by Doug

13/10/2011

Internet Marketing

Real Time Google Analytics

Google announced the release of Google Analytics Real Time last week. This is fantastic stuff! It’s exciting for analysts and conversion professionals. It’s also exciting as a strategic move for Google in terms of making sure Google Analytics (Standard and Premium) is a leading edge, feature rich web analytics product.
In real terms, there are some core, highly tangible uses for Google Analytics Real Time:

Realtime marketing:

  • Social
  • TV/Radio advertising
  • Hot news – great for publishers!
  • Time based offers

So, you’re effectively marketing in real time right now. You’re tweeting, posting on FaceBook, ‘plussing’ on Google+ (still not sure of the best verb here) and sending emails. Where previously you would wait up to 24 hours to see solid processed data – even top level metrics – regarding the response to your marketing efforts, now you can see the response…well, in real time. Such responsive data has tremendous benefits for testing and measurement.

The advantages extend into the offline world too. Advertising on TV or Radio? You know when your ads are seen and heard, so you can have real time reports to see the effects online of your advertising offline.

We have a premiership football (soccer for the non-UK readers!) team on our client base. Seeing the ebb and flow of a game on the pitch is fascinating for fans. Seeing the correlation between on-pitch and on-line activity is highly actionable for marketers.

Google Analytics debugging – see the pages tracking in real time!

A great use of Google Analytics Real Time for ‘non-muggles’ is the ability to confirm the correct function of newly implemented tracking tags. Yeah, Live HTTP Headers or Firebug in Firefox are still handy to confirm the __utm.gif request happens but now you can connect pretty much all the dots to debug and confirm a new analytics implementation. Neat.

Going beyond the standard reports

This is all great but there is a lot that is not shown and rather too much that is shown in the Google Analytics Real Time reports. By this I mean there are key metrics such as devices and browsers, conversions and revenue that are not shown in the reports. Furthermore, the reports are unfiltered. URIs contain querystring parameters, trailing slashes and are not lower case (all standard filters).

Fear not! There is a solution. Well, we have a solution brewing anyway. This is early days and admittedly slightly hacky but worth sharing right now – feedback is a gift…

The technique is essentially to use two tracking codes – one for standard reporting and one for real time reporting. The real time reporting GATC can use virtual pageviews to inject a lot of missing content that you want to see and exclude the content that you don’t want to see.

The two screen shots below show a contrived example where two pages were requested and shown in the real time content report. The reported URIs bear no relation to the actual page URI. We’re using virtual page views (VPVs) to add semantic value to the real time reports:

The first page is a key landing page. The real time tracking code is semi-intelligent: It knows we’re particularly interested in tracking pageviews on this page so the VPV is prepended with ‘/realtime’ to provide a key on which we can filter the real time content report. Not all pages are tracked thus but we can filter the report for the ones we’re interested in. If a campaign has multiple landing pages, just filter the content report for pages containing ‘realtime’ and you see only what you need to see.

Okay, we can see traffic sources and keywords but the ‘device’ report is becoming super important for a lot of clients. Tablet and mobile device specific campaigns are of major importance. In the second example, the user agent and therefore the device can be discovered and so is injected into the VPV. The ‘realtime’ stem remains so we can still filter on any number of facets in the VPV.

Show me the money!

What about conversions and money? You’ve noticed by now that there are a number of facets injected into the VPV. If key conversion pages are ‘real time tagged’ with a semi-intelligent parallel tracker, we can track conversion pages in the same way that we track landing pages. Make them stand out and filterable in the real time content report. ‘Sale’ is a good example of flagging a receipt/thank you page. Append the sale value and current revenue figure for the day and you can start to build a handy picture of the economic performance of a campaign in real time.

Rough edges

This is not over! We’re not finished. We’d love to hear feedback, other approaches, ideas, feature requests, criticism and praise (maybe!). There is every possibility that these metrics are on the Google Analytics Real Time feature roadmap so the detailed implementation may have a short life span but we maintain that realtime reporting requirements differ from traditional reporting and web analytics. This solution has legs – it needs to mature.
Technically, this approach is not without it’s pitfalls. Agreed – there is risk in making a mess of your tracking with dual site trackers (please be careful if you try this). Some data in the reports is less precise but good enough data is better than no data for our real time reporting purposes, right?

We’re working on the idea and we’ll keep you posted on developments.

One last thing…

Hello to Robin Dickinson – hope you enjoyed Think marketing 😉

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