Google Analytics is a fantastic tool but fairly complex, and some of the language is not so intuitive for non-developers. Here’s an explanation of terms that I frequently find myself explaining to grassroots social justice communicators, and how understanding these facets of Google Analytics can help you to sharpen your organization’s approach to web-based communications.
Accounts and Properties
An Account is the main point of access for all your Google Analytics data. Make sure that you have your own account, don’t just get added on to your developer’s account.
Within an account you can have multiple Properties. Let’s say you have a microsite your organization set up for a specific project–add that as a separate Property in your account. (For example, in my Google Analytics account, I have multiple properties: I track this website and I also track my personal blog: www.nov30.org.)
Properties are within Accounts, and each has an independent set of data. Properties can be based on a specific website, or you can also use them for mobile apps. (In this post I’m focused on properties that are websites.) Within Properties are Views, which I’ll discuss next.
Why the “Account” and “Property” distinction matters:
- If your organization doesn’t maintain your own Account with all the relevant Properties in that Account, you don’t have complete control of your access to the data.
- If you set up a new Account for every website (instead of using one Account), you make your setup and reporting tasks more complicated.
Here’s Google Analytics Explanation of Accounts and Properties with useful notes about where you can control user access to each.
Filters, Segments and Views in Google Analytics
Understanding the distinction between these three terms in Google Analytics will help you understand whether you will be able to find the data you’re looking for.
Views allow you to customize the data you’re looking at within Google Analytics. Views are subsets of your data–generally because you have applied filters to the data as it’s being collected. Views must exist within a specific Property (see above). You can have up to 25 Views within a property, and these Views can have subtle or significant differences between them. Those differences are generally created by the use of Filters. As a good practice, you always want to have one completely unfiltered View of your data.
Filters apply to data as it is being collected. Filters either include or exclude particular data from collection. When a filter is in effect, some data is never collected at all. (Google uses the term, “Filters are destructive” to describe this quality.) I routinely create spam filters, for example, to apply to all the Views for a property except a single default view without any filters whatsoever. You can also use Filters to focus on a particular geographic set of users, for example, or for mobile visitors.
Segments can only be applied to existing data in a View. This enables you to look at subsets of your data, excluding the rest, but then that data is easily added back in to another report. (To add a dash of confusion, Segments can use existing Filters.) The biggest difference to remember between Segments and Filters is that Segments are short-term, and Filters are essentially permanent.
Why understanding the difference between Views, Filters and Segments matters:
- You can save time and effort by creating Filtered Views to look at the subsets of data you know you want to review most often, then basing your reports on that.
- If you create Filters (which are permanent) when what you actually need are Segments (which are short-term), you can wind up looking at the wrong subsets of your Google Analytics data.
Events (They’re not things you go to)
I encounter this so often: Events refers to a user interaction with your website content and they are essential to understanding how effective your content is. Event tracking needs to be configured correctly so that you can measure how often your visitors download PDFs or other files, complete your online forms, share your content or watch videos.
Now thanks to Google Tag Manager, it’s fast for a developer to set up event tracking, although on WordPress, plugins like Google Analyticator will also handle it for you if you don’t want to mess with code.
Why Event tracking matters:
- One of the absolute most important measures of your website’s success is whether users interact with content.
- Out of the box, Google Analytics will not track all your events. You won’t know if users are interacting with content.
Goals and Goal Tracking
If you have not set up Goal Tracking in Google Analytics, you are missing out on the chance to make this tool really support your organization’s social justice work. Goals can be based on:
- Particular pages you want visitors to visit (Example: how many visits is your donation page getting?)
- How long people interact with your content (Example: how many users spend more than 2 minutes on your site? )
- Interactions that visitors have with particular pieces of content (Example: how many users download PDFs you’ve uploaded to your website?)
But you must manually configure your goals — Google Analytics won’t do it for you.
Why Goal Tracking matters:
- Setting up goals requires you to ask and answer important internal questions about why you spend time working on your web content to begin with.
- Goals data can guide you on where to invest time on your website and gives you a specific way to measure the success of your website with your key audiences.
You can create dashboards to give yourself instant access to the metrics that matter most to you. This makes it much easier to stay focused on what you want to pay attention to within your analytics.
You set up dashboards within Google Analytics, and you can also have them regularly emailed to you. I have written about Dashboards a few times — here on my website and more recently on the Fission Blog.
Other Google Analytics terms that confuse you?
If there are other tools or concepts within Google Analytics you have questions about to support your social justice communications, ask me via a comment or my contact form.