If you’re pulled over by a police officer for speeding, do you think it might matter whether or not you were driving through a school zone filled with kids, or whether you were driving on the Interstate? Having the whole story when it comes to judging a situation is critical, whether you’re talking about speeding with a car, or evaluating your website performance.
Google Analytics remains the single most popular — and yes, the most powerful — tool at your disposal to get the whole story when it comes to who is visiting your website, how many people are visiting your site, and all sorts of other metrics and data. There are a lot of ways to use Google Analytics, most of which we’ve covered in the MUO Google Analytics Guide . Not long ago, I’ve also showed you how to create an automated Google Analytics spreadsheet report, how to create automated website analytics reports , and Israel recently showed you a really cool way to produce an Infographics report from your Analytics data .
If you’ve read the Analytics Guide, then you know that the area where you will start spending a lot of time when you want to really dig into your web traffic data is the “Customization” section, where you can create new custom reports.
Creating Custom Reports With Filtering
A custom report allows you to choose metric and dimension combinations that display traffic data to you in many creative ways. While an entire book could be written about what different metric and dimension combinations will show you about your web traffic, the most powerful part of the customized report section of Analytics is the ability to add filters to the data that you’re searching for.
Typically, the filter is optional — but if you’re serious about pulling really useful information out of your traffic data, it’s critical. The filter lets you “Include” or “Exclude” data, and it lets you choose between exact matches or “regex” or regular expression matches. Regex is especially useful because you can use it to find text pattern matches, rather than full text matches. For example, if you search the Page Title dimension for “Good Times”, then it’ll return data for any title with “Good Times” in the title string.
In the example above, I’m searching for traffic data of all titles on my website that have “Illuminati” or “New World Order” in the title.
Pro tip: The “|” character is the “OR” operator that lets you search for multiple text pattern matches.
As you can see, the results in my list reflect tiles with one or the other of the text patterns in them. You can also use the “AND” operator by just adding on additional filters under the “and” text under the filter.
Traffic Data From Specific Sources
Another useful filter that can be used to see the historic trend of traffic coming from specific websites is using the “Source” dimension. For example, I know I receive traffic every month from beforeitsnews.com. To track the traffic that I’ve received from that site over time, I change the dimension filter to “Source” and then type “beforeitsnews.com”.
This will show you the overall trend over the time frame that you’ve selected, and it’ll also show you the titles that are receiving the most traffic from that particular referral source.
The ability to see specific source traffic is really useful when you are gauging the value of any sponsored ads or links that you’ve posted on other websites, or to determine whether any syndication partnerships you’ve created are really effective enough.
Learning More About Your Readers
You can also use the filter to learn about where your readers are coming from, as well as their specific interests in your site. However, before you can learn more about your own readers, you need to be able to see what percentage of your traffic actually comes from readers, and not from your own team’s constant connections to the website to edit pages or do other website work. A great way to accomplish this is to filter out any traffic that comes from your known network domain.
For example, since I know my own ISP is metrocast.net, I can filter out “Exclude” all traffic from the traffic report for visits from that Network Domain.
Usually this shouldn’t amount to much, but if you or your team is doing a lot of work on a section of the website, your own visits can actually do a lot to skew the actual numbers, so it’s always advisable to filter it out.
There are many filter combinations you can use to learn about your readers and what they like to read on your site. For instance, if I want to see how many readers from India are interested in my blog’s articles that discuss the Illuminati. Such a filter would look like the one below.
The results will show me which titles have traffic from India, how many visitors came to the blog from India, and a historical trend of that interest.
You would be very surprised to see how unique the interests are depending on what geographical region the traffic is coming from. This is a great way to gauge the proportion of interest from different parts of the world and help gear your content towards the readership that you want to build.
Identifying Traffic Trends
Another fantastic use for the custom filter is to focus in on very specific traffic details that you want to analyze. You can get pretty creative with this. For example, let’s say you want to check out how many new visitors visit your About page every weekday, excluding Saturday and Sunday. Sounds pretty specific right? It’s not a problem when you use the Analytics filter.
In this case you’ll use three filters with AND logic between then, and OR logic between the days.
You can filter the “/about/” section of the URL by choosing the “Page” dimension. Filter Monday through Friday by choosing the Day of the Week dimension and typing “1|2|3|4|5”. Monday is “1” and Friday is “5”. Finally, you can “Include” only new visitors by choosing the “Visitor Type” dimension and typing “New Visitor”.
The results showed me that most of the traffic from new visitors on my About page showed up on Monday through Thursday, and not so much on Friday.
As you can see, you can get pretty creative with the logic of these filters, and all you have to do to discover that data is just play around with combining different dimensions in your search. You may even surprise yourself with the info you turn up about your readers and what they like to read on your website. So have a ball and get creative — start digging through that data!