As most of us in this industry know, Google is always changing and tinkering with its products, from Gmail to Google+, and, often times, the company doesn't even bother to tell us when changes have been made. (The nerve of some mega-powerful corporations!)
As a digital marketing manager, a large chunk of my time is centered on navigating and understanding Google Analytics, discovering insights and unearthing important data. Lately, several major changes have popped up in Analytics, which may impact the way we use it, as well as the information within. Here are four changes you should know about.
The Google Analytics redesign
This is a broader change, but it is impactful nonetheless. Google recently introduced a sweeping redesign to Google Analytics, cleaning the interface, rearranging menus, and adding functionality.
Access to the old format is still available, but it's a good idea to get used to the new layout, because the old one is going permanently "bye-bye." Here's a comparison of the old menu (left) versus the new menu (right):
You can see that it's a more simple ("intelligence" always struck me as something that didn't quite fit in the menu) and cleaner presentation. Note that AdWords data have moved from "traffic sources" to "advertising." If you dig around, you'll also see that analyzing certain data has been made easier. At my agency, we run our blog on WordPress, with each blog post URL including the month and year of the post. In the old version, Google Analytics' "content drilldown" feature would interpret this as a hierarchy; meaning, if I wanted to see the top performing posts during February, no matter when they were published, I would still have to view them by month published.
However, the new "content drilldown" does not separate by month, giving a clearer view of long tail and current performance.
The redesign is filled with small fixes like these. You may actually discover that some functionality has been removed (the disappearance of percentage-change calculations when comparing time periods for certain data is a particularly head-scratching move). But don't worry; Google executives have said the company will be re-instituting the most popular features that were jettisoned. For some reason, the redesign initially lacked the ability to export reports as a PDF, until user feedback encouraged the company to add it back -- the power of complaining put to good use.
Real-time data reporting
One of the more exciting updates to Google Analytics is the introduction of real-time reporting. Found under the home menu, this is a first for Google Analytics: insight into what's going on at your site at this very moment.
After going to the home menu, you will find "real-time (beta)" as the first choice in the left nav. It expands into four sub-categories: "overview," "locations," "traffic sources," and "content."
"Locations" shows (as one might expect) the countries from which current visitors to your site are located; "traffic sources" breaks down how users found your site (referral, organic, etc.); "content" shows what specific pages (sections, blog posts, etc.) are being viewed at that moment; and "overview," as seen below, brings them all together, including the total number of active visitors on the site.
How might you use this data? It can tell you how traffic might ramp up and down at specific times of day, or, if you tweet a link to your site or blog post, you can use it to experiment and see if specific times for posting links work better than others. There's a lot of potential here. (It's also just kind of fun to watch.)
New search engine optimization insights
Among all the changes made in the Google Analytics redesign, the new search engine optimization data in the left nav. under "traffic sources" is a particularly helpful addition, and potentially game-changing. However, in order to view "search queries," "landing pages," and "geographic summaries," you must sync your Webmaster Tools profile with your Analytics profile. This is simple (assuming you're using Webmaster Tools, which you should be), and you will be prompted to do so when you try and access one of the search engine optimization menus.
Once that is done, you'll be able to view more robust information about search-related data than ever before -- queries users are using to reach your site, including potential impressions versus actual clicks and click-through rate (CTR); your top performing landing pages and their CTRs; where most of your visitors are located; and more. Use this data to help shape your SEO copywriting, your AdWords copy, even which pages you choose to highlight on your homepage. This is valuable information, and now easily digestible. Here's some sample "landing page" data:
There are now several ways to measure Google+ activity within Analytics.
Note the new "social" menu under "audience:"
Here, you can monitor all parts of your site -- blog posts or any other content -- that have been "+1'd," divided into the subcategories of "engagement" (how many visitors did and did not make a Google+ related interaction with your site), "action" (detailing your users' social source, which, for now, seems to always be Google, and what social action was taken), and "pages" (pages that received a "+1"). It is, of course, an incomplete social picture, but could prove to be an important addition.
And in the endThe analytics you take are equal to the analytics you make. Google Analytics is a great tool, but it's important to stay on top of and continually investigate. These four changes are just the tip of the iceberg. Explore on your own, try new things in Analytics, and enjoy it.
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"Analytics" image via Shutterstock.