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Getting the most out of your analytics: Google adds visual context

As a company we’re totally enamored with Google Analytics, for three big reasons:

  1. It’s free. At least, in terms of direct cost—you still have to invest in understanding how to get the most out of it.
  2. It’s reliable. The user interface (what you use to view the data) has almost never gone down, and the actual data collection process has experienced only five minor outages over the last 5 years.
  3. It’s packed full of features. It handles complicated tasks with ease, such as campaign tracking (pay-per-click email, display, social, seo), custom variables, integrated AdWords reporting, and app tracking for things like the iPhone and Android to name a few1.

(Don’t know what Google Analytics is? Click here to learn more.)

Google just introduced a new feature into beta: In-Page Analytics. You can now see your Google Analytics data literally superimposed on your website as you browse.

Of course, data without interpretation is pretty much useless. As I mention above, you still need a basic understanding of how to make sense of the website traffic data that Google Analytics collects and presents to you. (And I’m tired of typing Google Analytics all the time, so from now on I’ll just use GA.)

Getting Around

My first big challenge was simply understanding how to navigate from page to page within the GA system. More often than not, when analyzing the data, I’d be forced to keep one browser tab open with the website in it, and another tab open with GA. Then I’d bounce back and forth between the tabs so I could get a full understanding of how the traffic statistics correlated to the pages on the website.

I’d use this in combination with GA’s “Site Overlay” report, which essentially overlaid a heatmap on the website, with “hotspots” showing where users were clicking.

The combination of tabs and Site Overlay provided me with a fairly comprehensive comparison of on-page click-through results, both before and after we make changes to a site. With this info, I was able to visually test the effectiveness and usability of almost every change we make to a website—almost in real-time. However, it was a very convoluted way to get basic data, and it constantly left me wondering if there weren’t a better way.

Enter “In-Page” Analytics

On October 15, 2010, the GA development team announced a big step forward in addressing this exact problem2. They introduced a new feature into beta: In-Page Analytics. With In-Page Analytics, you can see your GA data literally superimposed on your website as you browse.

Though it’s still in beta, I’ve found the functionality to be an elegant solution to what was a  time-consuming task.

(Plus, all of the questions I’ve had to date have been newly addressed in the Google Analytics Help documentation.)