Custom Reports & Other Awesome Steroids For Google Analytics

We’ve already discussed Custom Dashboards in a previous post — I hope you’ve been able to implement some of them in your own Google Analytics account?

Good! I bet you’re a pro by now.

We’re going to talk a bit about maximizing your use of GA with Custom Reports.

There’s some overlap between Custom Dashboards and Custom Reports but the main difference lies with dashboards giving you a snapshot, whereas a custom report are more useful for analyzing results and making decisions on course of action.

I know we all like to sit in dark basements, looking at numbers all day, so this is like candy.

Use these Custom Report examples as a starting point. I’ve included some links to pre-made reports that you can easily add to your own Analytics account. However, there’s nothing like getting your own hands dirty and setting some up yourself, tweaking, and adding additional fields.

Getting Started With Custom Reports In Google Analytics

You can find Custom Reports under the “Customization” tab in your GA account.

If you’re an organization freak, then you probably want to set up categories for your Custom Reports. Personally, I would create a category specifically for SEO reports but much like productivity being a subjective thing, you’ll likely have your own system.

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How To Create A Custom Report

There are 3 types of Custom Reports that you can set up:

  1. Flat Table — Gives you ability to compare dimensions side-by-side (there is no timeline).
  2. Explorer — You can go deeper into sub-dimensions, along with a timeline that allows you to compare metrics.
  3. Map Overlay — Organize metrics and data into geographical areas (country, city, and so on).

In every Custom Report, there are 2 main elements:

  1. Dimension — A description of events, pages, visitors, visits, and products.
  2. Metric — A measurement (numeric).

And creating one is ridiculously easy:

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You can also add tabs (to keep it organized), share Custom Reports and use them cross-profile (for other Analytic profiles in your account).

Custom Report Examples For SEO

Let’s go through a few examples of Custom Reports you can use for your SEO analyzing, shall we?

Audience Custom Report

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While many have, in the past, ignored important factors such as geographics and demographics, anyone taking SEO seriously and paying attention to how Google is personalizing search results knows that where you audience is coming from will only matter more and more.

The City and Language, along with Keyword lets you see what keywords are used by what country, city, and language. You should be able to tell what keywords are profitable pretty quickly.

Also, it could uncover opportunities you might have otherwise missed — translating content into languages you didn’t even know you had visitors speaking, which could help improve conversion rates.

Content Custom Report

The point is to identify which content is performing best (with, for example, organic traffic). One way to check if you’re targeting the right keywords on the right pages is to set it up as an Explorer Custom Report.

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From here, you could also add additional filters for your blog content to see which posts performs the best. Also, you could add event goals in relation to content for tracking comments.

Keyword Analysis Custom Report

This one is valuable to run and has three components: revenue, targeting, and engagement.

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  • Targeting — A Flat Table with Page Title and Keyword that’s sending traffic. The other metrics are to check if you’re targeting the right keywords on the right pages. Helpful for optimization decisions.
  • Revenue — Are your keywords making you money? Use this to determine ROI.
  • Engagement — How engaged your visitors are, via a specific keyword. You want to focus on the keywords that sends engaged visitors, not duds.

Link Analysis Custom Report

Find out which one of your referrals (that would usually be links) are sending you the best quality traffic (engagement and conversions, usually).

Any SEO professional will want to see which inbound links they’ve spent hours, days, and weeks to build are sending the best kind of traffic.

link-analysis-custom-report-google-analytics

Social Media Custom Report

This is another traffic source that can be useful for making SEO decisions if you segment and create a Custom Report for it. That way, you have a clearer picture of what your social media activity is doing for your site.

Perhaps you’ll find that visitors from social media are more or less engaged, and more or less prone to completing goals. You won’t know until you track and figure out a Custom Report.

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You can go into more detail here.

Here Are Some Ready-Made Custom Reports For Your Pleasure

While I recommend that you go through and set these up for yourself (learn by doing, get familiar with Google Analytics, and so on), here are some links to Custom Reports that you can easily add to your Analytics account.

Simply click the link and follow the prompts.

Implement Custom Reports For Content Analysis

I’m going to talk briefly about content analysis with the assumption that you have Custom Reports and Custom Dashboards to refer back to for actual metrics and dimensions.

