Google Analytics Changes Help Data Determine Intent

Over the past few weeks, Google Analytics changed how it counts visitors. Specifically, GA marks a visitor with a new session if that visitor’s tracking parameters change. On the surface, this may seem confusing. Let’s say a visitor comes to your site from one campaign, leaves your site and comes back from a different campaign. That visitor previously was part of a single visit. If you stop to think of it, that doesn’t make sense. More on that in a bit.

Visitor sessions are not all that Google Analytics changed. The following week, Google Analytics added five new reports that focus on showing when multiple channels that contribute to goal conversions. My Search Engine Watch article recaps all of Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnel Reports and how they all come together.

Why Multi-Channel Funnel Reports Are Cool

Plain and simple, these reports go a long way to hinting in which stage of the buyer behavior process a site visitor may be. If you’ve heard me speak about analytics before, you heard me say this:

Web metrics can tell you the what, when, where and how, but they can’t tell you why.

Visitors come to your site for many reasons. Some want to buy, some just want information. That information could be about your product or service or your value-added services. Or it may be the visitor already is a customer and wants to the decision to buy. The point is, unless you ask your visitor, you simply don’t know why they came.

By showing the all of the ways visitors arrived at your site through each individual visit, you can a feel for which referrals bring more conversions. Under previous reporting methods, the last referring medium got all the credit for the goal conversion.  Now, you can visualize just how many touch points there were with a site visitor before conversion.

Multi-Channel Paths

Your campaigns are like players on a sports team. One referring source may bring in more traffic, another may bring get all the credit for conversions, but they all play a role. In soccer (or futbol, if you prefer), a striker who finishes is just as important as the midfielder whose tricky footwork got the ball to that perfect point so the striker could put it away. Both celebrate the goal. Both record statistics that eventually get lumped together as “points” on the stat sheet.

Your campaigns should be treated similarly. You may see a lot of direct visits getting the “last touch” to convert a site visitor. But was it unassisted? For a new customer, it is highly unlikely. However, without these new reports, and GA’s change in counting visitor sessions, knowing this would not be possible.

But My Data Are Different! Now What?

Granted, this will change your aggregate numbers. Brandt Dainow noted recently that the number of visits will now go up even though your traffic stays the same. He also quotes many responses that he’s seen complaining about this change. His blog quotes people who seem to be complaining that time on site has gone down, new visits are down and repeat visits are up. Of course, there are several who complain that their old data is now useless.

All of these statements are essentially true. The old data was useless because it was inaccurately reporting visitor behavior before. The art of Web analytics is to better understand what your visitors are doing so that you can properly measure if your business objectives are being met. If you read inaccurate data, you can’t measure properly. I’ll quote Brandt’s post:

Bob searches in Google for “buy books online.”  He then clicks an AdWord to Amazon.  After 10 minutes he leaves Amazon and runs another search, this time for “buy reference books online.” He then follows a different AdWord back to Amazon and makes a purchase.

Under the old system this would be treated as one visit. The sale would be attributed to the first keyword and the first AdWord.  The second AdWord and search term would be reported as producing zero visits.

Under the new system this is now treated as two visits. The sale is attributed to the second search and the second AdWord.

First off, I agree completely that there is a significant difference in how these are counted. Apart from that, I think the change is wonderful. There’s always been discrepancies between AdWords data and Analytics data. This new way of measuring visits (sessions) is more precise. I can now see there have been multiple costs attributed to this sale. If I’m tracking customer acquisition cost along with my goal amount, I now have a much better set of metrics.

Affiliates Can Be Tracked More Accurately, Too

After my Introduction to Analytics session at SES San Francisco, I spoke with three individuals from an affiliate marketing company who were wondering why their stats went all awry. We discussed the new change to the visits and how multiple affiliates would now be tracked differently. The response between the three was mixed. One got it instantly, while the other two were irked. They merely gave the first affiliate the link. Why? That’s all Google Analytics told them. Now, they would see multiple visits from multiple affiliates. By the time we were done talking, they knew they had some changes to make, but seemed to welcome them. Why? Because the data are now more accurate.

For sites that only paid the first click or the last click, there is a greater opportunity here. The “assists” are out there. And now they’re in plain view.

As many have said before me, this changes everything. Reading metrics about the whole of your site just doesn’t make sense. You don’t know at what point the visitors are at in being ready to buy. Maybe a site visitor was looking for your a job and your HR department. Who knows. One thing is certain: looking at multiple visits helps you know how long a customer truly takes to convert and what sources they use to make that happen.