Happy 10th Birthday Google Analytics

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Brangelina had just become a thing and Kelly Clarkson was at the top of the charts. November 2005 won’t be remembered as a time of musical genius but to us at Loves Data it will always be remembered fondly, for it was on November 14, 2005 Google Analytics shed its Urchin shell and burst forth into the emerging world of ‘web analytics’. In 10 years the online world has changed somewhat and Google Analytics has grown and grown by leaps and bounds, sparklines and bounce rates. What started as an easy way to view your web traffic, has become a powerhouse for gathering data and giving business insights. As online marketing continues to be ever more competitive Google Analytics has responded with even more specialised features and customisable capabilities.

So, on this hallowed day of data, we lovers of data would like to share ten of our most beloved Google Analytics innovations with you.

1. Google AdWords Integration

It will come as no surprise that the search engine 80% of the world uses also happens to be the largest advertising platform in the online world. It also has the advantage of catching consumers well into their purchase cycle, just as they are ready to buy. Google Analytics offered insights into where an advertising dollar went that marketing budget managers had been dreaming of for decades. Not only did we gain access to data about how many visits started with Google AdWords but we gained insights into who they were, when they visited, what phones or desktops they used, had they been to the site before, and critically were they likely to convert?

This gem of cooperation is one we now take entirely for granted but there was time when our Google AdWords channel cost per acquisition was still a best estimate. If you’re reading and feeling like you’re missing out on the action, check out Learning Google AdWords and Google Analytics, Loves Data CEO Benjamin Mangold’s new book for practical ways to help you take advantage of this integration between two of Google’s greatest tools.

2. Real Time

When real time reporting was first released, it brought out the lovers, haters and obsessors. The added functionality allowed us to view traffic on our website in real time. This meant that for time sensitive campaigns, we now had the option to react in real-time. Whether it’s a well placed hashtag on twitter or a call-out during a live event, the results were immediately obvious.

There are those who thought it wasn’t too useful an addition, encouraging time-wasting by way of watching data rather than gaining insights but here in the office we found there wasn’t quite anything as motivating as watching the count during big client campaigns or our own campaigns for our annual Analytics Conference in Sydney and Melbourne.

The truly brilliant applications of real time analytics come into view when it’s used in combination with our next two slices of Google Analytics birthday cake for you: Universal Analytics and the GA API.

3/4. Universal Analytics and the Google Analytics API

It’s hard to talk about one of these without the other. The Google Analytics API gave us, amongst other applications, freedom in reporting and suddenly all visualisations were fair game. Universal Analytics gave us another slew of great features; the most highly anticipated of which was user-based reporting. But together these two tools brought the detailed, customised and segmented reporting we were used to getting for online channels, into the real world. Sales funnel completions in an in-store sale? We can track that! The frustrating gap in reporting will soon be no more!

Since the combination of these two developments allows us to track just about anything in the real world, it’s no surprise that the data loving team we are, tracked everything from coffee consumption (we are a well caffeinated bunch) to practising our dance moves (we are sadly not a coordinated bunch). The main point being, we love this combo because it lets us measure everything.

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5. Site Overlay

Compared to other online life changing developments in Google Analytics that are featured in this post, the site overlay report might seem a little out of place but we’ve all learned that collected data is no use if it isn’t translated into actionable insights.

Insights often only become actionable when we are able to convey complicated information in digestible ways. Site Overlay is a great tool for visual communication, especially for those of us who might not be numbers people. In some ways, Google Analytics grew up when this feature came around – marketers, client account managers, campaign managers, and social media, content and data visualisation specialists all joined hands with the digital analytics engineers and data analysts, and became one big happy family of nerds.

6. Attribution Modelling

It’s possible there weren’t shrieks of excitement in every office around the world but there certainly were at Loves Data. The tyranny of last-click attribution was over!

As more and more avenues for referrals and traffic came into existence, so a consumer journey through the Internet to a conversion became more and more complex. Understanding what brought a user to a website on their converting visit was no longer telling a representative story.

Attribution modelling allowed marketers (and their budgets) to consider the merits of assisting a conversion. Social Media, a referral, and organic search, might all play important parts in a conversion journey. To what degree they each contributed can be analysed through attribution modelling. How exactly that model looks take us to number seven.

7. The Solutions Gallery

Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to GA. The Solutions Gallery is a brilliant place to try out creative reporting and dashboard solutions from the best in digital analytics. We have solutions there – right alongside Avinash’s! When this gallery was launched on the heels of attribution modelling, it was a brilliant move by the Google Analytics team. As the tools got more complex, versatile and customisable, the community needed a forum to share their ideas and look for solutions.

Whether an attribution model is right for your website or business is entirely dependent on your traffic, channels and conversion funnels. The same can be said for your reporting dashboard. The Solutions Gallery lets us test many variations and find what works for each unique situation.

8. Google Tag Manager

We concede that this one is not strictly a Google Analytics development but there’s no doubt that GA greatly contributed to its necessary existence. Once Google Analytics made it possible to track events on our websites, Google Tag Manager was an inevitability.

This nifty container keeps our tracking tags organised so we can count every like, download, map view and phone call to our heart’s content. It also meant that those of us less technical could now also indulge in having event-based goals. The launch of an easy to use tagging system meant many a marketing manager quickly learned the dire consequences of a long contact form.

9. Simplicity

This feature of Google Analytics is not exactly a development but it is a personal favourite. While growing into a complex and powerful tool GA never lost sight of its democratic nature. Even today, in the day of APIs and multi-channel funnels, the core of the tool is accessible. Anyone can learn Google Analytics. In an afternoon, a novice can hope to install the code, set goals and start collecting insights. Unlike enterprise level tools which require a large investment of monetary and human resources, GA, outside of very large applications, is a free tool that is easy to set up, understand and use. And while the development of new features, functions and customisations could have turned the now behemoth programs into a less beginner friendly tool, Google Analytics stuck to its roots and remains a democratic favourite.

10. It Improves Everything!

Sometimes we have to look back to the beginning to see that what was said first might have been said best. The blog post launching Google Analytics ended on a hopeful note, espousing a wish that GA will help improve the overall web. Well from just this office, our beloved, overachieving tool has made online forms shorter, mobile sites faster, and kicked annoying pop-ups to the curb.

Pretty good for a ten year old!