Google’s September 2011 update to its Analytics package finally drew a line under one argument that it’s always lost – Google Analytics now provides real-time reporting and other popular features that competitors have been offering for years. Google didn’t get it right first time when it launched New Analytics in May 2011, but it’s been moving the product forward since then and most users are happy with the result.
Google Analytics needed a facelift – blog posts and comments bemoaning the lack of functionality had become commonplace. Leaving aside the real-time data debate, alternative packages that featured personalized dashboards, enhanced goal-tracking and superior reporting were gaining followers. New Analytics includes all of these widgets with keyword clouds and site-speed metrics thrown in for good measure.
Two tools in particular find favor with the GA community: visualization of visitor channels opens up the paths taken to reach a page, and enhanced target-setting expands the useful definition of “goal” in a dramatic leap.
Gone is the simple “last-click” functionality, replaced with interactive flow reports that present up to 30 days’ activity leading to a conversion. Google is close to giving webmasters the Holy Grail – knowing beyond doubt what drives visitors to convert.
Identifying the previous page visited is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s all Google has offered until now. Flow visualization displays the routes that visitors take to find a site, how they navigate around it, where they drop off and what they do after they convert.
Analyzing conversion paths, often including several visits spread over a number of days, allows all contributing pages to receive credit for the part they play. Successful paths stand out, as well as under-performing areas that have high drop-off rates, indicating clear priorities for site operators with limited resources to deploy.
Event-based goals, while not featured in flow reports, enhance the target-setting capability of New Analytics substantially. Target events include pdf downloads, video views, Facebook likes, site tool use and page printing – all clear indications of user engagement. Using combinations of events as goals provides added sophistication for advanced users.
Couple this with Google Analytics enhanced Social Engagement reporting – you quickly start to paint a real-time picture of visitor traffic in direct response to marketing activity on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Now that more than half of small-business owners use social media marketing as part of an online strategy (according to Forbes), the value of this feature is undisputed.
Reaction to New Analytics is generally favorable, although Google clearly shot itself in the foot with early releases. Some of the most popular reporting features – pdf exports, for example – were not carried over from the legacy product, causing outcry from devotees. Google were quick to promise that future releases would see these reappear, and also announced that event-based goal-flow reports will follow shortly.
At the start of 2012, it’s difficult to find a competitive “free-to-air” package that matches New Analytics’ comprehensive portfolio of value-add features, although fans of Yahoo Web Analytics and the open-source Piwik package argue otherwise. Heavyweight, paid-for suites such as Adobe Omniture and IBM Coremetrics continue to occupy a valuable niche for major brands, but small- and medium-sized businesses probably won’t look further than Google.
New Analytics comes close to delivering a real-time, composite measure of visitor engagement – an elusive index that comprises elements of visitor loyalty, return rate, time spent on site, click activity and interaction. The Internet Retailer recommends that e-retailers use multiple measures of engagement to examine the estimated 96 percent of traffic that doesn’t result in a sale; webmasters take note – the principle holds good, whatever your line of business.