Custom Dimensions and Metrics with Google Universal Analytics


Photo by Hourann Bosci

When you installed Google Analytics on your site, or your client’s site, years ago, you copied and pasted the ga.js tracking code into your header.php and forgot about it. While Google Analytics has served you well over the years, its limitations have become clear as web users migrate to tablets, smart phones, and other devices that are hard to track with traditional analytics.

This spring, Google launched its public beta of Universal Analytics, which offers users the capability to more precisely track how users interact with your website across any number of devices. Before you can start using UA, you need to install a new tracking code, analytics.js, on your web sites. If you’re tracking long term data with ga.js, you can keep that code on your sites and add the analytics.js code for a smooth transition from one to the other.

With analytics.js you can easily modify the tracking code to collect and analyze customized data. While Google Analytics allowed you to define custom variables, it was difficult to create and manage these variables. Google Universal Analytics simplifies the process of custom data collection, making it perfect for a business that needs to know more about its site visitors. Here is what you need to know about custom data collection with UA:

Two words: Dimensions and Metrics

When you’re customizing your data collection, you need to be aware of two terms. First, metrics are a count of a particular data type, such as page views, time on site, or bounce rate. Second, dimensions allow to look you to break down a metric by a particular value, so you can see how many page views are from new users.

Although Google UA includes more than 200 preset dimensions and metrics you can use for your analysis, defining custom dimensions and metrics gives you the capability to collect the data you need for your business. For example, are you interested in many of your site’s visitors come from a particular city? Or are you curious about the gender breakdown of the people who fail to purchase your services? Defining custom metrics and dimensions can help you answer questions like these.

Configuring Dimensions and Metrics

In Google Analytics, it took a bit of coding to set up custom data collection. With UA, it’s much, much easier, as you can define dimensions and metrics in a web interface. Here’s what you need to consider:

Name—Obviously, your dimension or metric needs a name that will show up in your custom reports.

Scope—For dimensions, the scope defines which data will be collected. The scope has three levels: the hit, or the individual data point, like page view; the session, or the number of all the hits in a single visit to your site; and user, the individual user tracked across several sessions.

State—Is this dimension or metric value being actively collected?

Processing and Reports

Because custom data collection is, er, custom, you continue to have control over how the data shows up even after you’ve decided what you want to collect. While the scope defines how the data is collected, the profile filter determines which data ultimately shows up in your report. For example, if you’re collecting the location and time on site information for all users, but your profile filter focuses on users in the United States, your resulting report will only give you information about American visitors.

Every business is different, and as a reseller, you’re perfectly positioned to give businesses the best advice about how they can use analytics to their advantage. By giving you greater control over the kind of data you collect and analyze, Google UA makes analytics easier, and better, than ever before.

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