Google Analytics has released a new version that completely overhauls the system, called Google Analytics GA4. But, what is Google Analytics GA4? This update includes AI, increased security, and a new user interface. We’ll dig into what’s changing, what you need to know, and if it’s worth setting up on your website.

Now, before we dig into all the details, I want to share my experience when I initially used GA4. I’ve been using Google Analytics for well over a decade. Changes and updates to the system excite me, they don’t scare me. So, when I saw that I could upgrade my Google Analytics profile to the new GA4 system, I eagerly agreed.

Once the simple setup wizard was complete, I viewed my new GA4 profile. I was immediately overwhelmed. Everything was one-hundred percent different than what I was used to. I’m normally excited about change but this was so drastically different I didn’t even know where to begin. So I didn’t. I looked it over briefly, then decided I’d let this collect data but I’d go back to my Universal Analytics version and revisit this another day in the future.

Well, I let a few months go by, then I decided I really needed to figure this out because it’s the future of Google Analytics. I read through documentation and watched YouTube tutorials until I finally felt like I had a firm grasp on exactly how GA4 works. And now, I love it. These changes are very exciting and seems like a great new direction for Google Analytics. But, I do feel the transition has a bit of a learning curve to feel comfortable with it.

So, this article will summarize the most important findings that I discovered, explain simply yet clearly how to configure it for your website, and guide you through the transition so you aren’t stumbling to find your way like I was.

What is different about Google Analytics GA4?

GA4 consolidates data from websites and mobile apps, allowing cross-platform analysis. Instead of your website and mobile data living in two different Google Analytics properties, everything is combined in one place so you have a more complete picture of the customer journey.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to have a mobile app to benefit from GA4. Even if you only have a website, there are still several new features you will benefit from. We will go through each of those in detail below.

AI to Fill in Data Gaps

The new GA4 version of Google Analytics includes Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help fill in the gaps. This will become more and more useful in the future. With security improvements such as GDPR and increased 3rd party cookie constraints our Google Analytics data is going to get more and more holes. AI allows Google Analytics to focus on a privacy-centric design. Using AI, Google Analytics is able to fill in those gaps so it’s easier to make sense of the data you have and continue to improve your website using data-driven decisions.

Focused on the Customer Journey

GA4 introduces a completely new User Interface (UI). The entire interface is now focused on giving marketers a better way to understand the complete customer journey. The primary navigation items now include the stages in a customer life cycle: Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention.

Everything is Based on Events

Another big change in GA4, is now everything is based on events. And I mean everything. Even pageviews are now considered an event. And, GA4 events are completely different from Universal Analytics events.

In Universal Analytics, every event had to include a category and an action. Events had to be configured in one very particular and specific manner. In GA4, you have different attributes depending on the event.

In Google Analytics GA4 there are three types of events: automatically collected events, recommended events, and custom events.

Automatic Events

Automatically collected events do exactly that. They collect events automatically just from having GA4 configured on your website. There is no code that needs to be added for these events. Automatic events include items such as page title, screen resolution, and page referrer.

For websites (not mobile apps) there are additional automatic events that you can enable. They are called enhanced measurements. And they also require absolutely no code. They can track items such as page scroll, outbound link clicks, and file downloads.

To enable enhanced measurements, go to Admin > Data Streams. Click on your website stream. At the top you’ll see a toggle to enable enhanced measurements.

Recommended Events

GA4 also includes several recommended events. The recommended events are similar to the custom events, except Google has predefined event names and suggested attributes. It is not mandatory to use their recommended events. However, if these are events you wish to add regardless, it’s recommended to use their predefined naming convention so the system can use the data more intelligently. Using their names will allow Google Analytics to understand the data type and leverage the data in standard reports.

Some recommended events include login, sign up, and share. We’ll provide a step-by-step guide to setup recommended and custom events later in this article.

Custom Events

And lastly, are custom events. Custom events are events that aren’t included in the automatic or recommended events. Whenever possible, it’s preferable to use an automatic or recommended event. Custom events won’t show up in the standard reports so you’ll have to create custom reports to analyze the data.

Includes YouTube Measurement

Another automatic event GA4 is able to track, are metrics to measure YouTube videos. If you have embedded YouTube videos on your website you can now track video plays automatically. We’ll walk through how to set this up later in the article.

Easily Mark Anything As a Conversion

So, every item in GA4 is an event, and any event can be marked as a conversion. It’s as easy as reviewing a list of your events and enabling a toggle to identify that event as a conversion.

No More Bounce Rate

The bounce rate metric has been completely removed in GA4. Since GA4 encompasses both websites and mobile apps, bounce rate no longer made sense. Bounce rate only applied to websites.

Additionally, bounce rate didn’t apply to every website. Bounce rate was never an accurate metric for one-page websites and sites where the primary goal was an offline action such as a phone call.

Instead, this has been replaced with engagement metrics.

Access to AnalysisHub

GA4 includes AnalysisHub. This is a feature that’s been available in the paid Google Analytics 360 version, but has never been included in the free Google Analytics product.

AnalysisHub allows you to create custom reports. You can choose from a variety of charts including cohort, funnel, and path analysis. Then, you can drag and drop the metrics, dimensions, and filters that you want applied to the chart.

When you’re done the report with your configurations is saved so you can come back and easily refer back to it.

Debugging Included

And lastly, Google Analytics 4 includes a debugging interface. This combined with real-time metrics makes it much easier to test your changes and confirm everything is tracking properly. To find out exactly how the debugging feature works, continue to the end of the article.

Is Google Analytics GA4 Worth Setting Up?

The short answer is yes! You can have both GA4 and Universal Analytics set up. There’s no reason not to set up GA4 because it doesn’t do anything to interfere with your existing Universal Analytics set up.

If you’re setting up Google Analytics for the first time, GA4 is now the default configuration. Although the setup wizard includes a checkbox to easily add a Universal Analytics profile as well. For now, it’s best to set them both up.

Even if you don’t use it, adding it will allow GA4 to start gathering data. It won’t pull in any historical data so the data will start the day you set it up. It’s best to get it configured and collecting data so it’s there for you when you’re ready to use it.

Google is encouraging people to create a new Google Analytics 4 property alongside existing properties. That way, you can start gathering data and benefit from the latest innovations as they become available. While keeping the current implementation intact.

How to Add GA4 Events

There are a few different ways to add events in Google Analytics 4. You can add them directly in Google Analytics, through Google Tag Manager, or add code to your website. We’ll discuss how to add them through the Google Analytics interface and through Google Tag Manager.

If you’re adding a recommended event, make sure to refer to the Google documentation to get the event name and parameters.

Here are the various predefined event tags:

Both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager allow you to add an event without any code. If your event is simple, it’s going to be easiest to add it directly in Google Analytics. If your event requires special firing conditions or a variable then it will be best to set it up in Google Tag Manager.

Setting Up GA4 Events Directly in Google Analytics

To set up an event in Google Analytics:

  1. Go to Events > All events > Create event.
  2. Click Create.
  3. Enter a Custom event name. Remember to check the Google predefined event tags to see if there is already a naming convention you should use for this event.
  4. Then add in your matching conditions. The event will trigger when all of your matching conditions are true. So, if you want to track when people visit a particular page on your website so you can mark it as a conversion just select page_title as the parameter, then equals or contains as the operator, and then enter the title of the page you want to track as the value.
  5. When finished, click Create.

