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There is no doubt that running a site is tough, we need to work harder and smarter than our competition to keep ahead in the game.

Analytics gives us all the data we need to make our websites even better but it needs to be set up right first; here are some tips and tricks to help you on your way.

Invest the time and learn the basics

This of course isn't a tip or trick but I feel it needs to be said, a lot of people have a basic overview of how analytics works but not many truly understand what all the metrics and screens mean.

For example, could you tell me the difference between bounce rate and exit rate or the difference between an assisted conversion and a last interaction conversion?

Google Training Videos

I'd guess that the average user probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference, yet these terms could be vital to your understanding of the data. So it's really important that you invest the time and learn what these things mean.

Luckily Google has provided a great set of video tutorials online that you can check out here.

So without further a due let's dive into some tips...

Stop polluting your own data: Block Google Analytics

Your analytics data is precious, so you don't want to be corrupting the results with your own presence. If you're anything like me then you'll spend a lot of time on your site and visit hundreds of pages.

If you work with others then they'll likely to active on your site(s) as well. Over time, this information can slowly corrupt your data.

Fortunately there are two easy ways to go about blocking yourself from being tracked on your own site. Block Via Filters:

Admin Screen

If you have a static IP, you can use a filter to block your IP from being registered. Simply go to Admin -> Filters -> Add New Filter.

Name: Office IP
Filter Type: "Predefined Filter"
Set to Exclude and enter your IP address as shown below:

Block Ip With Filter

Be very careful when using filters, there's no going back if you apply a filter to a profile. I'd highly recommended keeping a raw profile!

Block via hosts

A much easier way (especially if you have several websites) is to block the Google Analytics tracking script on any website using your hosts file.

Simply add the following lines in your hosts file:

127.0.0.1 www.google-analytics.com
127.0.0.1 ssl.google-analytics.com

On Windows, you can find your hosts file in C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc
On Mac, you can find your hosts file in /private/etc/

Block Ip With Hosts File

This will redirect any requests to the analytics URLs to your local machine meaning the tracking script never loads and thus doesn't track you.

Don't worry, this won't affect anything else and is easily reversible if you ever want to be tracked again.

Set alerts for important information

If your traffic drops 50% or you see a major spike in conversions then you'll want to know without having to check. Analytics allows you to set up custom alerts to keep you informed of major events by email and/or text message.

If you have several websites then this can be a massive help and help minimise the chances of important events being missed.

To set up a custom alert, go to Admin -> Assets -> Custom Alerts -> Create New Alert

Custom Alerts In Admin

We'll create an alert for a major traffic drop (which may occur if the analytics script is removed).

Name: Major Traffic Drop
Apply To: Alerts can be reusable, this is a great example which you can apply to all your profiles. Pick and choose from the drop down list.

Alert Conditions

This Applies To: All Traffic
Alert Me When: Visits
Condition: % decreases by more than
Value: 80%
Compared to: same day in the previous week

Custom Alerts Set Up

You can play with the metrics and values and come up with some really handy alerts. 

Set up segments and discover what your traffic is actually doing

Segments are perhaps my favourite feature in Google Analytics. You can set up a predefined set of rules and create groups for your traffic. One popular segment I use is for non-branded traffic, in other words, traffic that doesn't include our brand name.

Just like the custom alerts, you can use a huge amount of metrics to segment your data and ultimately work out which each type of visitor is doing.

Click the Advanced Segments tab at the top of the page and then "+New Custom Segment".

Advanced Segment For Non Branded Traffic

In the example above we have excluded keywords that match the regular expression ignition*. Meaning anything containing ignition(and any other characters) will be ignored by our segment. We could go further and say, only count traffic that ignores ignition that comes from Google or Bing. There are many options to segment by so have a good look around!

These custom segments persist through the screens meaning everything you see after you have applied them only apply to your segment.

Watch out for new features

Google is constantly adding a refining the features in Analytics. Recently it introduced the Multi-Channel Funnels* tab which shows you how your sources are working together to generate conversions.

MCF Reports

Google also introduced a Social tab under Traffic sources to measure the impact of your social efforts.

A analytics guru is one who always keeps at the forefront of the field, if you want to keep ahead then you should keep an eye on the new features, the blogosphere and the Google Analytics blog are good places to start.

*MCF reports are fantastic, they show you how your sources/channels (eg: Organic, PPC, Social) are working together to generate conversions. Before you may have seen Adwords as converting very poorly against Organic but with MCF you may see that Adwords was generating all the initial visits which then revisited later via organic to ultimately convert. If you were to slash your Adwords budget based on the first data alone then you'd likely see a big drop in your conversions.

