For the past 5+ years, Google Analytics has been my go-to web analytics tool. While it isn’t as robust as Omniture or WebTrends, the pricing model (Free!) and easy installation & simple configuration processes have resulted in widespread adoption. According to the technology adoption and trends tool BuiltWith, Google Analytics is used by more than 44% of the top 1 Million website. In comparison, Omniture is used on only 1.35% of the top 1 Million websites.
I’ve been spending significant time with Google Analytics over the past few months and I seem to be running into more limitations each and every day. Here are the 3 things that I would expect to be able to do with Google Analytics (but I can’t):
- Advanced segmentation isn’t really advanced. After I wrote my post about about the robustness of advanced segmentation, a colleague asked me to help her with creating a report on user behavior using internal and external visitor segments. Knowing that I’ve set up Views where I’ve excluded traffic using an internal IP address, I began searching for the “Filter by IP” field but could not locate it under any of the available options. Once I realized that this was not possible, I resolved to creating the 6 essential Views that we set up with all client accounts so that she could report on this behavior in the future.
- Custom Dashboards aren’t really customizable. I met with another colleague before the Thanksgiving holiday break to discuss the buildout of a custom dashboard. He sought my help with creating one since I had built a custom dashboard for my blog. We attempted to create a basic widget that displayed on a daily basis the total visitors vs. new visitors vs. returning visitors — a graph that a marketer would commonly look at. While the visitor metric could be added to the graph, we couldn’t add the visitor type dimension. To work around this limitation, we added the % new visitor metric. Furthermore, we could only add a single metric!
- API’s aren’t really open. I add an annotation every time that I publish a new post on this blog. Since my blog posts get automatically pushed to social media networks when they are published, I began investigating whether I automate the process and cut the manual step of adding these annotations. I looked into the Google Analytics API’s and while Google has multiple API’s — API’s for data collection, account management, and data reporting — none could be used to create annotations on the fly.
Google does have a support forum where new features can be requested so I posted my suggestion for automating annotations. While the features that I want are not currently available in either the standard or enterprise version, I’ve noted that Google has invested significantly in the platform this year. I fully expect the product development team to continue to release more valuable functionality in mid to late 2014.
What features do you think are missing in Google Analytics?
Advanced segmentation has been a feature of Google Analytics now for almost 4 years (introduced back in October 2008). It has been my go-to feature in Google Analytics because (A) custom segment can be easily created and applied to past data and (B) the visual graphs tend to quickly pinpoint and highlight interesting trends and (C) there’s no strategic planning required — you just find the right dimension or metric and slice your data.
The inherent flexibility of advanced segmentation has also made Views (aka Profiles) seem archaic and possibly unnecessary. That point has made me question why you’d set up Views instead of advanced segments?
The answer to this question came out of a recent attempt to learn more about visitors via audience demographics and interest. As I updated the Google Analytics tag, I decided to set up the following Views:
- All Traffic Profile. My default profile with all raw/unfiltered data. This is a must have master profile!
- US Only Profile. A location-based profile for traffic within the United States. While my blog has always received a decent amount of international traffic, my core target audience (at this time) is within the US.
- Desktop and Mobile Only Profiles. Screen-based profile for traffic of visitors via a desktop or mobile (including tablet) devices. NOTE: I’ve recently considered shifting tablet visitors to the desktop profile since tablets seem to augment laptop use.
- New and Returning Visitors Profiles. Recency-focused profiles for traffic of visitors that are on their first visit (or returning visit) to my blog.
- Direct Traffic Profile vs. Referral Traffic vs. Social Traffic Profiles. An alternate set of source-based profiles for visitors that have bookmarked my site vs. referred via another site. I have also set up a profile for visitors that have arrived at my site via social network.
These View represented segments that I commonly reviewed. During the setup I also added filters that excluded traffic from internal IP addresses (aka, me working from home or the office). After watching the data flow in I realized that the three biggest benefits of permanent Views (Profiles) are:
1. You get a snapshot of the activity for each segment. Using the All Account screen, I can quickly see the visitor count, average session time, bounce rate and goal conversion rate for each view/segment (see below).
2. You also get a detailed view of activity for each segment. Using the Reporting screens, I can easily dig into the content preferences or interest of my blog’s visitors. I can also identify content flow roadblocks for a specific group of visitors.
3. You can’t exclude IP addresses via advanced segmentation. That’s a feature that’s only found in View!
The third point is a no-brainer reason for employing Views. And while I am currently the only user who accesses my analytics account, the security controls for Views make it a great feature for enterprise clients that want to limit access for a campaign or a microsite to a third party vendor.
Do you still use Views in Google Analytics? Which one have you found to be most useful?
I was already feeling the pinch from the short work week (due to the Labor Day holiday) when I came across a Google Analytics reporting limitation.
I attempted to show a colleague how to use the Advanced Segmentation reporting feature, a powerful tool that easily isolates traffic for further analysis. I regularly use this feature to look at the behavior of a user segment, such as visitor traffic from a specific geography (ex: in Georgia) or a specific device (ex: iPhone vs. Android). When my colleague logged into Google Analytics, the Advanced Segments link was missing from the interface.
Advanced Segments link in Google Analytics reporting interface
Thinking that it was an account permission issue, I immediately started to elevate her account access level, switching her from the basic Read & Analyze level to the Collaborate level and then to the full-featured Edit level (aka Admin level). None of these account access levels worked. Knowing that I use my Gmail account, I deleted her account and added her Gmail account (ex: [email protected]). I also assigned her account only Read & Analyze level access. When she logged into Google Analytics, the Advanced Segments link was present. Ugh!
It turns out that Advanced Segments is only available to user with a Gmail address. Users that access Google Analytics with their work/private email account (ex: [email protected]) cannot view/use the Advanced Segments.
There are users who’ve reported other undocumented limitations with Advanced Segmentation, such as the inability to create more than 100 custom segments, but never this one. I hope that this post saves you from unnecessary aggravation!
What other limitations have you run into in Google Analytics?