Setting Up GA4 Events in Google Tag Manager

To demonstrate how to set up a GA4 event in Google Tag Manager, we’re going to walk through how to set up the predefined login recommended event.

To configure an event using Google Tag Manager:

  1. In Google Tag Manager, navigate to Tags > New.
  2. Click the pencil icon in the Tag Configuration box to configure the tag.
  3. Under Choose tag type select Google Analytics: GA4 Event.
  4. Under Configuration Tag select Google Analytics GA4 Configuration.
  5. Under Event Name, enter the name for your event. Since we’re setting up a predefined event, we will name it the name specified by Google, which is login.
  6. Then we enter in any parameters. On the same table we got the predefined event name, we can also see predefined parameters. For login, the parameter is method. So, under Parameter Name enter method. The value can vary depending on your site. It can either be static text or a custom variable. If your website has multiple login types such as logging in via Google, via Facebook, or email then your parameter should be a variable. Since our site only has one login type, we simply entered in email as the value.
  7. Next you need to configure the Triggering section. Click on the pencil icon in the Triggering box to choose a trigger.
  8. Select an existing trigger from the list or click the + icon to create a new one.
  9. There are multiple ways you can choose to trigger your login (or any) event. The best option just depends on how your website is configured. It can be based on a button click, a form submission, or a pageview. For our site, I decided to trigger it based on pageview.
    • I created a page view trigger type that triggers on some page views.
    • I specified that the Page Path equals the page URL that people see when first logged in. I also specified that the Referrer contains the login page URL. Both of these need to be true to trigger the event. (Page Path and Referrer are both built-in variables but make sure that they are enabled in the Variables section.)
  10. Once your trigger has been added click Save.
  11. Then Preview your changes (we’ll talk about this more under the debugging section) and Submit.

How to Mark an Event as a Conversion

To mark the event as a conversion:

  1. Go to Events > All events.
  2. You can click the toggle under the Mark as conversion column to set any event as a conversion.
  3. If the event you want to mark as a conversion isn’t yet displayed under the events list, go to Events > Conversions > New conversion event. Follow the prompts to add your event as a conversion through that menu instead.

How to Track Embedded YouTube Videos in GA4

Tracking YouTube videos embedded on your website is a built-in function with Google Analytics 4. However, depending on how your website is configured, there still could be a few adjustments you need to make before you start seeing the data come through.

Enable Video Engagement Enhanced Measurement

First, you need to make sure the enhanced measurement for Video engagement is enabled. To do this, go to Admin > Data Streams and click on your web stream. At the top you’ll see a toggle to enable enhanced measurement. Once that is enabled, click the gear icon to confirm video engagement is enabled.

Make Sure JS API is Enabled

Next, you need to make sure your embedded YouTube videos have jsapi enabled. By default, this value isn’t included in the iFrame embed code, which disables it. If you have this value but it is set to 0, that also means it is disabled. To enable it, append ?enablejsapi=1 to the end of your YouTube URL.

Here is an example:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ay0uLEwb_uY?enablejsapi=1" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe>

Make Sure YouTube API Loads with Initial Page Load

Lastly, you need to make sure the YouTube API loads when the page is loaded. If the system doesn’t see a YouTube video when initially loading the page it won’t activate and track the video engagement metrics on that page.

The instances where this would happen is if your video plays in a lightbox modal or appears in a lazy load. If you can’t see the video from the first page load, if an additional action is required to load the video then your video metrics won’t be tracked by default.

To fix this, add the YouTube API to the page load. The easiest way to add this is with Google Tag Manager. Add a Custom HTML tag with the following HTML:

<script src="https://www.youtube.com/iframe_api">

Then, set it to trigger on all pages.

To test it out, continue on to the debugging section.

How to Use the DebugView and Test Configurations

To use the DebugView in Google Analytics 4, you have to also use Tag Assistant. You’ll use Tag Assistant to load your website in a new window, and actions you perform in that instance of your site will be monitored in DebugView.

Tag Assistant is the same thing that launches when you click Preview in Google Tag Manager. So, if you are previewing a change in Tag Manager you can open DebugView in Google Analytics to get additional information about the change you’re testing.

When you add a new event, you can test it by performing the action that should trigger the event on your website using Tag Assistant. Then you can look at the Tag Assistant interface, Google Analytics DebugView, or the Google Analytics realtime report to confirm it is tracking properly and pulling in the expected data.

In Summary

Hopefully this gave you the information and confidence you need to get started with Google Analytics 4. If it’s still a bit overwhelming, just start by setting it up, and worry about fine-tuning it later. You can rest easy knowing it’s gathering data and go back to using Universal Analytics for now.


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If you’ve looked at your acquisition sources in Google Analytics, you’ve probably seen Direct traffic or (direct) / (none) listed towards the top. What does that mean, where are those people coming from? What is Direct traffic in Google Analytics? Is it possible that many people are directly typing in the URL into the browser? While that’s certainly some of it, it is not the only cause of direct traffic. Let’s discuss what direct traffic is and the many different factors that cause it.

Direct Traffic is Traffic from an Unknown Source

When Google Analytics can’t identify where the traffic is coming from, it categorizes it as Direct traffic. Direct traffic is the fallback when the acquisition source is unknown.

Direct traffic is a normal part of website behavior, however, it isn’t terribly useful when reviewing your digital analytics. It makes it hard to make decisions about your data when it isn’t clear where that person came from.

Because of this, Google Analytics uses last non-direct click attribution. What that means, is if someone visits your site from an organic search, then the next day they directly type in your URL, Google Analytics attributes that session to organic search, not direct traffic.

This makes the data more meaningful and easier to understand the value of various acquisition sources. It also means, although direct type in is a potential source of direct traffic, it doesn’t account for as much of the direct traffic as it would if last non-direct click attribution wasn’t used.

By default, Google Analytics has a campaign timeout of 6 months. What that means, is that original organic search would then cause that next URL direct type-in to count as organic traffic for 6 months. You can change the campaign timeout to be anywhere between 1 day to 2 years. You can edit this setting under Admin > Property > Tracking Info > Session Settings.

If your buying cycle is long, you may want to increase this. If it’s short, you may want to decrease this. If you aren’t sure, just leave it at the default. For most people the 6 month default setting will provide accurate data.

Causes of Direct Traffic

Direct Type in or Browser Bookmark

As we’ve already discussed, one of the possible sources of direct traffic is when people type the website URL directly into the browser. The same thing can be accomplished by the user creating a bookmark for the website and clicking the bookmark. This type of traffic would be counted as direct traffic in Google Analytics.

HTTPS to HTTP

HTTPS websites can’t send referrer data to HTTP websites. Instead of referral data, it shows up as direct traffic. This is how HTTPS should work, this is not an error. HTTPS is secure data, whereas HTTP is not. So, HTTPS can not send it’s secure data to HTTP.

What this means is, if you have an HTTP website (not HTTPS), and you get referrals from sites using HTTPS, you won’t be able to see that traffic in Google Analytics. It will be clumped together with your direct traffic. This only happens when HTTPS tries to send to HTTP. HTTP can send referrer information to HTTPS with no issues.

