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Pros and Cons of the New Look Google Analytics

Link-Assistant.Com | Posted in category Analytics GuestBox

guest post by Jess Spate

With the roll-out of Google's new analytics interface, there has been a lot of talk about the key features that make the new Version 5 more powerful than the last, but the road to full functionality rarely runs smooth. There are plenty of people in the analytics community who aren't too happy with what they found in the new version. Let's start with the good stuff first.

What works

Real time data in its simplest form

For most large websites the most interesting new feature in the new versions is the real-time data, which allows for a much more detailed look at the responses to social activities and quicker testing of campaign tracking (among other things). There is no doubt that this feature is a winner, especially when combined with Twitter's move to the t.co domain, which makes it much easier for analysts to see referrals from shortened URLs.

The Social Engagement tab is also a very handy addition. It shows how many visitors are arriving through social sources and summarises +1s, Likes, and other popular social actions. Some extra setup is required but if you consider driving social activity to be a valuable goal - and these days most companies really should - it's well worth it.

Other worthwhile goals, e.g. file downloads that don't trigger a URL change, can now be tracked in their own right without creating a fake pageview. While the old method worked it was a little cumbersome and caused some accuracy problems in other metrics. Again, you'll need to spend a little extra time on setup but improvements to event tracking are certainly welcome.

Sometimes the greatest improvements aren't about adding more data, they're about better visualisation. This is certainly true when it comes to the new flow visualisation tools. In the previous versions visitor flow information was available but it certainly wasn't pretty, or easy to understand over more than a couple of different pages. The new tools are far better at presenting information in a simple, visual way.

 

Improved flow visualisation

It's now easier to create customised and detailed dashboards, too - another question of a modified presentation rather than extra data. Some features from Webmaster Tools are now integrated in to GA as well, which adds convenience but little new information.

What doesn't work (or doesn't work yet)

Number one on the list is manual data export. PDF reporting facilities have disappeared - you might be able to enjoy those nice new dashboards live, but exporting them is another matter entirely. Email scheduling is also no longer supported, although Google announced in November that both these issues would be fixed at some point.

 

Limited export options in V5

Early on in the roll-out, there were complaints about aggregation over time not working properly. Users were having trouble obtaining data in a weekly or monthly format. There are still a few issues with this, particularly when it comes to getting meaningful date information to match the aggregated data. It's clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done. The data export capabilities of the new GA are seriously lacking.

Where is the percentage change?

Percentage change data is also harder to come by in Version 5. Comparing monthly or year-on-year changes is one of the most common activities on any analytics platform, so this is a little more than a minor annoyance.

There is one other issue that provoked anger in the analytics community recently. It has little to do with the new look analytics package, so users can't simply switch back to the old version to get what they need.

Google decided that keyword information relating to logged-in users should be hidden. They stated "privacy reasons" although extracting personally identifiable information on individual users has always been against the GA user agreement. If you've started seeing (not provided) pop up in your keyword reports over the last couple of months, that's why. Matt Cutts from Google released a statement saying that less than 10% of data should be affected but some analysts are seeing big chunks of data disappear.

Overall, the changes are a mixed bag - mostly good, with some irritations thrown in and one or two serious losses. Hopefully most of the issues will be solved over time, but until then, I'll keep running both the new version and the old version together.

About the author

Jess Spate runs a web analytics consultancy in the UK. She has a background in mathematics and data analysis, and a strong interest in quantifying the effects of SEO activities.



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