With MCF you remove this issue and see even more data to help you make informed decisions.

Rounding up

Data is so powerful and Analytics is your key to accessing it. I hope you've picked up a few tricks from this post. There is far too much to cover in this one post alone so I really recommend you go and try them for yourselves. If you have any other handy tricks then please leave them in the comments below!

Ed Baxter

Published 22 May, 2012 by Ed Baxter

Ed Baxter is SEO Manager at Ignition Search and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

2 more posts from this author

Comments (18)

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Malcolm Gibb

Brilliant post! Good tips for even advanced users. One of the best tools I got to grips was when I was learning analytics was advanced segments, as soon as you master that then nearly any way to slice, dice and segment data is available to you.

over 4 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

I like the point about using custom alerts.

One of my favourites is setting one up for the 404 page. Do this right and GA will even point you at the source of in-bound broken links, which are very common in the age of social and user-generated content.

Instructions and video on that here

http://www.cxfocus.com/index.php/google-analytics-tips/learn-secret-power-google-analytics-custom-alerts/

I also VERY much like the point about having a 'raw' profile where you leave the data un-modified. That's an essential part of any decent GA setup.

over 4 years ago

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Joy Levin

Thanks for posting! The profiles are very easy to implement, although I agree with Tim - it is very important to maintain an unedited profile. Further it is important to be aware that profiles do not affect historical data, only that which is going forward after the profile is set up. So tracking may be tricky for a while until data is well established after the profile has been set up.

over 4 years ago

Roger Donald

Roger Donald, Associate Director for Multi Channel at NHS Direct

The most useful article I've seen on GA in a while. Well done EC.

over 4 years ago

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Cindy Wang

I second Malcolm, Segment, segment; you got to realize the value of segment. That is also where Google Analytics' power lies. If you have large dataset, segment is literally the only way and the best way to understand your data.

This is also what we tell our customers at SkyGlue(skyglue.com). Our tool automatically tracks all the On-Page activities (video clicks, downloads, buttons, etc.) for Google Analytics and enables individual tracking. For large site, that is lots of data gathered. Besides our individual lifetime activity report, segment is a great way to digest the data and make meanings out of it.

over 4 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

We find alerts very useful for our clients businesses

over 4 years ago

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Liang Chen

Why change system files, block IPs, when you can use a little plugin to do all the work elegantly :)
Google's Google Analytics Opt-out Browser Add-on does all the magic!
https://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout

over 4 years ago

Ed Baxter

Ed Baxter, Search Manager at SEO Sheffield

The plugin is of course handy but blocking via the hosts file ensures that it won't track you no matter what browser you're using; why install the plugin multiple times when you can just control it in one place!

It also tells me that my current version of Firefox isn't supported.

over 4 years ago

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Rob Marcus

Good article. But what actually is a 'raw' profile where you leave (the) data un-modified? Whose profile? What data?

over 4 years ago

Ed Baxter

Ed Baxter, Search Manager at SEO Sheffield

Hi Rob,

A raw profile is simply a profile with no filters applied to it. I'd suggest that all filters you create go on to new profiles rather than the original profile you create Analytics.

I hope this helps!

over 4 years ago

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Mark Stonham

Great tips well presented. Two additionals I find very good value:

1. Linked GA with Webmaster Tools to unlock the SEO and Keyword information.

2. Set-up GOALS because of the value of the Sales Funnel tools that are then unlocked within GA.

Mark.

over 4 years ago

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Steve Yates

I believe there is a typo in the RegEx example. "ignition*" should match anything with "ignitio" plus zero or more "n" characters. "ignition.*" with a dot better fits the description to match anything starting with that word.

over 4 years ago

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scott adam

Raw profile... by this do you mean set up a duplicate profile with no filters? I have never done that, a very good idea. I always trusted my filters were correct but can see value of keeping a raw file.
Very useful tips/post.
:)

over 4 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

More link dropping...

Here's an old article I wrote explaining why a 'raw' profile is essential and how to set one up:

http://www.cxfocus.com/index.php/set-up-google-analytics/2-profiles-google-analytics/

over 4 years ago

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David Hamilton

Thank you. You have easily and clearly resolved a problem I have been having regarding polluting my own stats as a result of website update and maintenance. One of the most useful and user friendly posts I have read in a long time. Many thanks.

over 4 years ago

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Steven

I find the biggest error with new customers or clients is getting excited about this traffic which turns out to be their own IP address. I should send this post out to all my new clients :)

over 4 years ago

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Naquin

Post writing is also a excitement, if you be acquainted with then you can write if not it is complex to write.

over 4 years ago

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Macpherson

Thank you so very much for putting this out here.

over 4 years ago

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