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:

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!