If your website isn’t using HTTPS yet, this is a good time to look into it. It will only become more and more important in the future.

Missing Tracking Code

If one or more of your site pages doesn’t have the Google Analytics tracking code and someone visits it, then clicks a link to another page on your site which does have the tracking code, Google Analytics would attribute this as a self referral from your own website. And by default, your website is listed in the referral exclusion list. If this is the case, then the visit would be attributed to direct traffic instead.

To avoid this, make sure whenever a page gets added to your website it has the tracking code added. Make sure this is part of the default page creation process and you aren’t required to manually add the tracking code.

Redirects

Meta refreshes and javascript redirects can wipe referrer data. Be very specific with any redirects. Try to avoid redirect chains on your website (where you have an internal link pointing to an outdated URL which redirects to the current URL). Whenever possible, it’s best to link to the current URL instead of relying on a redirect.

Shortlinks

Just like with redirects, when you create a shortlink or use a URL shortener system such as bitly, you lose your referral data. To compensate, make sure you add UTM tags on the URL you are sending the traffic to. That way, you have a shortlink that is easy to share and remember, but when people use that URL they are redirected to a page that is your full URL plus all of the UTM tags appended to the URL to be able to track where the click came from. To learn exactly how to add those UTM tags, follow our complete UTM tag guide.

Offline Documents

Do you have any downloadable freebies on your website? These are things such as PDFs or Microsoft Word files that people download in exchange for an email address. If those documents have any links in them, clicks from those links will show up as direct traffic. Since those documents are not part of your website, they are local assets downloaded onto people’s computers, Google Analytics can’t attribute those links to the appropriate source. That can be fixed by adding UTM parameters to those links, just like we discussed for shortlinks.

When you add UTM parameters you’re able to specify the source, medium, and campaign. That way, you can track that information under your Google Analytics acquisition sources, instead of clumping it all under direct traffic. To learn exactly how to add those UTM tags, follow our complete UTM tag guide.

Email

Another common source of direct traffic is from email campaigns. When someone clicks a link an email you sent them, it counts as direct traffic. Google Analytics can’t by default identify that the click came from an email campaign.

Just like with the shortlinks and offline documents, this can be fixed by adding UTM tags to specify the campaign attributes. Most email providers even have an option to enable UTM tracking so each link automatically appends the UTM parameters needed to track the campaign data in Google Analytics. If this is an option with your email provider, I would enable it so you can get all the data without the headache of creating a UTM tag for every single link.

Dark Social

And lastly, is what is referred to as dark social. Several forms of social traffic end up being counted as direct traffic. It’s very hard to attribute these visits properly, and instead, you should just be aware that this is likely accounting for a big chunk of your direct traffic (provided you’ve addressed any possible issues outlined above).

Now, this doesn’t apply to links that you post on your social media accounts. Or links other people post on their public facing social media accounts. For the most part, Google Analytics is able to associate those links properly as social referrals. They can identify the URL the link is coming from and that it is a referral, and can also identify that the referral type is a social network.

Where this applies is with the authentic social sharing from brand advocates to their friends and family. This is a great problem to have, people are sharing your brand. But, you can’t easily tell all those people to use UTM tags to track the data.

If someone shares a link to your website in an email, text message, facebook messenger, or slack message it’s going to count as a direct link. This is essentially a digital word of mouth channel. Word of mouth has always been difficult to track, this is just the digital version.

In Summary

Direct traffic is a normal part of your digital analytics. If more than about 25% of your traffic is from direct traffic, then start looking into the potential problems outlined above. Is your site HTTPS, are pages missing tracking code, is traffic being redirected? Create a plan to leverage UTM tags on external traffic sources.

If your direct traffic is equal to or less than about 25% of your website traffic, this is pretty common. So, make sure you understand what it means, these aren’t just a total number of people typing your URL directly into the browser.

Either way, it’s a good idea to review the direct traffic causes outlined above and make sure your direct traffic number is not being overly inflated by poor tracking.


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There seems to be some confusion between UTM and GTM. We’re going to first explain what UTM means, then GTM, then go into UTM vs GTM. The two are completely separate systems and can be used independently of each other. They do not rely on each other. However, there are advanced Google Analytics configurations that can be made when these two are used together. Here is what you need to know about UTM vs GTM.

UTM tags and a tag manager sound like two items that would be related, right? Although they sound similar they are not related to each other.

UTM Tags are Added to a URL to Track External Links

UTM tags are attributes (or parameters) added to the end of a URL. These attributes record additional information in digital analytics tools, such as Google Analytics. When you add a link to your website in an email or an ad, UTM tags allow you to add insight about that particular campaign so you can better understand where people are coming from and which campaigns are having the biggest impact.

GTM is Used to Load and Maintain Website Tracking Tags for Various Software Programs

GTM, on the other hand, stands for Google Tag Manager. It is a tool that is completely separate from Google Analytics. Although, it can help with Google Analytics setup and maintenance, as well as other non-Google related tools.

Tools, such as Google Analytics, require a tracking tag to be added to every page on your website in order to capture the data used to populate the tool. Depending on what you want to track on your website, you could have multiple tracking tags. You can have one for Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, and a user analysis tool such as Hotjar. Instead of adding each of those separate tags to your site, you can add just one tag for a tag manager, such as Google Tag Manager (GTM).

That helps in two ways. First, it improves page speed because instead of loading multiple tags, your site only loads one tag and the other tags load asynchronously. Second, when you want to add a new tag you now have one place to add it to get it to appear on every page.

UTM and GTM are Not Linked to Each Other

These two systems do not need to be used together. Adding UTM tags to your URL will allow you to track those metrics in your Google Analytics account regardless if it is set up using Google Tag Manager or not. GTM does not provide any analytics. It can be used to deploy Google Analytics tracking, but using a UTM tag does not rely on GTM in any way.

UTM tags aren’t configured in Google Tag Manager because they aren’t deployed on your website. UTM tags are added onto your existing URLs, they aren’t added to or configured on your website.

You do not need Google Tag Manager installed to use UTM tags. You do not need any tag managers to implement UTM tags. To find out exactly how to create a UTM tag, we have a complete guide to UTM tags you can follow.

Advanced UTM and GTM Configurations

If you want to get into some advanced configurations, there are some customizations you can make to UTM tracking using GTM. By default, UTM tags allow you to track the campaign, medium, source, keywords, and the campaign content. If you want to add an additional parameter such as audience, you can do that with GTM. Here is a guide you can follow to use GTM to create additional UTM attributes to track more data.

In Summary

Whether or not you have Google Analytics set up with GTM, you should still use UTM tags to track external links in your marketing campaigns.


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Setting up Google Analytics is simple and a no-brainer for any business. It’s free and provides valuable insights about website visitor activity. Let’s walk through exactly how to setup Google Analytics. We’ll even explain the benefits of using Google Analytics and how to get the most value out of it.

The leading marketers leverage Google Analytics to gain visibility into their website. To take full advantage, you’ll want to make sure you set up goals, funnels, events, and dashboards.

Let’s start with the why and then we’ll dig into the details.

Why Should You Use Google Analytics?

