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Tuesday, Jul. 29, 2008 at 5:29 am

Beyond the Dashboard: 5 Tips for Data Diving in Google Analytics

By Brendan Regan
July 29th, 2008

Google Analytics Dashboard exampleI used to run websites for a living.

I was responsible for the performance of those sites, and I was the de facto “web analytics guy” within my company.  But I wasn’t a full-time Web Analyst, and I had lots of other strategic and operational things to do.

Sound familiar?

When I did look at my web analytics, I often skimmed the information contained in my default “dashboard,” and rarely dove into the real data unless someone came to me with a specific question, or I had to produce a report.

There’s an obvious downside to that approach: The data in the dashboard is very “averaged out” and may lead us to miss more specific data points that we can leverage to do a better job.  But how do we get at the juicy money making data, while not spending too much time getting buried in minutia?

The solution? Scheduling in regular, recurring “data dives” to make sure you are not getting addicted to the dashboard view of your website.  Maybe start with once a week, and put it in your calendar. (If you don’t you’ll likely never find the time ☺)

Note: I am using Google Analytics in these examples because of its ubiquity, but they should all be applicable to any modern web analytics system:

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

  1. Instead of the default “last 30 days” view of your analytics, try exploring different extended date ranges.  For example, I used to keep a rolling, 90-day dashboard.  Using the “timeline” function in the date selector tool is good for this.  So is selecting “date range” in the comparison dropdown menu; that way you can compare the same date range in the prior year, for example.
  2. Make sure you assign goals and dollar amounts to every conversion on your site.  Most sites have a primary conversion like becoming a lead, subscribing, or purchasing, but micro-conversions are important, too.  Tag your primary conversion goal with your average order value, your lead conversions with a value per lead, etc.  For micro-conversions, figure out what percentage of your visitors that take that action eventually leads to sales.  If 1% of blog subscribers turn into deals, and the average deal is worth $500, then that micro-conversion goal value should be $5.
  3. Explore the Traffic Sources reports to get a better understanding of your traffic “mix.”  Segmenting by traffic source can often yield quick, actionable insights.  Try looking at your organic traffic over the last 6 months, or your referral traffic over the last 3 months.  What does the traffic graph look like?  How well or poorly are they converting?  Has that KPI remained consistent?
  4. Dive into your Top Content reports, and try sorting by “$Index.”  Note: This value is only calculated if you’ve assigned goal values and e-commerce revenue values across your site.  And believe it or not, there are ways to assign e-commerce values to your site pages even if you’re not running an e-commerce site.  $Index calculates the values of pages according to how often they’re accessed en route to a conversion.  It works kind of like the plus/minus point system used in the NHL.  If a player is on the ice when a goal is scored, they’re “+1,” and if they’re on the ice when a goal is scored against, they’re “-1.”  So if a page is very regularly visited by customers who convert, it will have a high $Index value.  It’s a great way to figure out which high-impact pages you should start testing and optimizing.
  5. If you have site search, spend some time hooking your web analytics up to your in-site search, then dive headfirst into the very valuable data the Site Search reports can provide.  Are you able to see which keywords are delivering “zero results”?  What keywords are being used most often in search?  Are visitors who search more likely to convert?  Do they spend more per transaction?  Are there products are services your visitors ask for that you don’t offer?  Should you?

I know there are more handy tips around, but I limited this to 5 because I’m sure our readership has some brilliant ways they can share on how to do healthy and productive “data dives.”

And if this was useful, let us know, and maybe we’ll do a part two.

One final note:  Data diving is healthy and fun, but just remember to come up for air once in a while ;) . Even more important, don’t let the stuff you learn from your analytics just sit there, turn your learnings into action and let’s move our conversion needles together.

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Comments (14)

  1. Brendan, please DO do a part two!! I’ve caught a mention of this topic in the past and I’m always looking for things like this to send to different clients facing their own unique marketing challenges. This applies to quite a few of them!!
    I would absolutely LOVE to see what you come up with for Part 2 and really hope it is created.
    Thank you for this great piece, and I am sure my clients thank you as well.
    Tiffany Otten
    New Market Development

  2. Hi Brendon

    Haven’t tried sorting by $Index before – best tip I have read in quite some time. Thank you for sharing, us viewers appreciate it :)

    Would love to see a part two – something in the works?

  3. Brendan, thanks for helping me reconfirm what I was postponing to do :-)
    Sometimes is need to forget in order to learn isnt?
    Lucio Ribeiro

  4. Brendan,

    Bravo! Excellent article.

    Your 5 tips on getting started should be used by all who are given the task of managing the analytics process for their companies.

    In my opinion, you could not have been more clear or succinct.

    I look forward to reading additional works.

    Kindest Regards,

    Drake Morton

  5. 5 Tipps zum Abtauchen in Google Analytics…

  6. Hi,

    Great Post. I have actually digging in to G. Analytics recently. I was comparing it to open source ones results: piwik(still in beta) and to the php one, and found a discrepancy of more than 12% – google was showing less unique visits. Have you tried either one of them?

  7. I use google analytics to keep track of various KPI’s for each week and then log them in to an excel file for my own custom dashboard.

    Its great for reporting to upper management and getting sales and marketing to tie in with web masters so that there is a shared perspective of what is going on in house and what is working.

    Am recently adding tags to all images on the home page so that different banners can justify there space on the home page.

  8. Hi Brendan,

    excellent tips there. I’d never have considered using the $Index metric on anything other than an ecommerce or lead-based site.

    One more tip: tag the custom 404 error page.
    The analytics tag would need to be customised to grab the requested page. There’s a lot of things you can do with that infromation (rectify the link on the reffering site, create and redirect the incorrect address to the correct one or a more relevant one, etc).
    Don’t have a custom 404 page? Then create one! :)


  9. I definitely agree with your points here. I’ll add that looking at the details of “bounce rate”, and using google analytics to perform experiments to reduce bounce rate are one of the most effective tools they provide.

  10. [...] Judging by the response we get from our posts on web analytics, you’ll enjoy GrokDotCom’s Beyond the Dashboard: 5 Tips for Data Diving in Google Analytics. [...]

  11. I haven’t ventured much past the dashboard yet, probably just timid to go into new areas. I like the extended view idea, I usually spread it out over a year anyways. Trends dip over times of day, days of the week, months of the year, and so on.

  12. Good suggestions. I hadn’t really thought about micro-conversions before. I would love to see more tips.

  13. Excellent. I am always using google and yet some things just need pointing out to you.


  14. It’s so great that Analytics is a free feature, all the possibilitie makes it perfect. I have filled my deashborad with several things. I look to references (If someone is breaking the copyright rules for my pictures), keywords and how long the people are on my site.

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