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August 16, 2007

Jeff Gillis Spills The Beans About Google Analytics

By Alex Cohen

Li, ever the networker, met the extremely friendly Alex Ortiz from Google (and previously Urchin) at SES Latino.  He put me in touch with equally friendly Jeff Gillis, a frequent poster on the Google Analytics Blog, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions. 

1. How are you going to address the need for segmentation?
2. What are some key ways to make sure you capture the right data?
3. What's the best way to measure internal site search?
4. What are some analytics tips for SEOs?

  1.  As all good analysts know, averages lie.  Segmentation (in the vein of ClickTracks) of all data, including path and content data, is key to getting more actionable insight.  GA provides some segmentation out of the box, but it would be great to view the data by key buckets (organic search visitors, paid search, etc.) and campaigns.  What advice do you give to the non-analysts in our audience to set this up easily?  When will GA evolve to address segmentation?

    At Google, we don't comment on our future product plans. Like you say, Google offers almost 20 integrated segmentation options within a drop down menu in your reports interface – things like city, country or region location, or referring source. When you are within a report, such as a keyword report, you can choose to find out the referring source or geographic city of the visitor who came in from that keyword. We built these into the interface for quick access since we found that these were the most often used segments. However, we understand that even more powerful segmentation would be desirable for more flexible analysis, such as bucketing entire visitor segments and pivoting them around different metrics.

    I think Alex alluded to Google Analytics' current answer when he talked about filtering. Filtering is the most powerful and flexible feature in Google Analytics, and takes a little imagination to get used to it and use it fully. In order to segment key buckets of  data, think of the combination of using filters with new profiles as your lenses. For example, you have a website and you would like to look at and manipulate visitation data on your paid search only. You'd like to see the type of browser used by all paid visitors and the keywords popular on these browsers for the United States only, and then you'd like to see the same information for organic visitors. For each of these tasks, you can create a new profile with a filter acting on certain fields. For example, you can use an Include filter so that the new profile only includes IP addresses identified to be in the United States. Add another filter in this profile to Include only visits through URLs tagged as paid campaigns. Set up a third filter to Include only traffic from the Firefox browser. You've set up a powerful filter, or lens, through which to view an important segment of your visitors. Then you can use the segment options within the tool to find out the most effective keywords and further zoom in. You can then create an almost duplicate new profile, except change the third filter to include only visitors using the Internet Explorer browser.

    The best part of creating these new profiles is that you can then see the trending visualizations in Google Analytics on these customers. You have an entire profile dedicated to one section of your market. Use your imagination when thinking of filters, because you can use them to manipulate your data in almost any way.

  2. One of the notable challenges with GA is that you can't query against the full set of historical data, (e.g. setting up a profile with a filter for just organic search visitors).  This places a big emphasis on defining good business requirements up front and proper implementation (a common pitfall).  What do you think are the obvious things people should be tweaking during their implementation to insure they don't lose out on key insight? 

    This is an important point, and is something people should be aware of when they are running new campaigns and creating changes to their website – planning is a required first step because historical data is fixed in terms of filtering it retroactively. We think this goes hand in hand with setting up goals: to get the most out of Google Analytics, you should proactively decide what you'd like to get out of it by deciding on goals, filters and profiles. We offer you unlimited accounts, and thus profiles, so you should use these when in doubt if you think you want to experiment with filtering your data. Another important planning technique is to test, test, test. Most importantly, make sure visits from the tracking URLs you're using for banner campaigns, or other campaigns, are showing up in your reports  before you run the campaigns, because you can't go back and get this data if it was incorrectly set up in the first place.

    Click to find out the answers to the next 2 questions,

3. What's the best way to measure internal site search?

4. What are some analytics tips for SEOs?

  1.  Internal site search is often a gold mine to divine intent and task completion, plus it can yield  some great insights for SEOs and PPC folk. The team at EpikOne wrote up a post on the topic last year.  Is there a better way to monitor internal site search?  Does Google Analytics plan to update the tool with more robust internal site search tracking?

    Again, we can't comment on future plans, and currently, the filter that EpikOne identified is the best way to monitor internal site search. We're aware that this is important data to be able to view in your reports.
  2. Aside from the basic organic reports and internal site search, what do you think are the most powerful ways SEO's can use Google Analytics?

    Here's a suggestion. By looking at how visitors find your site, you can possibly tweak your content by using language that might optimize your site for certain searches. You can do this by looking at the Keyword report in the Traffic Sources (You might want to look at just your new visitors. You can look at the New vs. Returning report in the Visitors section and segment the New visitors by keyword).

    Once you are looking at the list of keywords that brought visitors to your site, expand it to include 250 keywords, and scan the list, even the keywords that only brought a few visits. This will teach you what visitors believe your site to be, using language that you may not be prioritizing in your site verbiage. You may want to optimize your site using these words.

    For the best information and tools for optimizing your site for Google searches, I would strongly recommend that webmasters use Google's free webmaster tools, found at: http://www.google.com/webmasters/.  You can see whether your site is indexed, and when your site was last crawled by the Googlebot, and much more.


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