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Filters 101: How they make your analytics reporting efficient – and your business more profitable

There are standard report settings within every analytics solution that can segment website traffic.  New visitors versus returning visitors is an example. But there are times where a setting has to be tailored to text related to a visit.  This is where filters come into play.

The skinny: Filtering limits reporting to specific kind of traffic in which you know you would or would not consider. The benefit is a more efficient reporting. Filters should be planned to that they compliment a specific strategy, layout, and traffic trends. For example, a filter can be set so that reports show activity that occurs on a certain set of subdirectories.

Just about every web analytics solution provides a filter capability. Because it focuses on text, filters can assist in narrowing the data in a variety of different situations.

  • Filters can help gather text shared across a number of domains.
  • Filters can include or exclude IP addresses (or a range of address) – A possible usage can be eliminating site visits by employees, keeping the data more accurate. It can also be used to interpret data across
  • Filters can be set by geography
  • Filters can also reflect segments of data – referrer, client browser settings, page titles, etc. – this can be handy for a segments which reflect a persona of a target market.

Filters aid your business operations by narrowing the reporting scope on the activities that relate to your business. This saves time in developing strategic solutions based on the data reported.

Google Analytics Filter
Analytics solutions like Google Analytics provide filtering capability

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Vetting Analytics Tags

In the race to improve analytic capability in companies, marketing teams can sometimes overlook the technical elements make analytics work.  Thus incorporating analytics tags early in a digital marketing plan can reveal the tasks most relevant to business objectives and more vital than launch tactics.

If your marketing team struggles with vetting tags, they are not alone. Agencies are encountering new challenges for implementing client-server tagging. But tag usage is certainly not abating. In fact the number of web tag types used by agencies and businesses surged 53% in 2012 according to Adage. A revealing statistic: While 45% of tags were applied directly by the publisher, the rest came from other sources.  Thus control over where data is being captured is an increasing concern. Privacy issues occur if left unchecked.

Early consideration of analytic tag placement can reveal potential security hiccups. It can also bring forth productive talks and tasks.  In one instance, it can educate non-technical managers on the technical aspects to a digital marketing campaign launch.  Many professionals have adopted computer usage, but not every professional understands client-server technicalities and programming that belies a digital ad or social share.  A tag evaluation can help managers see what needs to be checked, and see how changes in data usage and associated code can aid business decisions.

Second, early tag implementation can lead to better refinement of a company’s website measurement against current digital trends. For example, most professionals can appreciate that data can appear at client-side and server-side, but apps in mobile and tablets have created new functionality for client-side data. This means planners must express content and associated tags to accommodate different screens, to balance customer activity on varied devices, and to capture metrics that reflect business objectives.

Third, early tag implementation organizes measurement complexity, easily highlighting needed skills or processes.  For example, a team can achieve good tag quality assurance with an appreciation of client-server interaction. Verifying tag functionality does not require a deep knowledge of machine language, but translating business objectives to a website requires an imagination of where tags can be placed and which metrics are best recorded.

With early incorporations of tags, the good news is that many agencies are learning better ways to manage the teams involved. I learned about one such discovery while attending an Ogilvy and Mather presentation in their Chicago office.  Benjamin Hong, Director, Marketing Analytics and Mike Armstrong, Technology Director explained the tag process to the Chicago HTML5 Meetup audience, a group of web developers. The fact that this presentation addressed developers highlights the ideas that it’s never too early to talk about   tagging concerns, even with a website wireframe.

As you can imagine, gathering tag requirements for an analytic practice best starts with a holistic viewpoint from designer, developer and marketers. Doing so surfaces the reasons for why tagging is being requested in the first place.  “We need to talk about web analytics as analytics – what is the relationship between the things we do and what our outcomes are, “ explained Hong in the presentation. “We may be given an assignment without really being given the outcome.  Analytics focuses on behaviors caused by the activities that drove behavior.”

Understanding how to best translate marketing activity to URL queries is clearly valuable to any tag evaluation.  And given the volume of media channels and publishers using tags, such translation has become prime real estate in a digital marketing neighborhood.