Google Analytics provides you with data about your website visitors. You’ll be able to see insights such as:

  • How many people are on your website, as well as what pages they viewed, what page they entered on, and what page they left on.
  • How many people converted.
  • What traffic source they came from including organic search, referral, and social.
  • Visitor information such as geographic location, browser, operating system, and device used to access the website.

All of this insight and data is free with Google Analytics.

Without visitor data you are operating your website blind.

If you don’t know how many people are on your site, where they came from, and what they did when they were on your site, you can’t make intelligent changes. This data is pertinent to optimizing your website, and lucky for you, it’s free and easy to set up.

How to Setup Google Analytics

  1. Sign up for a Google Analytics account.
  2. Enter an account name. You’ll want to keep this generic enough to apply to any additional web properties you would want to add to the account in the future.
  3. Review and enable any account data sharing settings, then click Next.
  4. Enter in your Property name, which is likely your website name.
  5. If you’d like to enable Universal Analytics, click Show advanced options and enable the toggle.
    • The default Google Analytics account uses the GA4 version. This is the newest and most advanced version of Google Analytics. It combines app and website data and includes machine learning to provide more metrics than we originally had access to. I would recommend still configuring the Universal Analytics option for now. You can add both versions so you have access to all available data.
    • If you choose to enable Universal Analytics, enter in your website URL. Then make sure you click Create both a Google Analytics 4 and a Universal Analytics property.
  6. Click Next and then enter in any business information you’d like to provide.
  7. Agree to the Terms of Service Agreement.
  8. Now you will be shown all of the information you need to add Google Analytics to your website. You can click Global Site Tag to get the code to copy and paste in your website. Or you can click Google Tag Manager to add it through your Google Tag Manager account instead.

Using Google Tag Manager to add Google Analytics to your website is the preferred option. This will make maintenance a little easier, but more importantly it can improve your website page speed.

Tag Manager can be used not only to add Google Analytics but any other tags you need to add to your website. This can include Hotjar tracking, Google Ads tracking, and the Facebook pixel. Adding all of your various tags through Tag Manager optimizes your site speed because they can all load asynchronously.

Utilizing Tag Manager is not only easier to implement and maintain these systems, it’s also more efficient for your website.

Now It’s Time to Optimize Your Google Analytics Account

So, you got Google Analytics installed on your website. It’s verified and your data is being tracked. That’s great, but you aren’t done. Don’t stop at the beginning, take full advantage of your Google Analytics account.

Add Events

You can track website interactions such as downloads, video plays, and outbound link clicks in Google Analytics with events.

If you set up Google Analytics using a plugin or module, events might be automatically created for you. Most Google Analytics plugins can be easily configured to set up event tracking on key elements.

For directions on how to configure events in Google Analytics, view the Google Analytics Event Tracking guide.

Setup Goals and Funnels

Having all of your visitor data in Google Analytics is great, but it isn’t very meaningful without goals. It’s important to know what the goal is for your website and track it so you can easily understand the value of each page on your website.

Some goals have a natural flow that the user will likely follow. That process can be setup as a funnel so you can view the full conversion path for the goal. If the goal has a specific path that must be followed, you can see where you’re loosing people in the path.

Google Analytics allows you to track a wide variety of goals. The right goals for your website varies depending on the business model. Common goals include making a payment, filling out a form, subscribing to a newsletter, playing a video, downloading a file, or sharing content on a social network.

Each of those goals can be configured in Google Analytics. View the full guide on how to set up goals in Google Analytics for more information.

Configure Dashboards

Creating dashboards makes it easy to keep track of your key performance indicators and keep an eye on the metrics that matter to you. You can even configure dashboards to be emailed to you or others on a regular basis.

Dashboard configurations can be shared. This is really nice because you can save time by fine-tuning an existing dashboard instead of starting from scratch. It also can save you time if you have dashboards you like on one account, you can go to Share > Share template link, then simply access the link to add to other Google Analytics properties.

Here are my favorite dashboards:

Bonus: Use a Segment to Filter Out Spam Referral Traffic

Sometimes you’ll see spam referrals and fake data in your Google Analytics account. Most often, you’ll notice this when looking at your referral traffic. You’ll see a site as a referral but when you go to the site they don’t actually link to your site anywhere. This is ghost referral spam.

Fortunately, there is a pretty simple way to clean this up. You can download a custom spam filter segment created by Loganix for free. Filtering traffic with a segment is great because it only temporarily modifies the data. This custom segment catches about 97% of the spam and Loganix keeps it regularly updated. Using this segment helps clean up your data and improves your insight.

Do you have any tricks to help get the most value out of your Google Analytics setup? Please share them with us in the comments!


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There are two types of data you can collect on your website, qualitative data and quantitative data. Quantitative data includes numerical values and qualitative data includes observed or reported feedback. When these two data types are combined you can better understand how your site can be improved. Let’s go over how to collect qualitative and quantitative data on your blog.

Qualitative vs Quantitative — What’s the Difference?

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data is genuine feedback. It is more than just a number. It is an observed or reported experience. This type of data is often expensive, time consuming, and difficult to analyze. But, it can provide a deeper understanding and help you understand the why behind the numbers you’re analyzing.

Quantitative Data

Quantitative data is measured with numbers. It’s easy to analyze but can be difficult to understand underlying causes or why the numbers look how they look.

Why Use Both Qualitative and Quantitative Data?

When you use both qualitative and quantitative data you can create a clearer picture and sometimes solve mysteries.

Reviewing only quantitative data oftentimes raises more questions than it answers. When you combine it with qualitative data it can help you understand why you see the quantitative data you see.

The quantitative data can help you assess qualitative observations to understand where to focus your efforts. Sometimes qualitative data can uncover a problem, and then you can refer to quantitative data to determine how large of an issue it could be and if it seems many people experience the problem.

You can also do the reverse. If you find an issue with the metrics you’re reviewing in your quantitative data, you can get more information by running some qualitative tests in related areas.

Combining the two types of data is how you’ll be able to create clear data stories and uncover the complete picture.

How to Collect Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Okay, so now we understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, and we understand why we need both. Now, let’s go over some of the different sources you can use to actually gather the data on your website.

Qualitative Sources

Interviews

One way that you can get qualitative data is from interviews. Interview members in your community. If you have an email list or a facebook group you can reach out to your community and select a few people to interview.

Surveys

Surveys are a popular way to get qualitative data. Specifically, open ended questions in surveys. These questions give people the ability to give specific and detailed feedback.

To collect survey responses from your existing audience you can use Google Forms. It’s a free and easy tool to create a survey. Then, you can share the link with your email list and social networks.

You can also collect survey responses from website visitors. This is a fun way to do it because you get feedback from people who you otherwise may never hear from. You can create a survey so it triggers when someone is about to leave the site and then ask them why they choose not to complete the purchase.

You can also add a survey to your website to ask just a real simple question to all visitors. You can ask how likely they are to recommend the site to a friend or what they hope to accomplish on the site.

The tool I like to use to add surveys directly to my website is Hotjar. It’s easy to set up and use and they offer a free account.

No matter what tool you use, when you collect open ended survey responses the tricky part will be analyzing the data. You will get the most value out of the data if you take the time to actually read every response. It can be difficult to identify trends when you have such a manual process.

