June 22, 2020

Google Analytics for E-commerce

Steven Toews

We’d strongly suggest every e-commerce store owner become familiar with Google Analytics at some point. Even if you use another piece of software as a substitute for, or to interpret, Google Analytics, there’s a good chance that you could find tremendous utility in this versatile, powerful, and (usually) free product.

The purpose of this article isn’t to get you fully up to speed on everything that Google Analytics can do. We would need far more space than we’ve allotted here to do that. Instead, we hope to provide a brief overview of what Google Analytics is for those who are unfamiliar with the product. We’ll also point out some great features of the software that every e-commerce site owner should be aware of.

Continue reading below to learn what Google Analytics is, what it’s used for, and some of its best features.

Overview

Google Analytics is, arguably, the web’s leading suite of data analytics tools. Google is pretty tight-lipped about how many people use its Analytics service, but the data we have suggests that it’s hugely popular.

Much of that is likely due to its attractive price tag (it’s free for most users) but not all of its popularity can be chalked up to its lack of upfront cost. In terms of sheer versatility, not much compares to Google Analytics. And when you add the fact that it integrates with the Google Search Console, you’ve got a formidable analytics suite on your hands.

So, what does it do? Basically, Google Analytics records all the traffic flowing into and out of your website. It also tracks what your visitors do while they’re on your website. Think of it like a turnstile at a free library, if that turnstile also tracked every move you made inside the building.

As creepy as some people find the idea, there is very little that escapes the attention of a properly configured Google Analytics account. Landing pages, link clicks, exit pages, searches, and form entries are just a tiny fraction of the events that Google Analytics can capture.

Configuration

We mentioned the phrase “properly configured” in the previous paragraph. By that, we meant that while Google Analytics will work, to a point, fresh out of the box, it will take quite a bit of work and configuration to unlock its true potential.

A guide to configuring Google Analytics for e-commerce websites is beyond the scope of this article. We would, however, strongly recommend that you consider taking the courses offered by Google in its Analytics Academy. It offers courses for beginners, advanced users, and power users.

Great Features

As we’ve previously mentioned in this space, Google Analytics has more features than you can shake a digital stick at. It’s almost infinitely versatile. But there are a few features that stand out. You may wish to make special note of them as you go about learning

E-commerce Data

No article on Google Analytics for e-commerce would be complete without mentioning the truly awesome utility found in Google Analytics’ E-commerce features.

Found in the Conversions section on the Google Analytics menu, E-commerce features allow you to track product and sales performance over time and segmented by any user attribute you could possibly want. So, for example, if you wished to see how Product A performed with women between the ages of 25 and 34, you could easily call up a report to answer that question.

The E-commerce section of Google Analytics also offers a tremendous feature called Time to Purchase. Here, you can see how long it took your customers to actually buy a product. If you find surprisingly large numbers here you may wish to consider optimizing the purchase experience on your website.

Goals

Goals are custom objectives you set within Google Analytics. For example, if one of your business goals was to have people subscribe to your blog, you would create a “Thank you for signing up” page to which users are directed after they click Subscribe. You can then set up Google Analytics to track visitors to that page and to calculate the proportion of your users who subscribed.

Goals can be multi-stage constructs. If you find that your visitors tend to follow particular steps before they complete a purchase, you can set up your goals in Google Analytics to calculate the conversion rates at each stage in the funnel.

Audience – Interests/Demographics

Google will track both the demographics and psychographics of the people who visit your website and create reports for you based on that data. So, for example, if you’d like to know what percentage of your users are Avid News Readers or how many are men between the ages of 45 and 54, Google will tell you.

Importantly, you can also segment your sales and product data by these characteristics. This will tell you if your e-commerce is particularly successful or unsuccessful with certain groups.

Behavior – Flow

As important as the ultimate decisions that visitors to your website make are the dozens of little choices they make as they navigate around your pages. In other words, the paths that people follow while on your site can be just as important as their final destination.

Behavior Flow is an incredibly neat visualization that allows you to see how people landed on your page, where they went after the landing page, and how they eventually left the website. You can segment the flow based on virtually any demographic or technological factor you can think of. This allows you to look for anomalies that might suggest problems or uncover what’s working well for particular users.

What You Need To Use Google Analytics for E-commerce

It’s not enough to jump on Google Analytics, start messing with its features, and taking random decisions based on half-baked data. That scattershot approach won’t get you or your e-commerce business very far. This analytics platform (indeed, any analytics platform) calls for a systematic and orderly approach.

Some Basic Statistical Knowledge

You’ll need to know some statistical fundamentals. You don’t have to run out and start buying math textbooks, but understanding the basics about statistical features, statistical significance, sample sizes, and how to use statistical data would be enormously useful if you plan to put Google Analytics data to work.

A Business Strategy

You’ll need a clear strategy regarding where you want your business to go and how you want to get there. Your strategy will determine the kinds of data you focus on and the sorts of decisions you make.

If you’re wondering why you need a strategy before you collect the data, it’s because the data will only help you answer the little questions. The big, strategic questions can’t be answered by Google Analytics, no matter how minutely you parse the data.

For example, let’s say you learn from Google Analytics that your products are much more popular with women aged 25-34 than men in the same age bracket. That’s all well and good, but how do you use that information? Can you even use it? The answers to those questions depend on your strategic outlook.

If you’d previously determined that you intend to focus on developing a following among young women, then those data might be encouraging. If your strategy doesn’t depend on targeting a specific demographic, then the data might be quite irrelevant.

An Analytics Professional

While you might be able to get away with winging it for a while, if you hope to truly harness the power of Google Analytics for e-commerce you will probably need to hire or train an expert. The software suite is simply too complex and versatile to be fully effective in the hands of an amateur.

The data that you pull from Google Analytics is just a collection of numbers. It isn’t until you turn an expert loose on those numbers that you can begin to glean actionable insights from the data. You might be hesitant to spend the money on a qualified consultant but, truthfully, trying to improvise your way through an analytics strategy is a recipe for underwhelming results.

Final Thoughts

If you’re just starting out with it, Google Analytics for e-commerce can be a revelatory discovery for your business. The level of detail and segmentation the platform offers is spectacular. An unfortunate side of this powerful suite of software is that many people simply don’t put it to proper use. They have the data, but then don’t take the steps necessary to convert it into insights they can act upon.

Developing some clear strategic goals for your business, understanding the foundational concepts of statistics, and hiring an expert in data analysis will allow you to unlock the potential of Google Analytics in a way that dabbling in the platform never will.

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