Google Analytics is capable of collecting and analyzing an enormous amount of valuable data related to your eCommerce site and its visitors. However, it’s really only valuable if you use it. Some people are good about getting the basics: number of visitors, conversion rates, bounce rates, exit rates, etc., which is great, but in reality, that’s barely scratching the data surface. Others will set up their account, but don’t sign in until they see a catastrophic drop in revenue numbers. While Google Analytics is useful in determining what happened, it can also be used to identify issues before things get really bad. In fact, the newest version Google Analytics makes it easier than ever to monitor daily events.
As a Google Analytics and AdWords certified data junkie, I’ll be dedicating a number of posts to helping you get the most out of your data, starting with an overview of some of the tools that will help you be a little more proactive in continuously monitoring your analytics.
Why should you be so proactive and constantly on top of your data?
It will save you money – which some would say is the same as making you money – and it can also help protect the reputation of your online store. Even if time requires you to pay for such services, it will be money well spent. For example, a client of ours requested we begin monitoring their web analytics. They didn’t have the time, and it wasn’t their expertise. In the analysis process we discovered a major conversion rate discrepancy with visitors using the latest version of a particular browser. This discrepancy resulted in the discovery of a major checkout flaw, which – based on the number of their visitors using the browser – had been causing them to lose 5-10% of their total revenue! And analytics data only paints a part of the picture, in immediate revenue. It doesn’t show the lifetime value of those lost customers, as well as others they influence. If you spent time shopping on an online store, only to find out that its checkout page didn’t work, how likely would you be to go back? How comfortable would you feel entering in your credit card information on that site in the future? If the site had been proactively and continuously monitoring their web analytics, they could have caught and resolved the checkout issue earlier, lost less money, and had fewer unsatisfied visitors.
Continuously monitoring web analytics isn’t just for online retailers who have buggy sites. The Internet and search rankings are constantly changing, and the most proactive site owners are constantly working with development teams to tweak and change their site’s components. Such changes will continue to introduce new and unforeseen site issues, so you should do all that you can to continuously monitor your your analytics. It is widely agreed upon that analytics can serve as a valuable control and feedback loop for diagnosing problems that arise from such changes, helping you to resolve minor issues before they become major issues.
These are just two types of scenarios, but the value of continuously and proactively monitoring your analytics should be obvious to any eCommerce retailer. You need to know what you’re doing, and it will take some time. However, there have been a number of new tools that have come out over the years that will enable you to do this more efficiently, saving you time and money.
Proactive Monitoring Toolbox
Google Analytics Intelligence Events
Google understands how important it is to stay on top of your analytics, and they provide a number of tools to help. Within Google Analytics is a tool called Intelligence Events, which is a quick and easy way to monitor ongoing events. Using advanced and complicated algorithms – or magic, whichever you’d prefer – this tool will tell you what sticking out as an outlier in your data and why, based on daily, weekly and monthly time frames. The best part is that this feature requires you do nothing except click on the Intelligence Events link found under the Home tab.
Although Intelligence Events can operate without any input on your part, it can also enable you to monitor a specific event, page, or customer segment with minimal effort. You can even specify how you would like to be alerted, should it come across anything out of the ordinary by creating an Intelligence Event Custom Alert. Perhaps you want to monitor the conversion rate for a specific browser, and be alerted if it falls below the site average. Based on our example above, that can be quite a valuable piece of information, and you’ll be happy know that it’s super easy to set up. Just click the Create a Custom Alert link, fill in some fields, and you rest easy, knowing that you’ll be aware if a particular browser ceases to work with your cart.
Google Analytics Dashboards
Intelligence Events isn’t the only area of Google Analytics that provides easy access to KPI reporting. The default Google Analytics Dashboard monitors universally important and insightful KPIs, and while we do recommend that you pay attention to it, you can do so much more with Dashboards. Different industries and business models will prioritize certain metrics over others. We highly recommend that you take the time to customize your own Dashboard and Widgets, which will allow you to quickly and easily monitor the KPIs that matter most to you.
Google Analytics Custom Reports
Custom Reporting is another feature of Google Analytics that allows users to quickly monitor their own site-specific metrics. The amount of information you will receive in your report is solely dependent upon the scope that you choose to implement. The advantage to Custom Reports is the ability to download the data you have them set to collect in an easily manageable tabular form, commonly referred to as a comma-separated value (CSV) file. Much has been written about how to implement custom reports and what to track using custom reports. To help save you some time weeding through all of them, here are a few links that I have found to be the most valuable: Google Analytics Help, Google Analytics Blog, Occam’s Razor, Search Engine Watch, and Analytics Talk.
Google Analytics Alerts
In addition to allowing you to monitor your own site-specific KPIs via a custom dashboard or report, Google Analytics also allows users to create site-specific, KPI-related alerts to be sent via email or text messages. Located in the Settings menu, Custom Alerts will allow you to set up any number of alerts and specify how you would like for Google to contact you, should one of those alerts be triggered. To view the actual report you will need to visit your Google Analytics account, but you will know the instant something is wrong.
Real-Time Analytics Monitoring
Real-time analytics provides another level of monitoring, but consider yourself warned. It is very addictive! Google Analytics Real-Time was launched in beta this past September, and is only available in the new version of Google Analytics. If you’re not already using the new version, you can start by clicking the “New Version” link in the top right of Google Analytics. Although this offering remains in beta, it is still very useful. Instant gratification aside, real-time analytics monitoring can be used as a truly valuable tool. Monitoring your analytics in real time is a great way to manage your social media strategy and other types of online campaigns.
In the social media marketing arena, being too infrequent with your marketing may not be enough to keep up with your competition, but too much messaging can annoy and drive away followers. It’s a delicate balance. With real-time analytics monitoring, you can immediately see the impact that your messaging has, which types are more affective than others for your followers, and perhaps most importantly, when traffic from such efforts starts to taper off. If you’re still receiving a decent amount of traffic from a tweet or post, it may not be necessary to send out additional messaging just yet.
Monitoring your analytics in real time really has the ability to benefit other types of online campaign, as it will allow you to discover very early whether or not the campaign is generating the type of data that you’re after in Google Analytics.
Like everything related to social media and online marketing these days, the number of real-time analytics monitoring tools has grown rapidly over the last six months. In addition Google Analytics Real-Time, here are a few others worth looking at: Woopra, Get Clicky, and Piwik.
What Should You Monitor?
Having a strong knowledge of the analytics tools available to you is great, but they will only work to your advantage if you know what to monitor. Ultimately, only you will know which KPIs matter most to your online business, which is why you should steer clear of any 3rd party company that has a one-size-fits-all approach. That being said, two KPIs that should be useful to every eCommerce site are the Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate. Any sudden and significant increases or decreases in either of these KPIs is indicative of an important site event.
While these two and other KPIs are helpful on their own, they become more useful when paired with a specific traffic segment, traffic sources, top keyword, mobile traffic, particular types of browsers, or particular versions of browsers. When combined with each of these elements, any KPIs will provide a more useful and insightful set of reports that will help you identify site issues as they arise.
To Sum It Up
Time is money, and this is especially true in the world of eCommerce, where the early bird is always the winner. Catching site issues early is only possible if you are continuously monitoring your analytics and proactive with the data that you collect. Don’t bank on being lucky. By using any one of these tools and applying them to KPIs specific to your site, you will be able to identify site issues in a timely manner. Having issues with your eCommerce site is inevitable and – in some cases – will be beyond your control, but catching them before they become major problems is up to you.