Analytics Market Chart

Getting Around Google Analytics

Go from a Google Analytics hobbyist to an analyst in ten minutes with these tools.

The Google Analytics interface provides access to a number of tools that users often overlook. The interface is unobtrusive enough that sometimes users aren't even aware that they exist. These tools allow you to display reports differently. Using these tools will help you find trends and correlations in your data that aren't always visible at a quick glance. Mastering them makes a big difference between meaningfully analyzing your reports and just looking at numbers.

Upper Interface Navigation

There are several features along the top of most reports that are often overlooked or neglected. If used correctly, each of these can be a powerful analysis tool.

1. Custom Dashboards

Google Analytics allows each user to create their own custom dashboards by specifying which reports will display on the start page. This is especially helpful when there are a few reports that answer your current questions.

Simply go to the report you want displayed and click the "Add to Dashboard" button above the graph. You can apply customizations to the report, like filtering the results, and it will display on the dashboard in that format. However, even dashboard reports are affected by the date range. They do not retain the date range that was in place when you first added it.

2. Advanced Segments

Clicking on the Advanced Segments button in the upper right corner will pop open a dialog box that allows you to select up to four advanced segments to apply to a report, manage your segments or create a new one. Creating advanced segments is outside the scope of this article, but this simple interface is often overlooked.

3. Change Line Graph

Clicking here opens up a dialog box that allows you to change the metric that is graphed. You can also compare two metrics in the graph or compare a metric for the current segment of data to the same metric for the entire site (e.g. visits from referrals vs. overall visits to the site).

4. Date Range

Every time you open a profile in Google Analytics, it displays the last 30 days, ending with yesterday. There is no way to change this default date range, but you can easily change it for the current session.

NOTE: Changing the date range affects the data in all of the reports.

You can select a date range on the calendar by clicking the start date and then clicking the end date. You can select data for a single day by clicking twice on a date. Select a week by clicking to the left of the desired week. Select a month by clicking on the name of the month. You can also click the "Timeline" tab to click and drag across a longer timeframe.

Finally, clicking on the "Compare to Past" checkbox will highlight the same number of days immediately preceding what is already highlighted. These dates can be customized in the same way. This will change all of the reports to show comparative metrics between the two date ranges.

5. Graph by Week/Month/Hour

Most reports in Google Analytics feature a line graph at the top of the page that show data points for each day in the specified date range. For date ranges longer than a month or shorter than a few days, it can be helpful to graph the data by week, month or hour instead. To do so, just click on one of the Graph By icons. (Note that graph by hour is only available for certain metrics.)

Lower Interface Navigation

There are just as many features available below the graph for most reports that will make analysis easier and more informative.

1. Data Views

The numbers can tell a different story when you arrange them into a pie graph or a comparative line graph. Currently, Google Analytics gives you four different views of the data.

Table view is the default view showing several metrics for each dimension across several rows and columns.
This view puts one metric into a pie graph. The metric can be selected from a dropdown above the pie graph.
This is a simple line graph for each row of a single common metric. The metric can be selected from a dropdown.
The comparison view is like the Performance view with a twist. It allows you to see trouble areas with a quick glance. It graphs a single metric for each row as it compares to the site average. Any rows with below average numbers show as a red bar graph. Above average numbers are reported as green bar graphs.

2. Filter Table Results

Each table of data in Google Analytics has a filter box in the bottom left corner. Use this filter to either see data that matches certain patterns or doesn't include certain patterns. In either case, the filter box accepts regular expressions. Applying a filter will change the aggregate data at the top of the table as well.

3. Increase Table Length

Google Analytics displays tables of data. By default, all tables are only ten rows long. You can increase this up to 500 rows. At the bottom right corner of each table is a dropdown titled "Show Rows". The value you select will apply to all the tables in that profile until you leave the reports.