Google Analytics Tips for Ecommerce

The stakes are high. Really high.

Global retail ecommerce was worth $1.55 trillion USD in 2015 (that’s trillion with a “T”), and it’s predicted to top $4 trillion by 2020. By comparison, it brought in “only” $342.96 billion in the United States last year. Amazon held the top spot with $79.3 billion in annual sales, followed by Walmart at $13.5 billion (that’s quite the drop … although Walmart does have a few brick & mortar stores, too), and Apple in the third spot with $12 billion (likewise).

41% of global internet users have purchased something online, and that’s expected to hit 46.4% by 2017.

Ecommerce is big business. So how do you stay competitive, grow your company, and get better with each passing day and transaction? Content, of course. Social media, PPC ads, and don’t forget SEO. But how do you bring it all together?

Data. Lots and lots of data. Conducting business online comes with that built-in bonus: data on who, where, when, what, and how. Data on sources, visitors, marketing campaigns, sales figures, keywords, and more.

And Google Analytics makes it painless to collect, correlate, and crunch that data for valuable ecommerce insights that can – and should – guide your decisions.

Google Analytics

Launched in November of 2005, Google Analytics continues to lead the charge on understanding your website traffic and performance. Getting started is easy enough that virtually anyone can do it, and there are plenty of tutorials and how-tos to expand your user skill set.

But let’s skip all that. You know the basics, and you’ve already installed the tracking code either directly on each page, or using one of the handy-dandy plugins available to do it for you.

You want more. You’re ready to graduate from the Overview report and simple features. Here are my top tips for using Analytics to drive ecommerce success.

The Enhanced Ecommerce Plugin

Installing the Enhanced Ecommerce plugin – also known as ec.js – is complicated, but well worth it. It’s by far the most difficult-to-implement suggestion you’ll see here, but once it’s done, you’ll have data and insight aplenty. You may want to outsource this to an experienced web developer unless you’re proficient and comfortable with HTML and coding.

Fundamentally, installation requires just three steps:

  • Make sure you’re using Universal Analytics (this is the standard protocol now).
  • Install the necessary ec.js commands to your Analytics tracking code.
  • Enable Enhanced Ecommerce under Admin > View > Ecommerce Settings.

That’s it. In theory. The reality is much more complex. You need to install the load command ga(‘require’, ‘ec’); after you create your tracker object but before you use any of the plugin advanced feature commands, and finally give an order to send all the data back to Analytics.

The specific functions include commands to track impressions, products, promotions, and actions. You’ll receive detailed information on customer behavior at every stage of their buying cycle (before, during, and after), data on cart abandonment, funnel leaks, affiliate and coupon reports, and much, much more. It’s a smorgasbord of invaluable insight.

The Shopping Behavior Analysis (Reporting > Conversions > Ecommerce > Shopping Analysis > Shopping Behavior) gives a wonderful summary of the number of sessions during your selected time frame, how many moved on and how many left at each step, and ultimately how many paying transactions occurred.

Lots of sessions but few with shopping activity? Evaluate how easy it is to find categories and specific products. Checkout started but then abandoned (nearly 70% will abandon their cart)? Make it faster, easier, and sweeten the deal with free shipping, or volume discounts, or a coupon for next time.

And speaking of checkout, the Checkout Behavior Analysis (Reporting > Conversions > Ecommerce > Shopping Analysis > Checkout Behavior) will do the same breakdown for each stage of checkout provided you created a funnel under Admin > Views > Ecommerce Settings > Checkout Labeling, and you’ve included ‘ec:addProduct’ followed by the ‘ec:setAction’, ‘checkout’, {‘step’:1} command in the tracking code for the first page of the your checkout funnel (changing the step number for each page).

Identify on which page the highest abandonment rate is happening, and you can hypothesize and test fixes for it.

I’m not going to lie: this ain’t easy. But Enhanced Ecommerce is a goldmine and more than worth the time and money it takes to get going. Use an expert. Get it done.

Custom Campaigns

Tracking traffic is fantastic. Tracking traffic from specific sources and campaigns? That’s even better. It allows you to zero in on what exactly is working, and what exactly is falling short, instead of lumping everything together.

When it comes to allocating budget and evaluating effectiveness, you need specifics.

Enter UTM. With them, you can track audiences like never before with tags added to the end of links.

A URL with UTM tags might look like this:

www.yourecommercesite.com/blog1/?utm_source=julynewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bogofree

to track traffic arriving via a link included in your July newsletter sent by email about your new BOGO free promotion. Pretty? Definitely not. But it will let you see precisely where your traffic is coming from.

Using the UTM parameters, you create unique URLs for each channel and campaign in your stable. There are three required fields:

  • The Source – Where did someone click the link? Facebook, newsletter, bing, citysearch…
  • The Medium – Email, social, ppc…
  • The Campaign – What current campaign is this link connected to? Fall-sale, summer-giveaway…

There are two optional tags you could use as well: Term (useful for tracking specific keywords in a PPC campaign), and Content (useful in A/B testing).

Putting it all together is fairly straightforward: you just add the appropriate tags to the end of the URL.

