Dance, Metrics, Dance! The New Powers of Google Analytics

As of a recent update, Google Analytics reminds me of the tool.  What tool?  The tool with the power.  What power? The power of calculated metrics, of course (what did you think I’d say, voodoo?). Combined with dimension widening, Google Analytics has really rounded out its capabilities, now even more able to solve any labyrinthine problems you may encounter.
Here’s what’s new -- and yes, prepare yourself for more 80s movie references.
You Had No Power Over Them (But Now You Do!)
Even though Google has provided ways to include custom metrics, any calculations on the metrics had to be performed outside of Google Analytics. Often, this limitation required users to pull raw data out into a spreadsheet, perform the calculation, and then re-visualize the data via some other mechanism.  Even as a technical consultant, I didn’t need a dream-revealing crystal to tell me my clients were itching for the convenience of performing the calculation within the reporting interface.
Fortunately, Google has come through with query-time Calculated Metrics. The “query-time” piece is especially delightful, as it means you can process calculations on all of your historical data. You are currently limited to 1024 characters in your formula, which means that even if you average 30 characters for a metric name and operator, you have room for 34 metrics to include in your calculation.  From what I can tell, you cannot use a calculated metric you just created within a calculated metric, but with so much breathing room, I can’t imagine you’d have to.
Path Straight to the Castle
You can find the interface for Calculated Metrics in your View column within the Admin page. See the screenshot below that highlights the correct door (you can trust me; I’m the one that doesn’t tell a lie):
From here, simply click “+ New Calculated Metric” at the top of the screen and you’re on your way to more in-depth analysis!
Avoiding the Oubliette
Before you get started, keep in mind that this is a beta feature, and like all beta features, it could potentially change before it officially releases. The following are a few additional limitations and notes to keep you from falling into any traps while you try to navigate the new functionality:
  • Standard accounts are allotted 5 calculated metrics per view, while Premium accounts are allotted 50
  • As previously mentioned, formula length cannot exceed 1024 characters
  • The minus operator cannot be used as a negative (so A-B works, but not -B+A)
  • Standard Metrics, Custom Metrics, and Constants can all be used in the Formula field
  • Calculated Metrics apply at query-time in Custom Reports, Custom Dashboard and Widgets, and Unsampled Reports
  • Valid operators include:

    • Plus
    • Minus
    • Divided By
    • Multiplied By
    • Parenthesis for grouping
    • Positive cardinal numbers, including decimals
For all of the latest and greatest, I’d recommend always using Google’s official support answers. For the latest calculated metrics information (as of the posting of this blog), click here.
Sound Like a Piece of Cake? How About Another Little Slice!
Along with calculated metrics, Google provides a piece of functionality that should be utilized more often: dimension widening via custom data imports. If you come from other tools, you might remember such classics as Translation Files from WebTrends, or SAINT classifications from SiteCatalyst. Although the functionality isn’t identical, custom data imports within Google Analytics provide the ability to take one piece of collected information and extend your reporting capabilities to a slew of other related pieces of information.
My favorite example is campaign information. With custom data imports, you can upload all of the information related to the ID of a campaign: creative, type, you name it. In the data import definition, you define all of the custom dimensions that associate with the columns in your imported CSV file. Once those dimensions are created and the import successfully completed, you can report on any of those custom dimensions just like you report on your other campaign information, even with historical data when you set up the import to work at query-time.
Google provides a helping hand to guide you further down that rabbit hole here
Onward, Ambrocious!
With this information in hand, I have no doubt you will be able to tailor your Google Analytics implementations to soar to even greater heights. I always strongly recommend tinkering and experimentation, especially with query-time configurations, as you can always make modifications and re-try them later.
And if you picked all of the (not so) cleverly disguised references out of this blog, bonus points for you!
Want more information on the latest features of Google Analytics? Contact us at
Image courtesy of Tri-Star Pictures / Lucasfilm
By Adam McArdell
About the Author:

Adam McArdell is a Senior Technical Consultant at Stratigent.

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