Google's latest update to analytics is a winner, with an interface that's extremely user-friendly and intuitive.
In February 2006, Google purchased blog analytics program Measure Map, which was then only a few months old.
Outsiders weren't sure what would happen to Measure Map, especially since Google had only recently unveiled Google Analytics, the repackaging of another recent purchase, Urchin. Over the last few days, however, Google Analytics subscribers have finally seen the result. The new version of Google Analytics that rolled out last week integrates much of the user-interface finesse that made Measure Map an appealing purchase, including many improvements for search marketers.
The first version of Google Analytics always reminded me of classic Microsoft Office applications, with its functionality buried several layers into a fairly complex and unintuitive reporting interface. The new version of Google Analytics largely eliminates that unnecessary complexity and replaces it with an interface that's extremely user-friendly and intuitive.
One of the coolest new features of Google Analytics is the ability to customize your dashboard with the reports you find most relevant. Search marketers with multiple clients will find this particularly appealing. If you're like me, no two clients are focused on the same reporting style or metrics. I can create a different custom dashboard for each client, one that focuses on organic keyword depth, one for AdWords conversions, one for percent of search traffic from multiple engines, and so on. You can create a report for almost any metric that quickly show the state of the search marketing campaign.
Another handy feature is the quicker exportation to PDF, XML, and popular spreadsheet formats, as well as the ability to schedule regular mailings of these reports to clients, campaign managers, and myself.
While I suppose there's a technical limit to the number of reports you can have on your dashboard, I haven't found it yet. And I enjoy the ability to drag and drop reports to wherever I choose and delete unwanted charts with a single click.
Built for Search Reporting
Search marketers will likely concentrate on the "Traffic Sources" category of reports. This area features reports that had traditionally been spread out all over Google Analytics' interface and includes detailed reporting for direct (e.g., bookmarked or untagged e-mail) traffic, non-search referring sites, search engines, and an amalgamated super-report of all traffic sources. In addition, the referring keywords report has prominent placement, which addresses a big complaint of search engine optimizers in the preceding version.
And of course, rounding out the section, are reports devoted entirely to AdWords, performance of your paid keywords, and information on different ad versions that you're running within the same or different campaigns.
The new Google Analytics interface retains much of the AJAX (define) functionality that enhances the user experience, but I'm quite impressed the team took a technical step "backwards." In most cases, you can use your browser's "back" button to go back to the previous report instead of to the site you visited before logging into Google Analytics. This feature makes it much more likely that you'll be able to bookmark a report if the new interface isn't quick enough for you already.
At the bottom of the left column is a link for "Report Finder." If you are intrigued by the new version of Google Analytics but have grown begrudgingly accustomed to the old version's interface, this is exactly what you need. The left side of the pop-up page contains a mockup of the left-navigation reporting menu from Google Analytics' prior version. For example, if you're a slave to the "Campaign ROI" report from the "Marketing Campaign Results" submenu in the old version, click the mock navigation until you reach that menu item. The right half of the page shows where you'll find the comparable report in the new version.
The rest of the "Help Resources" section in the lower left is also very helpful, offering specific information about each report and links to report FAQs, such as "How can I make Google Analytics identify additional search engines in the Referral reports?"
SEO (define) forums are full of users who say they'd never give Google access to their analytical data. I've never seen those fears validated with anything more than anecdotal correlation. If you've resisted trying Google Analytics because of its complexity or fear of what Google might do with your data, I have two things to say: It's no longer complex, and if you derive much traffic from Google in the first place, the engine already has a pretty good idea of what's going on with your site. Plenty of my clients spend tens of thousands of dollars on reporting mechanisms that aren't this good.
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Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.
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