When you’re reviewing your survey responses have a system in place to try and create quantitative data with the responses. Create categories of most common issues reported and tally your findings.

You can also use tools to create a word cloud with your responses. A word cloud is a visual representation of the most frequent words. The words that are repeated most often will be largest, and the words that are less common are tiny. The words are all put together in one image so at a glance you can see what really stands out.

User Testing

Another way to get qualitative data is from user testing. User Testing is where you provide a specific task for a user to accomplish on your website. It can be something as simple as “Look at the homepage and tell me what this page is about” to as complicated as “You want to purchase a vacuum. Navigate to the vacuum you want and go through the process to purchase.”

When you perform a user test, you provide the task, then a user attempts to complete the task. What you receive is a video recording where you get to watch the entire process. Depending on the software you use for the test, you may even have audio where you can hear the user saying their thought process out loud as they navigate your site.

The goal here isn’t for the users to give you feedback on what you need to change. The goal here is to observe how real people actually use and understand your site. For each task you give a user, you’ll have an ideal route or answer in mind. But when you get the results, it becomes quickly apparent that people don’t always navigate our site as we’d expect. Witnessing how real people use the site is eye opening and can help you improve the user experience future site visitors receive.

There are several different sites you can use to administer user tests. Lately, I’ve been using UsabilityHub. UsabilityHub has a free account and if you have your own audience, you can recruit your own participants. If you use their panel of participants you have to buy credits. The required number of credits varies depending on the complexity of the tests. For simple tests, you end up paying $1-$2 per panelist. And as a general rule of thumb, you want at least 3-5 users for each test.

So, although this is not a free option, you can run a test for a small amount of money. If you have the budget, it’s a nice way to see if people understand how to use your website.

Session Recordings

One more source that you can use to gather qualitative data are session recordings. You can record what people do on your website so you can analyze and learn from their behaviors. I like to use Hotjar to gather this data.

This is different from user tests because you haven’t given these people specific tasks to perform. And these are anonymous, you don’t have personal information about the user and you won’t get any direct responses from them. What you get is a video where you can see the mouse move as people navigate your website and observe where they click and when they leave.

These recordings can provide a lot of value, but reviewing them is time consuming. Your best bet is to filter the recordings so you prioritize watching the ones where people navigate to a specific page you’re looking to improve. This can help you understand what people are looking for on the page, what they already have seen or know before they landed on that page, and where they decided to leave the site.

Quantitative Sources

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an amazing source for quantitative data. It gives you a tremendous amount of knowledge about your website. You can find out how many people visit, where they came from, what they looked at, and if they converted. And it is all free.

Google Analytics is one of those tools that’s easy to get started with but difficult to master. We have a guide you can follow to get Google Analytics set up. That is where you’ll want to start. Then, if you want to get the most value out of it you can set up goals and look into event tracking.

Split Tests

Another way to get quantitative data is by running tests. This can be a really fun way to answer questions. If you aren’t sure what version of a page will perform better, you can test it. You can create both versions, then send half of the traffic to one version and half to the other. Then, you’ll be able to see which version had more people successfully complete your goal.

A good tool for this is Google Optimize. It’s free and it uses the Google Analytics goals you already have configured.

There is a caveat, split tests don’t provide meaningful results if you don’t have very many conversions. If you have more than 500 goal completions monthly, then you’ll have no problem. But if you only have a couple of goal completions each week, your results won’t be statistically significant. That means, there won’t be enough cases to trust the data. To get meaningful results, you’ll need more data.

So, if your website doesn’t have many goal completions yet, that’s no big deal. You’ll get there. Just don’t spend your time setting up a split test.

Heatmaps

Another quantitative data source are heatmaps. Heatmaps are a visualization of quantitative data.

A heatmap is a screenshot of a page on your website with colorful shapes overlaid on top. The colors indicate user behavior. Depending on the type of heatmap they can show a few different things. The most common heatmaps show mouse movement, mouse clicks, or scroll depth.

This is another report I like to get from Hotjar. It’s nice to be able to see where the focus is. Do people click on elements that aren’t clickable? Do people ever scroll down low enough to see the call-to-action to be able to convert?

Heatmaps make it easy to get an idea of where people look on your website so you can make sure the important elements are in areas your audience focuses on.

Conclusion

The bottom line is more data is better than less. If you’re trying to troubleshoot a problem on your website and improve the user experience you want to look at it from multiple angles.

If you use both qualitative and quantitative data sources you’ll have an easier time solving problems and creating the ideal user experience.

Have you used any qualitative or quantitative data sources that I didn’t mention above? If so, please share in the comments! What was the data source and would you recommend it?


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To get the most value out of Google Analytics, you need to customize it for your business. That means, you need to add goals that matter to your business so the data is meaningful and specific to you. You need to be able to measure metrics that matter. Let’s go over how to set up a goal in Google Analytics so you can make data-driven decisions.

Why do Goals Matter in Google Analytics?

Before we dig into how to configure goals, let’s take a minute to discuss why it matters. Setting up goals allows you to customize the data and reports to fit the needs of your website. It allows you to get a more complete picture.

With goals, you can not only see if your website is getting traffic, but if that traffic matters. Are the visitors the right visitors? Do they play your embedded videos? Do they sign up for your newsletter? Do they share articles with friends? Have they created an account?

Without understanding and tracking your goals in Google Analytics, the metrics are vanity metrics. They don’t tell a complete story. You can use them to brag, but you can’t make meaningful decisions because you aren’t sure what is moving the needle.

What Kind of Goals Should You Track?

Goals should be metrics that grow your business. Just because you want to track something, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be a goal. It’s great to add events and track everything you can. Reserve your goals to track metrics that move the needle for your business.

Some of the items you may want to add as goals are:

  • Form submissions or leads
  • Account signups
  • Newsletter signups
  • Downloads
  • Video or podcast plays

You’ll want to track both macro and micro goals. The macro goals will be the goals that directly affect your primary business objective. They are what you typically think of when thinking of your goals. These are things like getting leads, payments, and new signups.

Micro goals are sometimes harder to identify but also important. These are goals that play a role in the overall conversion process. These are small conversions that move people closer and closer towards completing a macro goal. These are things like newsletter signups, downloads, and clicking play on an embedded video or podcast.

How Many Goals Should You Have?

Google Analytics allows you to track up to 20 goals. You don’t need to use all 20 slots though. Just track the right amount of goals for your business.

First, try to identify your primary business goals. Then, identify the metrics you can measure and track those goals. The specific number of goals will vary depending on your website and business.

Google Analytics separates the goals into 4 sets with up to 5 goals per set. When you add your goals, make sure to group your macro goals and micro goals in separate sets. You can organize your goals however they make sense for your business. You’ll be able to view the report data by set. So, your data will make the most sense if you organize your sets with related or similar goals.

Where Do You Configure Goals in Google Analytics?

To access the goal configuration settings, click the Admin gear icon in the lower left of your Google Analytics account. Then under the View panel (the list on the right hand side), click Goals. Click on the red New Goal button at the top and you’ll be ready to add your goals!

how to access goals in google analytics

How to Set Up Google Analytics Goals

When you go to add a new goal, you may see a list of templates. If you’ve selected an industry category for your Google Analytics profile, then they provide a handful of customizable templates.

