Customizing tracking in Google Analytics

In my last post, I went over how to get started with Google Analytics and went through the Audience Report. This post will be focused on how to customize your Google Analytics tracking. While Google Analytics is an extremely user friendly and powerful tool right out of the box, to exploit it’s true power, you should customize your tracking for your specific use cases.

Google Analytics offers the ability to customize the tracking of your traffic and conversions. Let me delve into each.

Customizing Traffic

Your website gets traffic from different marketing efforts (campaigns) such as email campaigns, social media posts, paid ads, affiliates etc. In GA terms, this is called medium. Medium essentially means the type of traffic i.e. email, organic, social, cpc etc. By default, Google Analytics only displays direct traffic, referral, organic traffic and AdWords traffic (if applicable) as “Medium”. To get more accurate reporting on your different campaigns, it is important to tag them properly.

For example, in the absence of proper tagging, traffic from email and social media campaigns will be combined under “referral” medium. Correct tagging for medium (and source) ensures that the default channel grouping (or any changes you make) is accurate.

Google Analytics has the following five parameters called UTMs (Urchin Tracking Modules) that can be used to tag a specific campaign and build a campaign tracking URL:

  • Medium (required): use utm_medium to identify the type of traffic (for example, email, organic, social, cpc etc.)
  • Source (required): use utm_source to identify the brand of the traffic (for example, google, facebook etc.)
  • Campaign (required): use utm_campaign to identify the specific campaign (for example, Black Friday, Summer Promotion etc.)
  • Term (optional): use utm_term to identify the keywords that drive traffic
  • Content (optional): use utm_content to differentiate ads or links on the page that point to the same destination URL or track email subject lines

So a campaign tracking URL for paid google ads for spring collection will look something like:

Google has a nifty tool to generate these URLs easily once you input the values for each of the parameters.

Customizing Conversions

Once you are tracking the traffic, it is important to track the conversions resulting from those traffic sources. Conversion is any action you want the user to take. This is important to know which source is driving more users to convert and hence, deserves more marketing budget (typically). In GA, conversions or completions are tracked using “Goals”. It is useful to track the other milestones along the way such as awareness and engagement that lead to conversions. To illustrate,

  • Awareness goals could be triggered on product listing and product detail pages.
  • Engagement goals can be triggered when a user customizes the product, shares it or watches a video.
  • Conversion goals can be triggered when a user takes the desired action of buying the product.

There are four types of goals in Google Analytics. The table below describes each along with an example.

google analytics goal description and examples

Here are some important points to note about these goals:

With a Destination goal, you can specify the path you expect traffic to take in the goal settings. This path is called a funnel. When you specify steps in a funnel, Analytics can record where users enter and exit the path on the way towards your goal. This data appears in the Goal Flow and Funnel reports. You may see, for example, a page or screen in a funnel from which a lot of traffic exits before completing the goal, indicating a problem with that step. You might also see a lot of traffic skipping steps, indicating the path to conversion is too long or contains extraneous steps.

Being a regex pro will really help with setting up meaningful destination goals and getting the most out of GA.

It is important to note that duration goals suffer from the limitation that GA has when it comes to accurately measuring time spent on site. Single page visits have zero duration since GA calculates time based on user’s interaction with the site (i.e. hits). However, there seems to be a workaround for this limitation using Google Tag Manager (GTM).

Pages/ Screens per Session goal is heavily impacted by how a session is counted in GA. There are two methods by which a session ends:

  • Time-based expiration: After 30 minutes of inactivity (unless adjusted) or at midnight
  • Campaign change: If a user arrives via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign

Events have the following hierarchy:

  • Category: A category is a name that you supply as a way to group objects that you want to analyze. Typically, you will use the same category name multiple times over related UI elements that you want to group under a given category. For example, engagement
  • Action: You will use the action parameter to name the type of event or interaction you want to measure for a particular web object. For example, “engagement” category will include actions such as social shares, watching a video, downloading content etc.
  • Label: You can provide additional information for events that you want to analyze, such as social network, video name, content title etc.

Destination and event goals can be tested using realtime reports during set-up. For duration and pages per session, the regular reports are the way to go. In any case, it is good to use UTMs so that you are able to isolate your particular session to see if the tracking is working as expected.

Finally, once your traffic and conversion tracking is set up as per your business needs, it is important to always start with a question you are trying to answer. Once you have the question, determine the information you need to answer that question.

For example, if you are trying to determine whether to focus your dev resources on redesigning the mobile experience of your website (question), it is important to know what percentage of your users are on mobile devices (information). Further, it is also very helpful for the analyst to ask the actions that the information will drive. This helps in defining the scope of the analysis.

This post reviewed the content in the CXL mini-degree on conversion optimization.



On the path to learning all things insights and optimization ( | Foodie | Environmentalist| Loves to travel | Player of a few riffs

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Bithika Mehra

On the path to learning all things insights and optimization ( | Foodie | Environmentalist| Loves to travel | Player of a few riffs