Google Analytics: Three Short-Term Hacks to Make it Look Like You Actually Know What You’re Doing

By August 29, 2017 No Comments
Google Analytics Hacks to Make it Look Like You KNow What You're Doing

Appearances aren’t everything, but they are important. When you put your business out there, you want to appear confident; confident in your product, abilities and online endeavors. After all, nobody wants to buy insecurity (they have enough of that already). So, in an effort to help you feel like you know what you’re doing, we’ve compiled three handy Google Analytics hacks you can quickly execute on your own.

Hack #1: Goal Tracking

You can’t know what you’re doing if you don’t know where you’re going. If you can’t say with confidence what you want your website to do, then you need to define some goals.

Setting goals in Google Analytics isn’t complicated and can be extremely valuable to your business. Let’s say you sell ready-bake cupcake kits on your website. Sure, you can easily login to your e-Commerce platform and see how many orders your customers have placed. But do you know how they got there? What keyword drove the sale? How long it took them to buy or how many people didn’t and why? Probably not.

But — my traffic is increasing ever since my write-up in Cupcake Quarterly! I can already see that in Google Analytics.


But measuring customer behavior by looking at pageviews and visitor count is like trying to taste your cupcakes by admiring them through the display case. It’s vain, presumptuous and useless.

Measuring customer behavior by looking at pageviews and visitor count is like trying to taste your cupcakes by admiring them through the display case.

To set up a goal, follow these steps:

  1. Go to standard reports
  2. Click on the “Admin” button (top right)
  3. Click on “Goals”
  4. From one of the Goal sets, click “+ Goal” to set up a new goal.

A common and useful goal to setup first is a URL destination goal. This goal tracks when a visitor lands on a specific page, such as a thank-you page or an order confirmation page. It indicates when a customer completes an order along with the path they chose to complete that order, providing you with critical information on the effectiveness of your sales funnel.

Sure, there are other ways to find some of this information, but what goal setting in GA does is helps you visualize website performance as it relates to the larger goals of your business. Suddenly, that Post-it on your vision board saying “Sell 1,000 kits in November” becomes an attainable figure when it’s pinned to your analytics dashboard, complete with actionable insights and other valuable data.

Setting basic goals in GA is just the tip of the frosting (OK, enough cupcake references). Using advanced techniques will give you a more granular look into how your sales funnel is performing. That’s beyond the cope of this post, but they are certainly worth looking into once you get the hang of the basics.

Hack #2: Custom Reports

If goals are the destination, custom reports are the map. Custom reports are simply that — reports in GA you build yourself.

Why are custom reports important to knowing what you’re doing? Because they show you only the data most relevant to reaching your defined goals. Further, there’s a tendency, especially for novice GA users, to get overwhelmed by the standard reporting options. By creating custom reports, you can narrow your focus to what matters most.

There are a number of handy prefab custom reports available from time of day to keyword analysis at the Solutions gallery. However, there’s no substitute for good ‘ol fashioned brain-usin’ experimentation so I would encourage you to build your own reports from scratch using only metrics you find most critical in achieving your business goals. It may take some trial and error to create the perfect reports, but the efficiency gains in the long-run make the time spent up front worth it, especially when you need to act fast.

If goals are the destination, custom reports are the map.

Hack #3: Annotating

Now you know where you’re going and how to get there — but can you remember your favorite stops along the way? One of the most often overlooked features in GA, and one of the simplest to use, are annotations. Annotations are just notes.

Let’s say you published a hot piece of content and it was picked up by a major publication and shared across their social media outlets. Suddenly, you’ve got links to your content coming from a number of popular websites and tons of referring traffic. You’re the hottest thing on the internet. Then, the excitement dies down and you go into a dark place thinking you’ll never be able to match the popularity of that hit piece again. It came to you in a dream and you haven’t been sleeping lately. You’ve peaked already. You’re a one hit wonder, a has-been, washed up. You try organizing a reunion piece, but the fanfare just isn’t there. They liked your older stuff better. Finally, after digging deep on a spiritual retreat, you have a flash of inspiration and start cranking out high-ranking content.  The result? Traffic to your site is climbing daily. Suddenly you’re doing so well you don’t even look at your GA account any longer. Then, one day, you decide to write your memoirs. You dust off the old analytics account to refresh your memory but, amidst all those peaks and valleys displayed on the traffic graph, you’ve forgotten what created all that history. If you’d only annotated, the memoir would’ve written itself.

Alright, I admit — this is probably the worst example of a use case for annotations, but it was flowing so I went with it.

In all seriousness though, annotations help you retrace your steps. Had a traffic spike? Annotations remind you why. Traffic dipped for a few days? Ah, yes: that was an outage caused by ‘whatever.’

Our memories aren’t perfect; that’s why it’s a good idea to get into the habit of taking notes when things go well (or badly) throughout the lifespan of our online properties. As the old saying goes, those who do not annotate the past are doomed to repeat it.

A few more tools in the belt

Successful websites follow many paths.

That’s deep, I know. Regardless of the goals you’ve set for your business, if you intend to use your website to achieve those goals, you have to be able to maintain focus on vital data, not just all data.

These “hacks” will serve as a decent jumping-off point to getting what you need out of your Google Analytics account.

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