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Where to find e-commerce shopping cart providers with web analytics, Facebook, and bank integration

eCommerce Shopping Cart Comparison
Thinking of online retail? Use this Free eCommerce Shopping Cart Comparison to see what integrates with an analytics solution and payment gateway easily


Thinking of an eCommerce business? Select a cart that makes digital analytic measurement easy to plan first!

I’ve made this chart of eCommerce shopping cart solutions available. Each offer different capability to integrate an analytics solution. Although some coding effort is needed in general, some solutions provide a plug-and-play capability. The chart includes a consideration of which kinds of banking/payment options are available, whether the sites include Facebook commerce option, and if analytics integration is available.  Having these features in place makes sales easy to manage, and to permit an analytics tools to reveal when customers are dropping out of a cart…and not purchasing your product.

Click here for the full e-commerce shopping cart chart in pdf format.


Free Google Analytics webinar – How to manage your business online through web analytics

This September 2011 webinar I created for Small Biz Technology shows how Google Analytics (and any web analytics, for that matter) should work in your business. You can make choices that help you manage the business effectively. Ramon Ray, editor of Small Biz Technology, made the introduction.

This video will show the importance of setting a goal, how to use paid search, and how referral traffic should be monitored.  This can aid your business’ effort to make timely decisions based on the data presented.

Note: Due to processing, the audio was somewhat damaged.


When Custom Variables Are Consistently Useful: Customer segmentation by membership

New York Times ad for subscriptions

Ah, the New York Times. A paper with global stature.  No paper made more significant headlines of its own in the online world when the New York Times announced its digital subscription program (details here). The skinny is that visitors who are not subscribers can view up to 20 post in a month, while subscribers of one of three digital news packages have unlimited access. When non-subscribers click on their 21st article, they can purchase a subscription. The plan was implement in March 2011, and the jury is still out on how well the paywall plan is working. New York Times is noted to be the largest newspaper publisher who has implementing a paywall.

Many online blogs operate like a newspaper, and while many still are not at the scope of New York Times, a financial model for making a profit can be a challenge. So what would a small business do to emulate a paywall, or even figure how to better serve its audience? One analytics feature that would be helpful is developing a custom variable to distinguish subscribers online.

A few words on custom variables. Custom variables are a javascript call out that measure page actions for specific activity, In the case of visitor, measurement can include such as the number of pageviews from members who log in on a members-only site. The variable is typically activated by modifying the analytics code, inserting the following Javascript call out with parameters.

Google Analytics requires that index, name, and value are identified. They are determined as followed method accepts four parameters:

  • index—This is a slot number, with a single value from 1 – 5, inclusive. This is meant as a key for one custom variable, so you can have index 1, and index 2, an index 3, and so on.
  • name— This is a string that identifies the custom variable.
  • value—This ia a value that is paired with a name. You can pair a number of values with a custom variable name, such as a custom variable name gender and supply male and female as two possible values.
  • opt_scope—The scope for the custom variable, usually for an additiona description

Most web analytics solutions have some variation of the callout. Piwik, for example, uses the Javascript callout setCustomVariable( index, name, value, scope ) where scope is named “visit” or “pages” depending on whether your variable is tracking based on visits or pages.

When you decide to implement custom variables, you need to consider your site needs carefully against your budget, since most paid solutions offer more flexibility with variables. Piwik and Google Analytics, both free solutions, limit the number of custom variables, while paid solutions Yahoo Web Analytics and Omniture Site Catalyst permit more variables and offering even more customization.

But custom variables can help track visitors to distinguish traffic patterns between members and non-members. Such an arrangement would help your blog develop what effort would convert non-subscribers to subscribers, as well as may other ideas to maintain traffic onsite and provide unique, nuanced treatment for two separate sets of visitors.

There are plenty of other ways a custom variable can be used. Justin Cutroni offers a unique way of using custom variables for coupons – you can read about his process here.

What other ways can custom variables be useful?