics program instead of having to juggle multiple ones. I’m truly excited to see what 2012 will bring to bear.

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