Google Analytics is a powerful tool that can help online merchants understand how their online storefronts are performing over time and across a variety of customer segments.
Considering its near-universal adoption, most merchants would probably agree that a basic understanding of Google Analytics is table stakes in modern-day eCommerce – however, despite considerable efforts to streamline the platform, Google Analytics can still feel like a clunky mess of conflated metrics and disconnected data.
In this article, we’re breaking down our favorite Google Analytics eCommerce reports in an effort to help you understand some of the ways to reliably gauge the performance of your online store. With this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions about your product marketing and channel development strategies, which can help you better capitalize on your web traffic and ultimately boost e-Commerce sales.
Data quality and fidelity are the first big challenges that any eCommerce business analyst will face. As a Google Analytics account administrator, it’s important to ensure that you’ve properly set up your GA property, installed your tag(s), defined your filters, created segments, and separated your views/profiles.
Often, solutions that are designed to streamline this process (e.g., tag managers, plugins) can inadvertently add layers of complexity that leave room for implementation errors. Further, while many of these have straightforward fixes, it can be difficult to gather historical data or mathematically fill gaps in the data when the implementation is incorrect.
Data is like garbage. You’d better know what you’re going to do with it before you collect it.
– Mark Twain
If you’re completely new to Google Analytics eCommerce tracking, we’d suggest that you check out Google’s documentation on how to set up eCommerce tracking. Note that eCommerce features and site search tracking are disabled by default in Google Analytics – be sure to enable these features in the administrator settings if you intend on capturing transactional or search data.
Linking Google Ads
If you use Google Ads for search, display, retargeting, or product listing ads (PLAs), it’s recommended that you consider integrating the two platforms. According to Google, linking these platforms allows you to:
- View ad and site performance data directly in Google Analytics.
- Set up more complex goal tracking.
- Enhance your retargeting and dynamic retargeting ads with Google Analytics data.
- Get detailed data in your multi-channel funnel reports.
If you haven’t linked these platforms, do so by following Google’s guide to link Google Ads and Analytics. On the Google Ads platform, be sure to select a tagging method that best fits your particular use case – for most retailers, auto-tagging is recommended; otherwise, use a URL builder to manually tag your keyword final URLs with any custom variables you intend to capture (e.g., tracking variables for other demand-side platforms).
You can quickly validate your implementation and data capture by checking and cross-referencing your Google Analytics eCommerce reports with your shopping cart and/or order management system data. Ensure that conversions are correctly attributed (e.g., not attributed to referral or direct traffic) and match transactions between Google Analytics, your eCommerce platform or cart, and/or Google Ads.
Once eCommerce tracking is set up, platforms like Shopify will pass transactional data into Google Analytics. This enables reports such as:
- Product Performance: The products purchased, including UPT (Avg. QTY), price, product revenue, and shopping behavior.
- Sales Performance: This includes transactions, revenue, shipping, tax, and quantity.
- Shopping Behavior / Shopping Activity: Flow analysis that includes sessions, product views, add-to-cart, checkout, and transactions.
These reports are nested under Conversions and allow you to view these metrics by different dimensions such as location, device, and time. Some of the more common report configurations are period over period comparisons by device type and region, marketing channel (e.g., paid and organic), and visitor type (e.g., new or returning).
Google Analytics also enables eCommerce reports that go beyond the basic metrics. This includes the shopping behavior analysis (shown above), which allows merchants to view session data in the checkout flow to identify potential drop-off points.
If your eCommerce site has a search feature, visitors are likely using it – especially if you have a large product catalog. By enabling site search tracking in Google Analytics, you can view customer search queries and pinpoint products that may be popular but difficult to find.
In order to view search terms, enable site search tracking in Google Analytics and indicate your search query parameter. For example, if a user searched for “hoodie” in our shop, the URL returned would look like the screenshot below. In this case, the search parameter is the letter q, which is preceded by either a question mark or an ampersand and followed by an equals symbol.
The most common use cases for site search reports includes identifying popular products to feature, potential UX issues (where users cannot find the products they’re looking for), and to inform advertising (e.g., to bid on search terms in ad platforms).
Because Google Analytics often offers a deeper level of insight than made available through demand-side advertising platforms, it’s a great place to measure the performance of your marketing campaigns. For example, you can create custom segments that contain a variety of filters and compare these to other segments (or overall traffic excluding that segment) to determine whether to introduce new targeting criteria in your campaigns. This may help you to optimize your marketing performance by including or excluding customer profiles that match certain criteria which may otherwise be unavailable in platforms like Google Ads.
At times, Google Analytics can seem too complicated and opaque a platform for practical daily use by small online retailers. As a result, many retailers choose instead to refer to the dashboards available within their eCommerce cart. However, with a basic understanding of the eCommerce reports available through Google Analytics, you can get an enhanced view of your product and site performance and use those data to help inform your future advertising, site design, and product marketing strategies.