This is made a little more convoluted if a lot of your visitors are logged in to their Google accounts (loss of data) and, sooner or later, as Chrome encrypts searches, that will certainly throw a monkey wrench into the machinery.

Different Levels Turns This Into, Like, A Video Game Or Something

Let’s take a look at 3 different levels when analyzing content: Keyword, Site Section, And Traffic Source.

Keyword: This might not be the easiest or most useful report, as Google will often simply give you the dreaded (not provided) in your data.

To, sort of, get around this, look at keyword data from the landing pages part of a Custom Report (or in your general Analytics dashboards). Your keywords will be grouped by landing pages. Combine this with information from Google Webmaster Tools.

Worth keeping in mind is to not get too caught up on single keywords or pages. Think of making adjustments (if you detect an opportunity to do so) in terms of site section and content types. Grouping related and relevant long-tails together is a good idea that will help you make decisions on content and what rankings to pursue.

Site Section: This is where Custom Reports that incorporate landing pages are very useful. This obviously reveals where (organic) visitors are landing. Consider assessing landing pages by source segmentation (again, Custom Reports can show you this quickly).

Also, you can divide up the content into various sections of your site — think categories for content and also content type (whitepapers, podcast, article, infographics, and so on).

While you can identify high-traffic and high-converting sections of your site, you should also look for those pages and content that are under-performing.

Traffic Source: Get a broad, birds eye view of organic search engine traffic. This is where you have only one segment applied for a medium and source or just medium. Use this for keeping your eyes on your general search performance and broad trends.

Keep in mind though that the data is seen as aggregate at the source level — a traffic increase in one section of your site can cover up a drop in other places.

Custom Reports Are Just That: Custom

So, you’re all set now with a bunch of Custom Reports, right?

I strongly recommend that you try to create some of your own that are more customized and applicable to your sites, needs, and goals.

Those I’ve talked about and shared are a bit general but enough to get you started and going.

The whole point of gathering and organizing data is to enable you to understand where you are right now, how your SEO is performing, and make decisions on how to move forward.

Custom Reports will give you the necessary details and comparisons (between metrics and dimensions) to help you see the details of the bigger picture.

How are you using Custom Reports and do you find them useful for SEO purposes?

Sometimes, Tracking Less is More

For those who watch the Flash HitTail Demo, the words “WE’RE NOT ANALYTICS” is probably quite familiar. And for those who run multiple tracking systems, like HitTail plus Google Analytics, you will notice that HitTail doesn’t track everything.

What???!!!

That’s right. And I am often explaining why this is so brilliant, and saves users of HitTail so much time in zero’ing in on what’s important… actionable data!

Going against common logic, our patent-pending tracking system knows when to not listen to the activity on your site, and therefore it collects LESS data. And when you’re looking for long tail keywords that might be useful for making new content, less is more. Why? Because other systems that capture everything have to sort it out later, reducing the real-time services they can provide. They sometimes make you wait a day or more. Also, they can’t keep the data forever. And they have a more difficult time figuring out which of all the garbage data they collected is the meaningful stuff.

What sort of collected data is garbage, you may ask?

Think about it. Where are your hits coming from? Are YOU perhaps responsible for some of your hits (I think you are)? Should you include every search test you perform as part of your competitive intelligence data, especially when what you’re trying to do is get into the mind of your prospective website visitors? You’re actually polluting your own data with your webmaster testing activities. You’re telling yourself things you already know! And isn’t the same true of your competitors searching on your site? How many of their keyword tests should you allow to pollute your data? They might hand you over a few interesting terms. But on the whole, they’re going to be searching on a bunch of industry insider terms that don’t really represent the thoughts of your real prospects, and might be interesting to you maybe once–not over and over, as they’re doing.

So, HitTail filters all this ridiculous traffic at the source. In fact, when we detect such situations, our tracking system “goes quiet”, preventing excess Internet traffic, and makes your pages load even faster. This is one of the various reasons we are one of the most light-weight tracking systems on the Internet.

While HitTail is awesome for watching search hits that come to your site, indeed, almost hypnotizing, it doesn’t record EVERY search hit. It only records the search hit data of each visitor only once, then ignores subsequent visits during that browser session.

That disappoints a lot of people. But it shouldn’t. You should be shouting for joy that some tracking system is doing this for you.

