Google announced a significant update to the capabilities of Google Analytics this week. If it were software rather than service, I would call it a dot release, maybe 3.2?

In an earlier Econsultancy post the emphasis about the release was on the enhanced mobile tracking. But for me, and I guess most marketers where mobile isn’t significant, these are the features which will be most important…

1. New Analytics Intelligence beta feature 

One of the biggest limitations with all web analytics systems is that that actually have zero intelligence. Despite this announcement, Google doesn’t truly help us with this… yet!

Web analytics systems still require a skilled analyst to ask the right questions and know where to look to find the answers.

Where to look to generate the biggest increases in conversion is one of the main topics we cover on the new course on Optimising your Site with Google Analytics.  

What Google does provide in the first increment of it’s Intelligence features is nonetheless welcome. It provides an alerting facility for which we had previously had to rely on plugins, Greasemonkey hacks or third-party dashboard software or services which used the Google API to identify problems.

As an example of the Intelligence feature, Google describes “calling out a 300% surge in visits from YouTube referrals last Tuesday or let you know bounce rates of visitors from Virginia dropped by 70% two weeks ago”.

You will also be able to set alerts in the interface and by email, a capability that has been one of the key benefits of rival such as Omniture.

2. Multiple Custom Variables for visitor segmentation

In their announcement, Google refers to “enterprise-class features” which their rivals have accused them of lacking. Alerts are one such feature and multiple custom variables are another.

I suspect many companies weren’t taking advantage of custom variables using the _serVar() Javascript function; I find surprisingly few use basic configurations such as conversion goals and $Index value.

Savvy companies were using these to segment customers against non-customers or registered/logged-in visitors against anonymous visitors to understand their behaviour and preferences. Previously the number of custom variables was limited, but it has been expanded so that it will be possible to track segments viewing different content types or with different levels of value or loyalty for instance.

3. Advanced Table filtering

This is a fantastic tool for conversion analysts and search marketers. To identify the biggest problems or – if you prefer – the biggest potential opportunities in Google Analytics in a structured way required you to export data into Excel for further analysis, but with the new Table filtering feature the analyst can identify problem keywords or pages. For example, if you want to find out pages with a bounce rate over 60% which receive over 10,000 page views a month you can now do this in place.

4. More goals

Hurrah! The limitation to four conversion goals in the previous version was the biggest complaint I heard about.

5. Engagement goals

Many non-transactional sites which use the web for brand or relationship-building struggle to identify relevant goals beyond email signups or leads. With engagement goals you can now set thresholds for time on site and number of pages viewed.

Arguably the best use for this is to exclude visitors who are not engaged at all i.e. poor quality traffic which isn’t well targeted. I suggest greater than 10 seconds  and greater than one or two pages per visit.

You can see that this upgrade isn’t really about the experience or the visuals, it’s about practical tools which will hopefully help companies change Google Analytics from a reporting tool to a sales or brand improvement system.

That is something to be commended and it marks another step in the evolution from a simple reporting system to an enterprise-class analytics system.