Custom reports are perhaps the most useful feature in Google Analytics, as they enable you to find the data and presentation that best suits your business goals. 

I’m no big Google Analytics expert, instead I’ve picked it up and figured things out as I’ve gone along, mainly with the aim of understanding our users’ behaviour and improving this blog. 

I explain more of my approach to measuring and optimising this blog here, but I wanted to provide a beginner’s guide to creating custom reports.

If this is too basic for you, or I’ve made any glaring errors, please forgive me (and put me right in the comments), but I hope this will be useful for you.

So here’s how to create a basic custom report from scratch…

Getting started

First of all, open up Google Analytics and head for the customisation tab. 

Then select ‘+ new custom report’ from the top navigation menu: 

You’ll then see a screen which looks like the one below. At this point it can look a bit confusing, and I do wonder whether Google could provide more information at this stage to help newbies.

However, it perhaps looks more complicated than it is.  

Dimensions and metrics

Let me explain the various options: 

  • Report tab. This allows you to have multiple tabs on one report to flick through. For example, this ‘time of day’ report from Dan Barker has different tabs to allow you to flick between four different metrics:
  • Type. This is pretty self-explanatory, and just allows you to change the view of the final report. Here, I’m going for ‘explorer’, as this produces a useful trends chart as well as a table showing data underneath. 
  • Metric group. Here’s where you select what you want to look at. This could be number of clicks on a PPC ad, pageviews, unique visitors, conversions and so on. You can select more than one here so you can flick between them on the finished report. 
  • Dimension drilldown. This allows you to drill down into more specific data. For example, after selecting pageviews in the metrics group, I can then select country/territory as a dimension so I can view pageviews from each different country. 
  • Filters. This allows you to restrict the report to a subset of the total data. So, to continue with the previous example, i could add a filter so I only see pageviews from different countries from mobile users.

    There are plenty of filters, and you can save and preview the report at any time, before going back to make edits, so there’s plenty of scope for experimentation here. 

Creating a custom report

There are some pretty complex custom reports, created by experienced analytics professionals, which can look overwhelming, though I’ve found it useful to download them, press to edit them, and see how they work, or at least how parts of them do. 

For the moment though, it’s best to start simple, and create a basic report, which you can then add layers to. 

So, let’s create a report that shows traffic and conversions by channel, a useful one for ecommerce sites. 

First of all, name the report and tab(s), then select the various metric groups you want to see. Here, I’ve selected visits, bounce rate, avg time on page, revenue and average order value.

For dimensions, I’ve added ‘source/medium’ as this shows the source of the traffic which enters the site, which will be shown alongside the metrics in the finished report. 

Here, I haven’t added a filter, but you could drill down and show these metrics and channels according to which country visitors are from, which device they are using, which browser, and so on. 

This is what custom reports are for, they enable you to create reports according to your needs. 

Then just press save and the report should look something like this: 

Since we’re a publisher, and we’ve created various custom variables and campaigns, you may see different traffic sources, but the general look should be the same. 

The next thing to do is to interpret the stats, perhaps looking for any unusual patterns.

For example, you may find that bounce rates from email traffic are higher than other channels. This could indicate a problem, perhaps landing pages aren’t mobile-optimised for example. 

This also allows you to see which channels are performing best. If email id doing particularly well, then maybe this justifies greater spend. 

The beauty of custom reports is that, once you have this basic report, you can interrogate the data in different ways that suit your business goals.

For example, you can filter by country to see where your conversions are coming from, or by device to see how mobile is performing compared to desktop. 

For more inspiration, here are a few collections of custom reports and dashboards: