Using Custom Variables to Make Google Analytics Work for You

On Tuesday I had the pleasure to speak at #SEMpdx on Google Analytics. I was told to bring some "really advanced sh**", so I thought I'd talk about custom variables. I was relieved to see that few in the crowd had actually used custom variables before, which is more a reflection of Google's not doing enough to tout the usefulness, rather than a reflection of the ability of the crowd.

Also speaking was Carlos Del Rio, who spoke of the benefits of regex to extract 2 and 3 word keywords (he wrote a followup post). After my presentation, Thomas Bosilevac of Mashable Metrics schooled us all on the usefulness of Tableau Software to easily visualize massive data sets from Google Analytics.

I've embedded my presentation below, but in general: custom variables are great for stepping beyond the built in reports offered by Google Analytics and segmenting based on your business's most valuable metrics. Some ideas:

  1. Tagging users at the visitor level as originally referred by social media (great for measuring ROI of SMM)
  2. Pulling organic rank into Google Analytics via a session-level custom variable. I wrote an SEOmoz post detailing this a few months ago.
  3. Categorizing your pages to get an aggregate look at the performance of separate sections of your site.
  4. Passing product review count and score, character count, comment count, post author, and more into a custom variable to measure conversion rate/ad revenue by these numbers.
  5. Using Excellent Analytics to create Google Analytics dashboards in Microsoft Excel.
  6. And finally, using our Excel Guide to get you up to speed on any pieces of Microsoft Excel you're struggling with.
For further reading on custom variables, I'd suggest the Google Analytics help page and Rob Ousbey's post on the topic about a year ago.

I was also surprised to see that I managed to become a trending topic in Portland, which considering how hip Portland is, pretty much gives me free reign to wear socks and sandles or whatever other fashion faux pas I can think of.

Once again, it was a pleasure speaking at #SEMpdx, and I want to thank the crew for making the event happen. It was my first speaking presentation, and I got asked some great questions afterward, so I think it went well! If you were there and have any questions, feel free to ask any questions via email or hit me up on that Twitter machine the kids are so keen on these days.

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