Though this seems helpful, it’s generally easier to just start from scratch. So, if you don’t see templates, don’t worry about it. If you do see templates, scroll down to the bottom and select Custom. Then just continue on to the following steps.

There are four different ways to track goals in Google Analytics. You can track goals by destination, duration, pages per visit, or events. Let’s dig into why you would use the different goal types and how to set them all up.

Destination (URL) Goal

This type of goal allows you to specify a URL as the trigger. So, when a user accesses a particular page on your website it registers as a completed goal.

This is useful for thank you pages and confirmation pages that people view after they’ve submitted a form, registered, or made a purchase. This goal type is the most common. It’s often used to track your macro conversions.

This type of goal is also nice because it allows you to set up a funnel. Funnels need a URL for every step, so this is the only goal with the option. A funnel allows you to visually identify if there is a particular step where the majority of people are leaving the conversion process.

The funnel is only useful if a specific path is required. If not, people will come in and out of the funnel often and it will be difficult to make sense of it.

How to Add a Destination Goal:

  1. Enter a name for your goal in the Name field.
  2. Select the Goal slot ID. Remember to group similar goals in similar sets. You don’t have to use sequential goal IDs.
  3. Click Destination as the Type and click Continue.
  4. In the Destination field, you’ll see a drop down and a text field. Start with the text field and enter in the URL you want to use to trigger when this goal completes. So, if you are tracking form submits, and your form goes to thank-you.html after the submit button is clicked, you will use thank-you.html as your destination URL in this field.
  5. Next, look at that drop down to the left of the URL text field. This is how you’ll choose a match type for the URL. The options are Equals to, Begins with, or Regular expression.
    • If the URL you used is always the same then choose Equals to.
    • If the URL you used sometimes has parameters at the end of it, and those parameters change, choose Begins with. Most likely, if the URL has parameters you will see something like thank-you.html?id=1&kw=none. In that case, the URL is still thank-you.html and that is what you would have in your text field, but the match type would need to be Begins with so this URL would trigger the goal as well as thank-you.html?id=2&kw=something.
    • If matching the URL is more complicated than the first two scenarios, you’ll need to choose Regular expression. If you’re not already familiar with regular expressions, this may be a little more than you want to dig into because it is an advanced setting. Instead, you may want to figure out if you can make multiple goals to accomplish the same task.
  6. In the Destination section you will also see a Case sensitive checkbox. Check this if you want your goal URL to only trigger when the cases are an exact match.
  7. If there is a dollar value associated with your goal, you can switch Value to On and add it.
    • If Ecommerce Tracking is set up, you can leave this turned off and the monetary values will show up under the Ecommerce reports.
  8. If this goal requires a specific series of steps to be followed you can enable the Funnel.
    • This allows you to add up to 10 steps that a user must go through before reaching the goal. This allows you to see where users are leaving the funnel.
    • The match type of the funnel URLs will use the same match type as your primary goal URL.
  9. When finished click Verify this Goal to ensure it looks accurate. Then click Save.

Duration (Time) Goal

I’ll just start off by saying that this goal is not useful very often. It allows you to set a length of time on the site as a goal. For the goal to trigger, a visitor has to spend more time than the goal length.

There are two main reasons why this goal is not useful. First, if a user spends a long time on your site there is no guarantee that they are spending time productively. There could be user experience problems and they are unable to navigate to the page they are looking for.

The other problem is that Google Analytics can’t measure time very accurately. The length a visitor is on a page or the site can only be calculated if there are multiple page views. So, if a user views one page and leaves, or if a website only has one page, Google will show the time spent as 0 minutes and 0 seconds regardless of the actual time spent.

How to Add a Duration Goal:

  1. Enter a name for your goal in the Name field.
  2. Select the Goal slot ID. Remember to group similar goals in similar sets. You don’t have to use sequential goal IDs.
  3. Click Duration as the Type and click Continue.
  4. In the Duration section, enter in the length of time you want someone to spend on the site before it triggers the goal.
  5. If there is a dollar value associated with your goal, you can switch Value to On and add it.
    • If Ecommerce Tracking is set up, you can leave this turned off and the monetary values will show up under the Ecommerce reports.
  6. When finished click Verify this Goal to ensure it looks accurate. Then click Save.

Pages Per Visit Goal

Very similar to the duration goal, this is another goal type you probably won’t use. Although this can be useful to track support sites, there will probably be a better goal type you can use to track more accurately.

Pages per visit is not a useful goal type because it focuses on quantity instead of quality. Just because someone visited a ton of pages on your website, doesn’t mean it was a good experience. They could have had issues navigating and locating the content they wanted to find.

How to Add a Pages Per Visit Goal:

  1. Enter a name for your goal in the Name field.
  2. Select the Goal slot ID. Remember to group similar goals in similar sets. You don’t have to use sequential goal IDs.
  3. Click Pages/Screens per session as the Type and click Continue.
  4. Enter in the number of pages you want someone to surpass before the goal can trigger.
  5. If there is a dollar value associated with your goal, you can switch Value to On and add it.
    • If Ecommerce Tracking is set up, you can leave this turned off and the monetary values will show up under the Ecommerce reports.
  6. When finished click Verify this Goal to ensure it looks accurate. Then click Save.

Events Goal

The last goal type is to track events. Events are very useful to track interactions on your website such as button clicks. Then, Google Analytics makes it easy to add those events as goals. If the goal you want to track on your website isn’t associated with a URL, events are the next best option.

This is a great option to track items like video plays or form submits that don’t load a new page.

How to Add an Event Goal:

  1. Enter a name for your goal in the Name field.
  2. Select the Goal slot ID. Remember to group similar goals in similar sets. You don’t have to use sequential goal IDs.
  3. Click Event as the Type and click Continue.
  4. In the Event conditions section, you can enter in one or more of your event parameters to target the event(s) that should trigger this goal.
    • You can enter in a category, action, or label. You can choose if you select the event based on one, two, or all of those attributes. You can even choose the match type (Equals to or Begins with).
    • You can also target the event by value. You can enter in a value and specify if it is greater, less than, or equal to that value.
  5. For the value of an event goal, the default action is to use the value already associated with the event. You can however toggle that option to No and enter in a different value to use for the goal.
  6. When finished click Verify this Goal to ensure it looks accurate. Then click Save.

Verify Your Goal

Google Analytics provides an easy way to verify your goal. All you do is click the Verify this Goal link and you will be able to see if the goal has triggered in the last seven days. This is just a test to confirm it’s configured correctly, this does not predict how well the goal will perform.

If it shows there are no goal completions in the last seven days it may still be set up correctly. Go find the data in your reports that you’re trying to set up as your goal. Do you see any results for the last week or is zero the correct response?

If your goal looks too high you’re likely collecting data from more pages than you intended. Take a look at your URL match type.

You can also use the Realtime reports to make sure the goals are working properly. Go to Realtime > Conversions > Goal Hits to view your goals triggering in real time. If you run a test yourself, I’d recommend running it on a mobile device with wifi turned off. That way, your IP won’t be filtered out of your analytics data if you’ve enabled internal IPs to be filtered out.

What Else Should I Know About Google Analytics Goals?

