In terms of generating the most useful insights from how users navigate your site, there’s little comparison to the capabilities of Google Analytics. Used in tandem with Google Tag Manager, this service is a powerful means to monitor site traffic, form submissions, referrals and the key components of the user experience.

With such a rich combination of features at an unbeatable price point—it’s free, after all—Google Analytics is a vital addition to your site management efforts. However, the main misconception about its use is that it’s an out-of-the-box solution.

Designed to suit thousands of business needs across an array of industries, Google Analytics requires customization to deliver the right insights for you. And that generates pangs of anxiety for marketing communications teams, who may not have the technical skills typically associated with modifying source code.

Fortunately, there are a number a key changes you can make to Google Analytics that don’t require a developer background. This is especially true of the capabilities of Google Tag Manager, a crucial and user-friendly supplement to Google Analytics that allows marketing teams to monitor user habits and track form submissions, clicks on links within pages and navigation, and site downloads.

Additionally, by using a few key functions in the Google Analytics system’s filtering capabilities, you can set parameters for your site data so it’s most meaningful to your business. Along with the knowledge gained through user interviews, these measurements will illustrate how successfully your site is satisfying the needs of its visitors and those of your organization.

Start with These 10 Modifications to Open Up Google Analytics

1. The Basics: Filters to Ensure You’re Gathering Accurate Data

When looking to draw the most useful information from user behavior, you first have to ensure Google Analytics is collecting the correct data. This is primarily accomplished through defining which data to collect by excluding or including specific details such as the following:

A) Data Collection Filters

Exclude Internal IP Address / Exclude Dev Site Traffic

Put simply, these data collection filters keep your organization’s employees from inadvertently skewing the results collected in Google Analytics. By blocking data drawn from visitors with your company’s network ID as well as those working remotely, your site traffic won’t be skewed by monitoring the usage patterns for employees. These internal visitors use the site far differently from your prospective clients or customers. This filter can also exclude traffic to test or staging sites where development teams engineer new digital resources.

By limiting your observed population to users from outside your organization, Google Analytics will draw a truer picture of how well your website is serving their needs and interests.

Exclude Crawler Referrer Spam

Though not as prevalent of an issue as it was a few years ago, we still need a filter to remove known bots. Analytics consultant Carlos Escalera Alonso maintains two filters written in regular expression that are optimized to remove as many known bots within the character limit of filters. When creating this filter, all you need to do is copy and paste his regular expression to block crawler referrer spam. 

Include Specific Hostname

This crucial filter helps to exclude traffic from your reports by ensuring that the data being tracked is from your own domain. As a result, your traffic numbers will be freed of counting visits that exist only as data sent to the Google Analytics servers (“ghost spam”). The filter also allows for cross-domain tracking (see metric 7).

Screen Resolution Filter

This works with Include Specific Hostname filter to help remove spam crawlers. This filter blocks traffic from bots and crawlers by removing data in which the screen resolution is not set. Human users will have a set screen size. 

B) Data Consistency Filters

Request URI, Search Term, Campaign Dimensions, Lowercase Hostname

Google Analytics is case sensitive, so this filter merges results under the same category whether in uppercase or lowercase. This prevents additional clutter in reports by grouping results that would otherwise track the same information under different headings.

Prepend Hostname to Request URI (uniform resource identifier)

If your site features multiple domains under a single umbrella, prepend hostname to request URI will separate traffic from the different domains when the page name itself is shared. This is often helpful with regard to site home pages. In many designs, these are often built with the same individual page names, such as index.html.

This filter will prevent those distinct pages on different websites from being grouped together as one in analytics reporting.

Append Slash to Request URI

If your website pages will render successfully with or without a trailing slash at the end of the URL, then Google Analytics will track both results separately in your site traffic. The append slash to request URI filter will streamline your data by combining these page totals whether a slash is applied to the end of the URL or not.

Bounteous offers a helpful guide to implementing most of these filter functions under the Admin tab of Google Analytics.

Filter Order Matters

Google Analytics applies the filters in order, so the order they are listed within GA is important.

  1. First remove traffic you don’t want to track
    Filter Internal Traffic
    Exclude Source – Bots 1
    Exclude Source – Bots 2
    Screen Resolution Filter 
  2. Modify the text displayed in GA
    Lowercase Request URI
    Lowercase Search Term
    Lowercase Campaign Name
    Lowercase Hostname
  3. Add domain name to requested URI
    Host + Request URI

2. Tracking Outbound Links with Google Tag Manager

Google Analytics can observe the pages where visitors are leaving your site. By tracking this behavior through Google Tag Manager, your organization can better understand the points where your site can improve with user engagement. These insights can also help you determine what content to produce if visitors are drawn to leave to view an external resource. Or, tracking outbound links also reveals the points where users opt to connect with your business on social media.

3. Monitor Site Downloads

This metric will determine which visitors and how many of them were interested enough in your content to download for their use. Google Tag Manager’s download insights indicate where to expend future resources if a given topic proves popular—and whether to convert a download like a PDF into a more accessible format like HTML. 

4. Tracking Video Plays

Another key measurement of user engagement, this metric identifies both the number of users who watch your video content and where they stopped. Depending on the results, you can then tailor your future video content topics and their lengths to your audience’s established behavior. Google Tag Manager has quick setups to track views in HTML5YouTubeVimeo, or other players.

5. Observe Form Submission Habits

Through Google Tag Manager, you can track how often a form is viewed and then contrast that number with completion rates. Depending on the data, you can monitor the differing response rates for radio buttons, drop-down menus, or open fields in gathering input.

In some instances, you may be asking your users to share information on a form but find there’s a threshold where you are either asking for too much information and they don’t feel comfortable providing it, or the form is too time-consuming to complete. With Google Tag Manager’s insights, you can observe where users abandon a form and adjust its design accordingly.

6. Navigation and Call-to-Action Button Clicks

A vital tool for evaluating your website design, this metric observes how users interact with your navigation through using CSS Selectors to track clicks within Google Tag Manager. You can also analyze the CTAs across the site and determine which pages and their placement within the page draw the most responses.

7. Cross-Domain Tracking

Many universities, professional associations, and businesses maintain more than one website. By implementing cross-domain tracking, you will be able to observe your visitors’ behavior as they travel from one website to another. You can even do this if you are using third-party platforms, such as e-commerce shopping carts, blog sites, or your YouTube channel.  

8. Monitor Page Element Visibility

You may have unique feature or special content on your website and want to know how often visitors are either viewing or reading it. By enabling page element visibility, your organization can track when and for how long that element is visible in the visitor’s browser window. This can provide you with an understanding of the value this content is providing to your audience. 

9. Evaluate Scroll Depth and Time Spent on Page

Another valuable way to measure website engagement, these metrics both evaluate content engagement. If a user stays on a page for an extended period of time and also ventures all the way to the bottom of the page, you can reasonably infer they are reading that page’s content in full.

10. Measure Site Search Habits

The benefits from tracking search habits on your website are twofold: One, you can gain a sense of your users’ interests when they come to your site. And two, you can determine how successful your site layout and navigation have been in guiding them there.

These results can help you evaluate whether your content’s keywords match with the search terms your visitors are using. If your audience isn’t finding enough results, search habits fuels new ideas for content development.

Customize Google Analytics to Suit Your Business Needs

Google Analytics is not an out-of-the-box solution. It needs to be customized to suit your business goals and objectives. These 10 metrics offer crucial user insights, but they’re only the beginning of what’s available to explore.

With the knowledge of what drives customer habits, your organization can then ask a new set of questions. From there, you can take your business to another level.