Or you can opt to use a UTM Builder tool. Either way, the resulting address is long and ugly, so consider sprucing it up a bit with a shortener like Goo.gl.

The parameters you use must be exactly the same to collect accurate data: utm_source=twitter will be treated as separate from utm_source=Twitter. And whatever name you give a campaign, keep it identical for every link used for it. Consistency is key.

Once you’ve created a few custom campaigns and shared the links, you can find the data for each campaign under Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns, or for each source/medium under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium.

Examine sessions, bounce rate, CVR, abandoned carts, and more for each campaign, source, and medium to find what’s working (do more of that) and what’s not (do less, or fix it).

You can use UTM to track conversions with promotions, banners, PPC ads, contests, A/B testing, and more.

Track the Metrics that Matter

All metrics are not created equal when dealing with an ecommerce site. Focus on the right ones to grow. A few good places to start include:

  • Website traffic – You need lots. Plenty of visitors means plenty of opportunity to convert and sell. The Audience > Overview report gives you a great snapshot. Is traffic steady, rising, or falling?
  • Conversion rates – Traffic is good. Conversions are better. How many visitors are actually buying from you? You need to set up some goals (Admin > View > Goals) to see whether people are doing what you want them to do. The global average CVR for ecommerce in Q4 2015 was 3.48%. Are you above or below that?
  • Traffic sources – Organic, paid, direct, referral, or social. Where are your visitors coming from? You need to know, and you want a good mix. Too much from one, and it could cause problems down the road (80% from Google organic, and what happens if you’re slapped with a penalty?). Allocate budget, time, and effort to spread it out.
  • And more…

Identify the key daily, weekly, and monthly metrics for you and your site, create a few custom dashboards (you can create your own, or use a curated dashboard from the Solutions Gallery with the import button) for one-click access, and monitor, monitor, monitor.

Experiments

You already know how important A/B testing is to your overall strategy. Everything from email to newsletters, page design and layout, to the images and colors you use can be improved with it.

A/B testing lets you find the stuff – layout, text, color, images, and virtually everything else – that your visitors are actually responding to and preferring. A small tweak here, a bigger change there, and you slowly arrive at the perfect page, email, or post.

There are plenty of tools you could use, but for sheer simplicity and convenience, give Experiments a go. You can A/B test from within the Analytics dashboard itself.

It’s not fancy, and it lacks some of the advanced features from more expensive tools, but it does allow you to play around with basic split tests.

Head on over to Behavior > Experiments to set up your first test. Click “Create experiment”, enter some basic details, and you’re off to the races. As with any A/B test, you need a hypothesis to test against a goal (Highlighting the money saved will result in more conversions than highlighting the excellent user reviews, for example).

Configuring the test is pretty easy. You’ll need an objective (an existing goal, a site metric, or a custom goal), the original page URL, and the variant page URL.

You can manually insert the experiment code (it’s added only to the original page, immediately after the opening head tag at the top), or send it directly to your web developer.

Finally, review it, start it, and wait for the test results to show up in the same spot. Easy.

Quick Tips

Benchmarking

Agree to submit data to Google for Benchmarking, which compares your stats to others in your industry. Are you exceptional, or lagging behind? Find out under Audience > Benchmarking.

Pick your industry vertical (most likely Shopping, then your particular niche within that), country or region, and size by daily sessions. You can then compare your site against similar ones by channels, locations, and devices.

Use the data to guide your decisions and goals.

Set Up Search

Internal searches by visitors already on your site can reveal a lot. What search terms are they most using? It tells you exactly what users want, what they can’t find, and highlights both shortcomings in your site navigation (are they searching for pages because they can’t find or see the link?) and opportunities for growth (products, colors, or sizes they’re looking for, but you don’t yet offer).

Set it up under Admin > View > View Settings > Site Search Settings. Turn it on. To find your Query parameter, do a simple search on your site and look at the URL. Your query parameter is the letter or word immediately after the “?” (for most sites).

For example: http://www.gapcanada.ca/browse/search.do?searchText=skinny+black+jeans

The query parameter here is searchText, and you would enter that into the field on Analytics.

Located under Reporting > Behaviour > Site Search, the reports include details on number of sessions with search, the actual search terms used, and pages where visitors conducted those searches.

Top Referrals

Find your top referral sites under Acquisition > All traffic > Referrals. Contact them, suggest a guest post, or offer a free trial/sample in exchange for a review.

Take it a step further and use something like the Audience Overlap Tool to find other sites similar to your top referral sources. Reach out to them, too.

Reverse Goal Path

Located under Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path, this report tells you the last page visited before a conversion. What pages are driving the most conversions for you? Consider expanding the selection, or updating the content, or launching a PPC campaign to that destination.

Analytics is an underused platform, simply because there’s so much you could do. The list of features is long and impressive, and this collection is by no means exhaustive.

Try these. Then find more tips and tricks. Do those. Keep the ones that actually help you grow, and ditch the ones that devour your time and attention without giving anything back. You’re the boss, right?

What Analytics features have you found most helpful with your ecommerce site? What have you cut loose? Leave your comments below:

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, their Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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