Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Should you use Google Analytics?

Is Google's free Web statistics service worth your time? We've been using it on our Web site and Web store for quite some time now, and have integrated it in our shopping carts. Here's my opinion based on the experience.

Summary

If your shopping cart can provide order information to Google Analytics, then the e-commerce reports generated by GA can help you understand where your sales are coming from and make it a good choice for your business.

The report that you can view by selecting "Traffic Sources > Keywords > E-commerce (tab)" will trigger a "wow" for many Internet merchants that have not seen something like this before (it details exactly how many orders each keyword phrase used in a search engine triggered in a given date range - see example below from our own Early Impact account). Since it's free, I'd give it a try if I were you.


Pros
What we like in Google Analytics (here I'm focusing on the most unique aspects of the system as there are many other services that offer good Web stats).

  • E-commerce Reporting
    For an e-commerce store, this is without a doubt where the biggest value is. If your shopping cart program passes order information to Google Analytics, you will be able to see reports that merge sales and traffic data. What this means is that you can look up which keywords customers used to find your Web site, and whether they ended up generating any orders. This information is powerful as it can help you fine-tune your landing pages (and your Web store overall) to focus on revenue-generating keywords.

    For a list of e-commerce applications that have been integrated with Google Analytics, see the "e-commerce integrations" area of the GA forums.

  • Shopping Cart Abandonment "goal"
    GA allows you to monitor specific behaviors on your Web site. The call this feature "goals", which is a somewhat confusing name. The idea is that your "goal" might be to get people to register, and you can track the "visit to registration" conversion by telling Google Analytics which pages (URLs) are used in the process. For an e-commerce store, this becomes quite interesting if you apply it to your checkout process. Rather than a goal, you'll be keeping an eye on your shopping cart abandonment rate. By telling GA which steps customers take during checkout, you can monitor the drop-off at each step (GA has some pretty neat visual reports for this). For instance: view cart -> login -> billing -> shipping -> payment. If you saw at high drop-off at the "shipping" step, it might indicate that your shipping rates are too high.

  • Interface
    GA just released an updated interface. Tons of flash-based reports that look quite nice and that make changing the date range on reports quick and easy. The customizable "Dashboard" (your start page) is useful too.

  • Email Reporting
    There are many options for receiving regular reports from your GA account, without having to log in. I like the fact that you can have the system send you a PDF copy of your customized "dashboard": it's a quick way to get a summary of your Web stats, and you're saving a hard copy of some of your statistics for your records (in case Google goes belly up and your Web site stats with it... but that's not going to happen anytime soon anyway :-)

  • Cost
    GA is free, and that's hard to complain about. But, your Web hosting company probably offers you free stats too. Again, the real value for a Web store is in the e-commerce reports.

Cons
Things that could be improved.

  • Refunds and Cancellations
    There is no way to "remove" a transaction (e.g. an order was cancelled). What you can do is post a negative transaction that offsets the original one. This is tricky to do unless your shopping cart software has a built-in feature to help you with it. Ask you e-commerce software provider about it (the screen shot below shows you what we did in ProductCart). Bug GA could make things easier in this area by providing some functionality right into their console.



    Missing Transactions: A by-product of this issue is that when you post a negative transaction that completely offsets another one, the two transactions "disappear" when you view a report for a date rage that includes both, but they are shown when the date range does not include both. This creates confusion as some orders are shown in some reports and not others. I have already notified the Google Analytics team on this, and hopefully they'll post a fix.

  • E-commerce Reports
    I'd like to see more options to organize and save custom e-commerce reports. For example, even simple features like the ability to sort by order number or order date is missing (you can sort by order amount and you can specify different date ranges, but you can't easily sort within a date range).
  • Reliability
    I should also note that some people recently complained of reliability problems. Google was quick to point out that no data was lost: the issue was just that the Google Analytics console could not be accessed. I don't see that as a big issue, and I'm sure that with Google's deep pockets, more powerful data centers will reduce the chances of that happening again.

I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts. By the way: if you end up using Google Analytics, keep an eye on the Analytics blog as the GA team postd there pretty frequently.

1 comment:

Nikhil said...

Hey Massimo - I just downloaded ProductCart's e-commerce analytics add-on! It worked perfectly the first time (even though I'm on an older version of the product), and I didn't have to make any mods at all. This is just what I'd been trying to do. This couldn't have come at a better time. My analytics data is exponentially richer now! Thanks!