Because in the end, you’re on the lookout for some very important events in the history of your website–events that every other tracking and analytics system ignores–for example, HitTail captures he first time a particular search led to your website… EVER!

Yep, that’s part of what HitTail does. And even that is just pre-filtering. We take this pre-filtered data, which is already throttled to prevent garbage, and it is to that we apply our writing suggestion-finding algorithm to determine which of the BRAND NEW topics (which never led to your site before) qualify as viable writing topic candidates.

The unique experience that this all produces is fueling HitTail’s incredibly positive reception.

Does HitTail Do Things that Google Analytics Doesn’t?

The answer is Yes!

It’s yes for at least two reasons: the immediately actionable nature of the information provided, and the immediately viewable real-time nature of the data.

In fact, it’s all about immediacy, and spending less on AdWords (or eliminating your need for AdWords altogether).

What if Google Analytics told everybody the specific topics to write about in order to boost their site’s natural search engine standings? People would flock off of AdWords in droves. Why pay for something that you can get for free?

In this sense, Google Analytics and HitTail are diametrically opposed to each other. While it’s easy enough to pull a “long” list of keywords, or even “top keywords”, none of that begins to give you the competitive intelligence that you need for an informed rapid content expansion strategy.

HitTail is like a coach looking over your shoulder as you pull a keyword list out of your analytics software, striking down over 95% of that list based on how it would waste your time to further develop those concepts.

Imagine the time saved!

Yes, given a “long list” of keywords, you could take each one and perform a Google search, seeing whether the term is already working for you or not. If you find your own site in the first page or two of results on that term, you can discount it as a term for further development, based on the fact that it’s already working for you.

But as you work your way through this long list of keywords, you will occasionally find terms where the Web searcher must have been extraordinarily determined to find an answer. You know this by looking at how many pages in they must have surfed before they decided to click on you.

This is all very nuanced, and outside the box for most marketers. That’s why the arrival of the book, The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, was so timely. It provides a framework by which marketers can understand collecting multiple valuable pockets of free qualified search traffic.

I’ll say that again.

HitTail lets you collect and concentrate FREE veins of search traffic gold, gathering them up until it collectively accounts for more traffic than you are receiving through paid search campaigns. In fact, HitTail forms the foundation of a sustainable, cross-engine online marketing campaign whose effect will last long after you diminish your efforts and stop putting money into it.

So to answer the original question of whether HitTail does things that Google Analytics does not, it’s an unqualified Yes! HitTail provides data in such a way that you can easily diversify your online marketing campaigns into “un-paid” natural search.

The Fastest Blog Monitoring Tool?

In the past, I’ve mentioned “the other side of SEO”, involving spreading the word faster than search alone can provide. Thanks to tools like Technorati and Google Blog Search, no blog-post is an island. This has elevated blogging up to the role that doing submits used to occupy in SEO. Every blog post sets off a flare, lights up a beacon, signaling ambush-hunter news crawlers to pounce upon the site, grab a blurb off of the data feed, and bring it back to it’s baby—the parent site (so it can be found by subsequent searchers). But even that process is oh-so-slow in this new instant-everything world of ours.

As a compulsive, nearly OCD, blog-monitoring fanatic, I see posts as fast as these predatory crawlers allow, as Alex Pooley mentions in his observations about my monkey-comment. So, that’s a case where today’s tools worked. But also as an active blogger, I see the time-lapse, and even the oversights, of these blog monitoring tools. I, like so many others, use Technorati because it was first, is quite good, and has developed a sort of loyalty in me. They provide XML-feeds that I can subscribe to on my mobile phone, and they include many things. Monitoring through Technorati is a good application of the 80/20 rule (80% of the benefit from the first 20% of the effort). And it making me fancy myself as “technorati” doesn’t hurt.

But to fill in the remaining 20%, I’m always ferreting out what’s new. I want faster. I want better. I want my posts to show up in their monitoring tools as fast as I hit the submit button from Blogger. Of course, that leads us to consider blogsearch.google.com, which I also use regularly. And there’s a newcomer on the scene, named Sphere, which appears to be also be picking up blog-like pages that are not actually blogs, making it the most unique results of the three, and filling in some of that remaining 20%.

