This week Google Analytics received a small upgrade – specifically related to the login process.
Until now, no matter how often you use Google Analytics, as a user you were forced to login every time you returned to the site. It frustrates users so much that if you use Google Analytics quite a lot, it became a habit to leave a window open with Google Analytics logged in just for the simplicity.
With the latest update, the Google Analytics team are saying that you no longer need to login and that the process has been streamlined. I’d argue that only part of that statement is true, you do not need to authenticate – however it isn’t streamlined.
The majority of other Google services, once you’ve authenticated once and subsequently return – it reads in your Google Account information and you immediately have access to the service. For some reason, the Google Analytics team have chosen against a consistent authentication progress that is common amongst many other Google services and the user is forced to click a button to enter.
The process won’t be streamlined until it functions like Google Mail, Google Reader and so on. I welcome the improvement – at least I no longer need to type in my account information all the time – however since they already know that I’m authenticated, I shouldn’t need to click again to re-enter the application.
Google have simplified the account management interface for Google Analytics. Previously when adding a user into the system, you needed to provide:
- an email address of a a valid Google Account
- first name
- access level (administrator/reporting)
It appears that you no longer need to provide the first name and surname information. Interestingly though, they have not been marked optional fields, they have been completely removed from the interface.
To my knowledge, the first name and surname information isn’t visible anywhere within Google Analytics (please correct me if I’ve just missed it). If it isn’t displayed or is in limited use, it’s possible Google realised that they were increasing the barrier of entry for no tangible benefit or that they were duplicating information already available within a Google Account.
In March, Google announced a new feature for Google Analytics named Benchmarking. One of the most compelling reasons to opt-in to the benchmarking component of Google Analytics is to compare how your sites perform against other sites.
Once the data from your sites has been analysed by Google Analytics, it is then possible to compare the following metrics against other sites:
- Average Time on Site
- Bounce Rate
- Percentage New Visits
Google Analytics allows the user to choose which one of a number of industry verticals to place their site into for comparison; telecommunications, travel, business and news are but just a few. This industry specific targeting allows for comparison against sites which are similar in theme – vitally important, as you wouldn’t want to compare the statistics of a heavily ecommerce driven site against that of a social networking site.
To make sure that the first two metrics above make sense to each site, Google Analytics automatically places a site into one of three categories based on the number of visits – small, medium or large. When viewing benchmarking data about a site, only the data from other sites within your size category are visible. As such, if you have a small but up and coming site – it isn’t possible to see what the market leader may potentially be doing.
So far, we can compare six simple but very useful metrics against similarly sized web sites within the same industry vertical, though specifying a vertical for comparison is completely optional. While very useful, having a better unerstanding of exactly what you’re comparing against would be handy. I’d personally like a little clarification on the following points:
- What is the boundary in visits per time period for small, medium & large?
- How long does a site need to sustain the number of visits per time period to officially be moved between size categories?
- If a site does move between categories, as a user – am I notified that it has happened?
- If I use a country specific domain, am I comparing only against sites of a similar size within the country specific domain name space or is it a global comparison? I find this point quite important, as users from different countries have different usage patterns.
- Does placing your site within a country via Google Webmasters have an impact on the previous point – in case you use a top level domain such as a .com/.net?
- How are sites placed into an industry vertical and is it possible to see what vertical a given site has been placed in? The latter part of that question is important, as if your site has been placed into the wrong sub-category list and as a user you are nominating a different category (which you feel is the correct one), it could be providing you a different skew of the results.
The benchmarking service from Google Analytics has only just been launched and is still marked beta. I expect as more people start sharing their information with Google, more and more questions will get raised, more will be answered and the product will continue to evolve as do most Google products.
Six weeks ago, along with colleagues from my work place – we implemented Google Analytics Ecommerce functionality within a handful of sites.*
The statistics had been pouring into Google Analytics and then around April 25, same time that Australia has a long weekend to celebrate ANZAC Day, the transactions going through the site started to drop. At first I didn’t think much of it, in the tourism industry it is common place to see lower periods of activity over a long weekend.