There are a few other things you should be aware of when it comes to goal in Google Analytics.

Data collection starts when the goal is created. Historical data from before the goal was set will not be included in the goal data.

You can edit goals. You will be able to go in and modify everything about your goals even after they start gathering data. Your edits will only change the future data, not historical data.

You can disable goals. If a goal becomes irrelevant, you can disable it. They can not be deleted but you can disable or edit it.

Where Do You View Goal Data in Google Analytics?

There are a couple of different reports where you will be able to review your goal data in Google Analytics.

The primary goal reports are found under Conversion > Goals > Overview.

However, several other reports in Google Analytics include goal metrics. For example, if you go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels you will see goal data included in that report. There is a conversion drop down menu on the right side of the data table that allows you to adjust the goal data in the report.

Tracking your goals in Google Analytics will allow you to take full advantage of the data it offers. It fine tunes the reports to meet the needs of your business. That way, you can use the data to make decisions and grow your business.


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More and more businesses are understanding that data is a crucial piece of success. But, just collecting data isn’t enough. You need to understand it. You need it to tell a story. You need it to start a conversation and answer questions. To do this, you need a data dashboard tool. We’ve analyzed the best data dashboard tools for bloggers and solopreneurs so you can start leveraging your data.

Before we start comparing data dashboard tools, let’s talk about what we won’t be talking about. We won’t be going over any enterprise business intelligence (BI) tools. We won’t review tools that require a full-time data scientist to analyze.

Instead, we’ll review business dashboards that offer an ideal solution for bloggers and other solopreneurs. As a solopreneur, you still want to understand how your key performance indicators (KPIs) are performing; even if you aren’t a data know-it-all.

The 5 Data Dashboard Tools We Analyzed

There are plenty of data dashboard tools available to choose from these days. To keep things simple, we analyzed the 5 tools that would be the best fit for a company of one. The tools we’ll review are Geckoboard, Cyfe, Klipfolio, Dasheroo, and Google Data Studio. We’ll compare prices, integrations, data freshness, device capability, export options, and report scheduling.

Geckoboard

geckoboard

Geckoboard has a nice look and feel to it. It’s easy to use and the metrics are easy to read and visually appealing. The lowest tier is reasonably priced at $39 per month. It is pretty limited though. It allows 2 dashboards and 1 user. And you can send your dashboard to 1 TV. But, if you need to send it to multiple TVs or access it on mobile you have to subscribe to a higher tier, which jumps up in price substantially.

Here is the analysis breakdown for Geckoboard:

Price: Starts at $39 per month. Also, there is a 30 day free trial.

Integrations: Able to integrate with over 60 platforms. A few of the available integrations include Google Analytics, MailChimp, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Can also integrate with Google Sheets and Excel.

Data Freshness: Data is available in real-time.

Device Capability: Can send to 1 TV with the $39 plan. To access on unlimited TVs and use mobile dashboards you need to upgrade to the next tier which is $159/month.

Export Options / Report Scheduling: It doesn’t appear to have options to export or schedule reports.

Cyfe

cyfe

Cyfe is a good looking tool with a great set of features. And they even have a free plan. The free plan does limit you to 2 dashboards but they are fully functional and don’t expire. This tool really shines with the solo plan for $29 per month. The paid plan adds several features such as TV mode, unlimited history, and export options.

Here is the analysis breakdown for Cyfe:

Price: There is a free account available.

Integrations: There are many integrations available. A few popular integrations are Google Analytics, MailChimp, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Data Freshness: Data is available in real-time.

Device Capability: TV mode is available on all paid plans, which starts at $29 per month.

Export Options / Report Scheduling: Unlimited history and unlimited data exports are available on all paid accounts. You can download or schedule email reports of your data in PNG, JPEG, PDF, and CSV formats.

Klipfolio

klipfolio

Though this is one of the more expensive tools we looked at, it has some nice features for the more advanced user. This tool will have a steeper learning curve, but you’ll have more options to analyze your data intelligently with some self-service BI features. If you’re still a little scared of data, this probably isn’t the tool for you.

Here is the analysis breakdown for Klipfolio:

Price: Free for 14 days, then starts at $70 per month.

Integrations: Yes, there are hundreds of data integrations available.

Data Freshness: The lowest tier has a 1-hour data refresh period.

Device Capability: There is a TV mode available. An app needs to be downloaded to review dashboards on mobile.

Export Options / Report Scheduling: You can export dashboards as a PDF. You can also schedule an email to send a PDF or image.

Dasheroo

dasheroo

This is another good looking dashboard option. The pricing is very reasonable with a completely free option. The free plan does limit you to 1 dashboard with 8 insights. For a reasonable $19 per month you can upgrade to the grande plan and unlock several useful upgrades. It allows 8 dashboards with 40 insights, export options, sharing capabilities, and a slideshow mode to display the dashboards on a TV.

Here is the analysis breakdown for Dasheroo:

Price: There is a free plan available.

Integrations: They do have a handful of integrations available including Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. MailChimp is not an option. One of the integrations available is Zapier, which you can leverage to handle any missing applications.

Data Freshness: Data is updated daily on the free plan. With the $19 per month plan the data is updated hourly.

Device Capability: There is a mobile dashboard available with an app. There is also a slideshow mode available with the $19 per month package.

Export Options / Report Scheduling: You can download a PDF or PNG with the $19 per month package.

Google Data Studio

Google data studio

There is a lot you can do with Google Data Studio. It takes a little more time to make it look as polished as some of the other tools but the customization options far surpass any other free options. You not only have several integration options but you also can create calculated metrics within Data Studio to create custom metrics based on existing metrics.

Here is the analysis breakdown for Google Data Studio:

Price: Completely free.

Integrations: Very easy to integrate with Google products such as Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Google Search Console, and YouTube. There are other integrations that have connections created by Data Studio partners.

Data Freshness: Data is refreshed every 15 minutes by default.

Device Capability: There is a full screen mode available.

Export Options / Report Scheduling: You can receive a PDF either by downloading or scheduling an email.

Conclusion

There isn’t a bad option in this list. The best option for you will vary depending on your needs.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison with all of the tools and features we just went over:

  Geckoboard Cyfe Klipfolio Dasheroo Google Data Studio
Price 30 day free trial. Starts at $39/month. Free account available. 14 day free trial. Starts at $70/month. Free account available. Free
Integrations 60+ integrations including Google Analytics, MailChimp, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google Sheets, and Excel. Yes, many! Some integrations include Google Analytics, MailChimp, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Yes, hundreds of integrations available. They do have some including Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Stripe, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. They don’t support MailChimp. They do integrate with Zapier which you can leverage to connect any missing integrations. Very easy to integrate with Google products such as Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Google Search Console, and YouTube. Other integrations have connections created by Data Studio partners.
Data Freshness Real-time data. Real-time data. 1 hour data refresh on lowest tier. Daily on free plan, if you go up to $19/month plan it’s hourly. Every 15 minutes by default.
Device Capability Send to 1 TV with $39 plan. To access on unlimited TVs and use mobile dashboards need to upgrade to next tier which is $159/month. TV mode is available on all paid plans, which start at $29/month. TV mode available. Must download an app to access dashboards on mobile. Can view mobile dashboard with an app. There is a slideshow mode available with the $19/month package. Full screen mode available.
Export Options / Report Scheduling None. Unlimited history and unlimited data exports on all paid accounts. Download or schedule email reports of your data in PNG, JPEG, PDF, and CSV formats. Can export as PDF. Can schedule email to send PDF or image. Can download a PDF or PNG with the $19/month package. PDF available via download or scheduled email.

