Saturday, January 26, 2008

Improving your blog with Analytics Goals

People come to blogs to read actual content, watch videos, or check out images but that's not all they do. Blogs aren't structured the same way as other sites, especially blogs hosted on a system like Blogger. How do you measure user interactions on your site beyond basic Analytics reports? With Analytics goals of course.

Setting up goals enable you to report on the actions users attempt to take when they visit your blog and see where they are running into problems. You can create goals for many things on your blog including:

  • Leaving comments
  • Subscribing to feeds
  • Making purchases
  • Taking a survey or poll
  • Visiting a particular post or archive section
  • Multi-step widget interaction
In the book we go through an example of tracking users who create their own widgets of our site feed to place on their own site. I worked through many different examples. Whatever you pick for your first goal it should be a measurable task with a definite beginning and end. Start simple - If I wanted to track how many people visited my book page on Packt after clicking a link on this blog I could do that. Hey, that's a nice example! Let's work through this scenario step-by-step.

Mapping out the user path to your goal
First, you pick an action the user will take as their first step. Usually for a product sale it would be a checkout cart page. Then you make a note of all the other steps, if any between that page and the goal page, usually a "thank you for your purchase" page.

Preparing to set up your goal
When you login to Analytics and click on the profile for your blog, you can add up to four goals per profile. Why would you need that many? If it's a really long process, with over 10 intermediate pages, you're going to need to break up the big goal into multiple goals. Each goal under a profile is identified by a letter and number combination. The first goal will be G1. Click the link to create a new goal and you're taken to a special form page to setup the first goal.

Matching up Match types with your Goal URL
Here's where the fun starts. There are three different types of URL situations Analytics currently recognizes, called Match types. If the thank you page is a static URL, you would pick Exact match. There can be no dynamic queries or session ids used on an Exact match goal URL. A page with a session id or other dynamic identifier on the end of it belongs in the Head type, since only the end of the URL is different. The last and most versatile match type is the Regular Expression type. And just to add to the fun, you can use regular expressions with any of the other types. The regular expression type is for those times when you have multiple sub domains all with the same final page in their URL like : and

Adding the Goal URL
After you have selected the match type, enter the goal URL into the, you guessed it Goal URL box. You should also have named your goal something unique, like "Visited Packt Book page" or "Bought Blogger Beefed Up". Don't go naming it "Mary" or "Made Purchase". Remember, you'll probably be adding other goals in the future. You wouldn't name all your children or dogs the same would you? No harm meant Mr. George Foreman. Sir.

Time out for Regular Expressions
In the book I go into detail about regular expressions and how they make your life easier. If you've taken any higher math classes or programming classes you know variables can hold the place of other things. Regular expressions at the simplest level can act as placeholders. They also make things happen, which is where people get scared. It's simple really. Say you have a URL like, oh "". If you select the Head match type, you only have to enter "^/post-create.g\?" without the quotation marks in the Goal URL box. Cool, huh? Less typing, more flexibility.

Funneling users step by step
Remember all those URLs for each step you saved up? Now it's time to enter one of them into each step field, in order. For example, the first step in a user ordering my book through Packt would be adding the book to their cart, so I would enter the URL of the cart page "". When you are done, click the Finish button.

Waiting for Goal results
Now comes the hardest part: waiting for results. If you get no results on the Goals section of the Reports page after a week, go back and click edit to double check your setup. If you get lots and lots of results, and users aren't making it to the goal page, you have a problem. Example the funner results to see if there is any way you can make it easier for your visitors.

Have suggestions for creating more effective goals in Analytics? Am I just plain wrong? Did something not work? Let me know with a comment or an email. Next Friday I'll did deeper into Regular Expressions, and how to have fun with them. No, really.

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