I continued to keep an eye on the transactions being reported and expected them to resume the next work day, however that didn’t happen. At this stage, I investigated the issue further to see what the actual figures were and my suspicion was confirmed – the transactions going through the site had dropped, however no where near the levels that the ecommerce functionality within Google Analytics was suggesting.
A fortnight has passed and I haven’t seen any noises about it online and then today when I logged into Google Analytics, the dashboard included a notice stating that analytics was delayed in processing data from 30th April to 5th May and that ecommerce data across that period was unable to be recovered. I’m pleased that the Google Analytics team have posted a notice about it, at least that confirms that it wasn’t something that we had done which inadvertently stopped us reporting the transactions into Google.
- The image above suggests that the outage began on the 27th April, not 30 April as Google suggested. Either the sudden drop was the lull of the long weekend or Google have reported the wrong date?
- Why did it take a fortnight to post a notice about the unplanned outage? While I appreciate it wasn’t going to change anything, if I had of known that there was an outage in place – I wouldn’t have spent any time investigating the lull and just moved on.
* For those that have an ecommerce site and aren’t utilising the ecommerce functionality within Google Analytics, I cannot impress on you how amazing this feature is; the insight it provides into the revenue that your site(s) generate is amazing.
Google have announced a new feature for Google Analytics named Benchmarking. The Google Analytics Benchmarking service is still in its beta phase, however aims to allow analytics users to compare or benchmark their web sites against other web sites.
The benchmarking service from Google is opt-in, not default-in. If a user would like to view benchmarking data for their sites, they must first opt-in to allow Google to use their own web statistics. Of interest, opting in is on a per account basis – not per web profile. As such, if you have 50 web profiles set up within your account – opting in will share all of your web profiles data with Google.
After opting into the benchmarking service, Google proceed to anonomise the users web statistic information. What this means is that any identifiable information within the web statistics is removed and only aggregate information is held; as such it isn’t possible to spy on your competitor directly or visa versa.
At this early stage, the benchmarking data is fairly high level but provides you comparative metrics on:
- Average Time on Site
- Bounce Rate
- Percentage New Visits
The usefulness and ultimately the success of the benchmarking service is reliant on how many Google Analytics users opt-in to sharing their web statistics with Google. If the greater user base don’t feel inclined to share their web statistics with Google in this manner, then the comparative nature of what they are offering is hamstrung to some degree.
As the internet has matured and web sites have aged and expanded over the years, it has now become common place for web site owners to restructure their web sites to increase the sites accessibility and search engine effectiveness.
During the restructuring process, less savvy web masters reorganise their web sites without any concern for the impact it might have to their search engine rankings, referrals and user experience while more savvy web masters understand that cool URL’s don’t change. That isn’t to say that the content that was originally published against that URL must remain there, just that the URL exists so that anyone linking into it don’t receive missing document or HTTP 404 error.
When restructuring web sites, the savvy web master mentioned earlier requires a way to make an existing URL redirect to its new URL after the restructure. The two common methods to handle the redirection are:
- It is perfectly acceptable to use a standard HTML web page with the tracking code installed and a meta refresh to redirect a user from the old to the new. This method does have the down side that all of the redirections for the web site are scattered throughout.
- Another solution is offloading the redirection into a utility such as the Apache mod_rewrite module or the equivalent ISAPI_Rewrite for IIS. Using this method allows the web master to place all of the URL redirection in once place for easy management.
Under normal conditions such as option one above, where Google Analytics is installed on every web page within a site – it’s possible for the service to collect a complete click stream for the site. Google Analytics is also capable of handling standard HTTP redirects, so long as the tracking code is installed on both the referring and destination pages.
While it is convenient to use URL rewriting, there is a caveat which reduces the amount of information that Google Analytics can collect. The redirection will happen before any content is returned to the user, which means there is no opportunity for Google Analytics tracking code to fire. This results in Google Analytics reporting zero activity against the redirecting URL.