Comprehensive Guide to the New Google Analytics

On April 20th, 2011, Google rolled out the latest version of the popular Google Analytics web data tracking platform to somewhat mixed reviews. So what does Version 5.0 have in store for users? Let's take a look at what's working – and what isn't working quite as well – with this new platform.

First of all, it's important to note that this new version of Google Analytics isn't automatically deployed when users visit their accounts. For the time being, in order to access the new platform, users will need to select “New Version” from the page links in the top right-hand corner of the screen. From there, users will have the option to make the new version their default or to continue using the old version of the program.

Upon making the switch, most users will notice that the Google Analytics landing page isn't that significantly different from the old version, as both include a listing of all sites with existing Google Analytics profiles on the landing page. Clicking on a site from either list – in both the new and old versions – will launch the traditional dashboard from which specific data sets, charts and graphs can be accessed.

In fact, although the new Google Analytics received a slight cosmetic upgrade in keeping with the latest Google tool bar, it's important to note that many of the changes made to this latest version are actually operating behind the scenes, improving the power and functionality of the platform. According to Trevor Claiborne, a member of the Google Analytics Team:

“Our goals for the new version are to make it easier and faster to get to the data you want and to enhance the Google Analytics platform to bring you major new functionality.”

But even if many of the improvements to this version relate to speed and power – not features – there are still some new tools worth mentioning in this version of Google Analytics:

* The ability to create multiple, widget-ized Dashboards. Previously, Google Analytics users were limited to one Dashboard, making it difficult for advanced webmasters to access specific pieces of data quickly. This latest rollout allows users to set up as many as 20 dashboards, each with 12 separate widgets. In general, response to this feature has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of improving the user experience.

* The inclusion of Event Goals, which track user interactions. Following on the heels of the introduction of page-specific Engagement Goals in 2009, the new Event Goals feature enables website owners to track actions that don't directly correspond to page views. For example, Event Goals could be used to analyze how long visitors spent watching a particular video on your site, how frequently they interact with non-textual items (Flash videos, AJAX scripts, etc) or how many errors they run into while attempting to complete a given process.

* More powerful reporting features. Although average users of the Google Analytics system may not have the need for advanced reporting, professional webmasters and web data junkies will be pleased with the upgrades made to reports within Google Analytics. Google's new custom reporting features will enable users to choose both the dimensions and metrics tracked on each report, making it easier to implement changes based on specific criteria.

And while these new feature are certainly exciting, many web strategists agree that the upgrade simply didn't go far enough. For example, despite major upgrades to the backend functionality of the program, Google still hasn't allowed for easy integration between its Analytics, Website Optimizer or Webmaster Tools platforms. Having the ability to quickly compare the results of a split test with corresponding Event Goals or traffic statistics could be immensely powerful for website owners.

Additionally, this latest version of Google Analytics still does not give users an easy way to upload market data regarding the cost-per-click incurred for each paid visitor sent by Google, Yahoo or Bing's advertising programs. Being able to quickly determine whether a paid visitor completed the desired action would be very useful to site owners who utilize PPC advertising, although this feature's omission from the latest Google Analytics update means that these webmasters must continue to rely on third party tools.

The final letdown from this most recent update is the still-missing ability to track Adsense income as ecommerce transactions. As Daniel Waisberg of Conversion Journey noted in his “Google Analytics Wishlist“:

“Many sites use Adsense as a primary or secondary source of revenue and it would make sense to have it integrated in a way that would provide even more detailed reports.”

By tracking Adsense clicks as transactions, Google Analytics would be able to report the value of each click, as Adsense clicks can vary wildly in terms of revenue. With a better integration in future Google Analytics updates, site owners who earn money through Adsense would be able to track their conversions and tell at a glance which of their Adsense blocks were performing best.

So while many of these items remain wishes for now, Google's Analytics Team has hinted at a few developments that are yet to come as a result of this update. A list published on the Google Analytics blog includes the following items as “in the pipeline” features to be added soon:

* Exporting reports to PDF
* Emailing reports
* Migrating a custom report from the current Analytics version to the new version
* Linking a new AdWords or AdSense account
* In-Page Analytics

While these changes are relatively minor in scope compared to some of the missing features described above, they should help to make the new environment more comfortable for past Google Analytics users.

So what should you do now that this new platform is available? The first step is just to check it out. If you aren't an advanced user and don't plan to make use of the new features described above, it may not be worth your time to switch to the new version at all.

However, if you do like the latest Google Analytics version and think these new tools will be useful for you, go ahead and make the switch. Once you've set the new version as your default (as described above), consider taking any of the following actions:

* Set up a new goal using the Google Analytics Event Goals. This is a particularly good option if you offer downloads or videos on your website, as you'll have access to more data than ever on how users interact with these elements.

* Add the Social Plugin Tracking tool if you're particularly active with social media. This feature will enable you to better measure the impact of any links, tweets or +1s that send traffic to your website and can help you determine how to best allocate your social media resources.

* Migrate over your old reports and set up your new Dashboards. If you're having trouble figuring out where your old reports have gone, navigate to once you've logged into your account for assistance.

Finally, keep your eyes peeled for future announcements about new features being added to Google Analytics. The recent launch of the Google Plus network and its impact on personalized search may herald a new era of data convergence, and you'll want to stay up-to-date on new features as they're introduced in order to maximize the benefit of web analytics for your site.

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