Of course, there’s unlimited blog monitoring tools, like Ask, BlogPulse, Feedster, and the rest. Problem is, the all (most?) work off of the same ping-alert-systems. What one blog search engine knows, they all know. And what one doesn’t know, none of them know. And therein lies the problem. That’s a lot more than anyone cares to acknowledge. Unbeknownst to most, there is an invisible blogosphere—one comprised of Xanga, MySpace, FaceBook, and many other blogging systems that don’t ping the Yahoo-owned blo.gs or the Google-friendly, Verisign-owned WebLogs (not to be confused with the once-Jason Calacanis-owned Weblogs, Inc,).

But for the invisible blogoshpere to be included, one of two things must happen. Either these pinging services must be smarter about harvesting up the new-blog-post alerts, or these ambush-crawlers must take their cues from something smarter than these pinging services. Both tasks are difficult, because it’s a chicken-and-egg situation—complicated even more by the login gates of social networking sites such as MySpace and Xanga. Crawlers must not only know that a new post has been made, but they must have sufficient permission to get to the data.

Anyway, this leaves a big hole and wonderful opportunity for some new startup because the value of a truly real-time blog monitoring tool has never been clearer. It’s the other half of the successful website formula (with mainstream search-influence being the first half). You must be in it for the slow, steady burn with traditional SEO, and the gradually growing snowball of traffic that comes from persistent blogging—even if you think your blog is an island. But then, there’s the spiky acceleration of traffic that you can garner from your friends and fans in the blogosphere—if only you could know everything. In that spirit, I’m always on the lookout for the fastest blog monitoring tool. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Are you listening?

Paralysis Through Analysis? HitTail Sets You Free

Are you suffering from analytics exhaustion? Do you dread logging in in the morning and making sense of all those charts and graphs—only to realize that the data is already a day old? Do you want to just have your finger on the pulse of your site right now, at this moment? Are you dying to watch your log files in a way that makes sense to you? Then HitTail is for you.

It’s been said by our own users that it couldn’t be easier to install HitTail on your site. You just register and put a snippet of code in your blog or CMS template, and voila! You’ll be able to see data about your site right away. No waiting a day for the reports to be generated. If a search hit occurs seconds after installing the code, you’ll see it. So not only does HitTail alleviate analytics frustration, give you a the pulse of your site as-of-the-moment, but it also is a really great source of instant gratification.

We’re not putting down analytics software. Quite the contrary, we’re big believers in it for complex sites that have business tasks and objectives. But for the average blogger, or even the average marketing person who just wants to see how active a site is, we think HitTail is a breath of fresh air. We’re filling a vacuum that was long left empty due to incorrect notions that running reports and offering back useful information takes a day.

More and more, bloggers and website owners are turning to HitTail as the one thing to run in addition to Google Analytics. Indeed, one of the most influential advisors in the blogosphere, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, made HitTail point #11 in the ways to market your blog in 2007 (I’m glad it wasn’t a top-10 list). Thanks, Darren. We certainly see it as a supplement to analytics, and on occasions where the website publisher is just trying to grow their natural search traffic, an alternative approach that can stand on its own.

Anyone trying to get their own articles onto the Digg homepage should use HitTail, because it’s going to tell you how you’re doing, even if you don’t start getting dugg up. You’ll see all the visitors. Same applies to anyone trying to get found through StumbleUpon. All that traffic is coming to your site, but it’s invisible to you—or you can’t see it until the next day, by the time it’s already too late to take real-time action to bolster your standings. Don’t believe me? Check out Peter, the Affiliate’s, comment on this blog post.

So, if you’re feeling a little worn, and not too anxious to log into that analytics dashboard, take a break, take a deep breath, and plunge into HitTail. Submerge yourself into that real-time dataflow that is like watching the Matrix. Enjoy the fact that the average marketing Jane or Joe can be part of the in-crowd and do the in-thing, without devoting weeks to learning complicated technical jargon or interfaces. Remember when Google came out, and it seemed strange how simple it was? Where were all the portal-schmortal features that weighed down sites like AltaVista? Yet somehow, it was just right. That’s HitTail. In the words of Peter, watch the demo video, and you’ll just get it. And you’ll realize you should have installed that free tracking code weeks ago.