My go-to choice is Google Data Studio. It provides a lot of flexibility and can handle everything I need. I enjoy the formatting options and being able to add text and images to my dashboards. It makes it easier to tell a story with my data and remind myself what question the metric is answering.

My favorite paid tool on the list is Cyfe. I have used this in the past and been very happy with it. The dashboards and TV mode look great, the data is updated in real-time, and it can integrate easily with just about anything.

If you aren’t sure, start with some of the free options or free trial and get a dashboard set up. Know what questions you want to answer with data and then play around with a few. As long as you’re focused on the KPIs that move your business forward any of these tools will be great. Understanding what is working and what needs improvement will keep you going in the right direction.


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It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of any website. And, a great way to do that is by monitoring metrics. We’re going to walk through how to create a metrics dashboard for free!

There are several dashboard tools out there. And if you have the budget, you may want to start with one of those tools. But, don’t let a budget stop you from monitoring the metrics that matter for your website. There are ways to track your website performance even without a budget.

One of the bells and whistles popular dashboarding tools tout is the ability to view your dashboard in a TV mode. Don’t worry, we’ll cover that too. Again, for no cost.

Make Sure You’re Using Google Analytics

First things first, make sure you have Google Analytics set up on your website. If you aren’t tracking your website performance, you won’t have any metrics to monitor.

Make sure you not only have Google Analytics installed, but confirm the metrics you care about are being tracked. That means, look at your goals. Go to Admin and then under View click on Goals.

Do you have goals configured in Google Analytics? Is the primary goal for your website represented in the Google Analytics data?

Add any events for items you’d want to monitor on your dashboard. This can include video plays and resource downloads.

Create Your Dashboard

Option 1: Google Analytics

Creating your dashboard with Google Analytics will be the simplest, but most limited option.

You are limited to 20 dashboards

Each Google Analytics view is limited to 20 private dashboards per user. You can also have 50 shared dashboards per view.

This may be more than enough for some people, but it’s important to know there is a cap. It’s nice to have a few go to dashboards in Google Analytics. But, because of this cap, you’ll want to leverage a different tool to view granular data reports.

Each dashboard can only have 12 widgets

You can adjust the size and column layout of the widgets. But, at the end of the day, no matter how you configure them, you’re limited to 12 widgets per dashboard.

If you are looking to monitor just your primary KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) this will not be a problem. In fact, keeping it simple will be helpful if you’re planning to display the data on a TV later.

However, just like with the dashboard cap, if you want to review granular data reports you’ll need to look into a different dashboard tool.

You have to use the pre-configured dashboard widgets

The Google Analytics dashboard system is simple and easy to use. This is definitely a benefit for beginners.

They have a simple interface that allows you to choose the type of chart and then you insert the Google Analytics dimensions and/or metrics you’d like to include.

You’re able to do quite a bit with the options available. However, if you have a very specific chart in mind, you may not be able to create it in a Google Analytics dashboard.

For example, you can only include up to two metrics in a table. And you can’t display more than 10 rows.

You can’t include data from any source

Not only can you not include data from any outside sources (such as Google Sheets), but you also can’t include data from any other Google Analytics profiles. You are limited to only the data in the profile / view that you are currently in.

You can copy a dashboard and view it in other Google Analytics accounts but that can make it more tedious when it comes time to review.

Option 2: Google Data Studio

Google Data Studio is a great option. It does have a bit of a learning curve, but you can get as simple or advanced as you’d like.

It will function and create beautiful charts even if you don’t understand the majority of the features.

You can add your Google Analytics account as a data source and then create just about any chart you’d like. It’s also easy to format the chart / dashboard to match your brand.

You can leverage calculated metrics

Google Data Studio does include the ability to create calculated metrics. So, you can pull in your Google Analytics data and then make simple calculations to create a new metric.

For example, if you want to show conversion rate as (Transactions / New Users) * 100 instead of (Transactions / Sessions) * 100, you can create that using calculated metrics. You don’t have to add any other data sources, it can manipulate your Google Analytics data.

And, if you create a calculated metric it doesn’t modify the existing metrics. You can create them without worrying about damaging your data.

Option 3: Google Sheets (with or without Data Studio)

The last option is Google Sheets. There are a few different ways to use this as your dashboard tool.

Use Google Analytics Add-On

I would recommend using the Google Sheets add-on for Google Analytics. This add-on lets you create reports in Google Sheets based on your Google Analytics data.

If you want to manipulate your data, and the calculated metric option in Data Studio wasn’t enough, this will give you what you want.

You can add Google Analytics filters and segments to the report and customize it however you’d like. Then, you can schedule the report to run at a regular interval (hourly, daily, weekly).

You can create multiple reports on one spreadsheet. When you run the reports it will create a tab for each of the reports. When you re-run the report (either manually or scheduled) it overwrites the data in the same tab.

Because of this, you can create a new tab to use as a worksheet for any calculations you’d like to make. When you update the report, all of the tabs with Google Analytics data will update, and then any fields you’re using in your worksheet tab will update with the newest data.

Create Full Dashboard in Google Sheets

If you’re happy with using Google Sheets, you can use it to create your entire dashboard.

Just create a new tab with the charts you want to include. You can reference data from the Google Analytics add-on reports and your charts will update when the report is updated.

Display Google Sheets Data with Data Studio

Using Google Data Studio to display the Google Sheets data is my preferred method. It looks beautiful in Data Studio, but you still have all of the flexibility Google Sheets provides. This is how I created my automated post-publish content review dashboard.

When you add Google Sheets as a data source in Data Studio, only add the tabs with fields you want to create charts with. If you enter in all of the analytics data dump and any worksheet tabs you have it will get more complicated if you want to make adjustments in the future to your Data Studio charts.

So, Which Option Should I Choose?

If you want simplicity and the bare minimum, just use the dashboard system built into Google Analytics.

If you want it to look beautiful with only a small learning curve, then use Google Data Studio.

If you want the advanced options and the most wiggle room for future changes, use the Google Analytics add-on for Google Sheets combined with Google Data Studio.

Turn on TV Mode for Your Dashboards

Okay, so now you have your dashboards created and you want to put it on the TV. You’ll need to have a computer hooked up to your TV or use a spare computer and monitor to display in TV mode. Once you have the tech in place, you’re ready to turn your dashboard into TV mode.

If you only have one dashboard, this is pretty simple. Just navigate to your dashboard and make it full screen.

It gets more complicated when you have multiple dashboards that you want to automatically rotate.

To accomplish this, open each dashboard in a new tab in Google Chrome. Then, use the Revolver – Tabs chrome extension. This will allow you to set the duration for each tab and then it will rotate through each.

That’s it! It can be that simple to set up a dashboard to monitor your key metrics, even if you have no budget to allocate to reporting.

Have you configured a dashboard for your website? Let us know in the comments!

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