I imagine most people who are responsible for any small (or even medium-sized) website have tried out Google Analytics. Since Google made the former Urchin software available for free, the quality of the analytics data available to your average small business website has increased massively. There are definitely places for paid-for analytics software - especially for larger websites or those with the resources to have a dedicated analyst (Clicktracks and Indextools are good options for the next step up), but the power of free is still strong, and, like us, I imagine many people are using Google Analytics on their sites and recommending it to their clients.
Up until this weekend, I have been logging in to check out specific things and also scheduling regular visits to check things out for clients, but I have always headed directly to the reports I wanted to look at, without giving much thought to customising the system to meet my needs. You probably know that you can customise your dashboard in GA, and set it up to email you reports, but I imagine that, like me, you have probably never bothered.
Having taken the time to set up the dashboards the way we want them, and also set up some regular emails, I can highly recommend it both for improving the efficiency of your processes (and if you're not constantly trying to do that, go and re-read your copy of the e-myth!) and also to help avoid the habit of checking your stats far too often (if it's not your primary job role, you're almost certainly better off only checking once per week and spending any other time you would have spend in analytics developing new content or promoting your website).
There are only two reports that most small business owners need to see regularly (we have set up some accounts with weekly emails, some with monthly emails):
1. the dashboard (which should give you exactly the snapshot you need for your business) 2. a 'comparison to past' report for your current critical area of focus
More explanation follows:
##How to set up your dashboard
When you ask Google to email you the dashboard report, it sends a PDF with a summary that looks like the dashboard you see when you log in, but it also sends, on subsequent pages, the detail of each of those reports. This means that with this single emailed report, you get summary and detailed information on everything you want.
We have set most of our dashboards up with the following reports:
1. Visitors overview (gives total visits and total visitors) 2. Goal Funnel / Total Conversions (or an e-commerce report, depending on the goals or website) 3. All Traffic Sources 4. Organic Keywords (Traffic Sources > Keywords > non-paid)
(Note that we tend to run separate reports when we are managing PPC spend).
##Why you need a 'comparison to past' report
Google Analytics gives you the option of ticking a box in the email scheduler to have the report include comparison data against the previous period. This means that if you request a monthly report, it will have figures for the month just gone as well as the previous month's figures - along with a percentage change.
You can set your dashboard up to include this kind of comparison, but we have found that it becomes far too crowded (and that much of the data doesn't need a comparison every time you see it). Simplicity is power in reporting, and especially if you are answerable to business users (or clients), the simple reports are the ones that hold the greatest power. Having said that, there is almost certainly an area you are currently focussing your attention on - be it an SEO or PPC campaign or a certain conversion rate. For this area, it is important to understand your progress towards your goal. The easiest way of doing this is to see data presented to you as a comparison against a previous period.
Unless you happen to have got the days lined up correctly, the graphs aren't as helpful on the longer reports as most metrics have weekly cycles that outweigh small trends, but the percentage changes are hugely helpful. We have tended to set up reports on changes to the total traffic from different referrers (i.e. organic search, PPC, referring sites etc.) along with perhaps a more detailed report on keyword traffic or PPC campaign performance depending on current focus.
##Another enhancement request for the Google Analytics guys
The functionality of the dashboard is so nice, that we wondered if you could just enhance it in two small ways:
1. allow us to have multiple dashboards within a profile, so that I can set up (for example) an SEO dashboard and a PPC dashboard 2. have the option to customise the dashboard(s) for all users of that account - while it is nice to enable all users to customise their own dashboard in many circumstances, it is also a huge drag to have to go around setting up all the dashboards the same way for all the different stakeholders
##Your advice and experience is welcome
Do you have experience in the best ways of setting up reporting? Have you been tweaking the way you do things recently? Or is your system so good, that you just don't worry about it any more? We'd love to share your advice here, so let us know...
One thing I've been wondering about throughout this process (and that I'm not even sure whether we can do in Google Analytics yet) is to have our 'compare to past' reports compare to a given historical period (for example the quarter before we started working for a particular client) rather than a rolling comparison to the last period. What do you think? Would that be more helpful or less?