Who Has Time? How to Simplify Your Google Analytics Usage

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As busy innkeepers, we know that time is at a premium, so poking around the various Google Analytics menus and reports is not only daunting, it is time-consuming. What is needed is a shortcut – a way to set up an overview with just the most important information, so you can check it in just a glance, when you don’t have time for a deeper analysis. That is exactly what we’ll do in this article.

This is one of those times when a small (no, really!) investment of time will pay off with big dividends down the road. While the analytics gurus can get lots of detailed and interesting insights from the various standard reports, and can create custom reports that slice-and-dice the data in truly amazing ways, we’ll do a little preparation to create a very simple view that gives us the most important information at a glance. Of course, you can always dig deeper into the reports if you need (or want) to do that.

Preparation

As small lodging properties, we usually want to know (a) where visitors to the website are coming from – especially if we’ve paid to bring them to it, and how many of them are coming, (b) what the visitors are doing once they arrive, and (c) what kind of results we are getting from their visit (bookings, sign up for our email list, etc.).

There is one thing we’ll need to have done in advance, to get the full benefit of the information we need. We will need to set up at least one Goal. The most appropriate goal for most of us is for online bookings, but you can use anything you want to measure. If you use an online booking company, walk through the process of creating an online booking, and find the last page of the booking sequence – the one that tells the guest “Thank you for your reservation” or something similar. The URL (address) of that page is the page we want for our goal.

There is one word of caution here – your online booking company must support Google Analytics “cross-domain tracking”. This means that two lines of Google Analytics code must be added to your website, and to the booking steps used by your online booking company. Most will do it for you. A few allow you to paste the code into a form. A very few don’t do this at all.

If you want to measure something else (an additional goal, or a different goal), use the same process – find the URL of the page (or the link to be clicked – but that is a different topic) that represents completion of the goal.

3 Steps to Set Up a Goal

GoalsGear1. If you don’t already have a goal set up, click on the “gear” icon (note that we’ll be using the “new” Google Analytics exclusively) in the upper right area, then click the Goals tab for your Analytics profile. If your goals are already set up, skip to the next section.

2. Click on the blue highlighted Goal link (it doesn’t matter which Goal Set you use, though you probably want to use Goal Set 1 for simplicity).New Goal

Goal setup3. Give the Goal a name (like “Bookings”), choose “URL Destination” as the type, and paste the URL we located earlier in the box marked “Goal URL”. It is desirable, but not required, to add a funnel. We’ll leave that for another time. Leave the defaults for the other settings, and Save the goal (just a note, goal data will not be visible until about 24 hours after the goal is created).

Now for the Good Part

Our preparation out of the way, let’s create a dashboard that will allow us to get that information we are after. Notice that we are looking for (a) Acquisition – where visitors come from, (b) Behavior – what they do on our site, and (c) Conclusions – what did we gain from their visits.

Creating a Custom Dashboard

In your Google Analytics window, click on the Home button in the orange bar, then under Dashboards in the left sidebar, click New Dashboard.

In the popup, give your Dashboard a name, select “Blank Canvas” and click Create Dashboard.New Dashboard

3 Steps to a Pie Chart

1. In the “Add a Widget” box, select Pie to add a pie chart. Add a Pie Chart

2. We’re setting this up to show unique visitors by directory. Call the widget “Visitors from B&B Dirs” and we’ll set up this chart to give us a glimpse of the relative performance of our B&B directory listings. Click the blue “Add a Metric” button and select “Unique Visitors”. Next click the “Add a Dimension” link to select “Source”. Don’t save it yet.

3. Now for a bit of magic. Click “Add a Filter”. Make sure the pull-down shows “Only show”, then click the Dimension to set it to Source, and set the next pull-down to Regular Expression (Regular expressions are programmers tools for searching and sorting information – here you’ll just cut-and-paste, so the only thing you need to know is that the “pipe” character – the vertical bar above the backslash on a US keyboard, like this: | – is the symbol for OR). In the last field paste in the following line:
bedandbreakfast.com|bbonline|iloveinns|bnbfinder|lanierbb|inspectedinns|pillowsandpancakes

You can edit the text parts to remove any directories you don’t use, or to add any you are using but are not in my list (only the top 6 will show up in the chart). Save the Pie Chart Widget, and be sure it is in the left column of the dashboard (this is our A – acquisition column). If you would like to set up a similar pie chart for another group, repeat these steps for that group.

2 Steps to a Table

1. Click “Add Widget” and this time select a Table.

Table widget2. Name the table “Avg Time on Site”. Set the green Dimension to Source, then add two Metrics, first Average Time on Site, and the second Unique Visitors. If you prefer, you could use other measurements instead, such as average pages per visit, etc. Save the Table widget and drag it to the center column of your dashboard. Add additional tables if desired.

1 Step to a Timeline

1. Click “Add Widget” and select a Timeline. Select your Goal as the first metric. If you have other goals, you can optionally add one of them as an additional metric. Save the widget and drag it to the right column.

Done and Done.

You now have a custom dashboard showing you a pie chart comparing performance of your B&B directories (and any other sources you care to track), the time visitors from particular sources spent on your site, and a timeline of bookings (or other goals). Now you can see at a glance how things are going, and drill down with other reports when necessary.

Nice work!

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