Google Analytics is easily the most popular web analytics package available. It is free, easy to set up and offers a lot of functionality by default. It isn't perfect and like most other tools it comes with a number of limitations such as sessions and how it samples data on high traffic sites. However this does not diminish its value for most users, and on the whole it is a very solid product.
Without any real effort Google Analytics can show you where your traffic is coming from, what page they are arriving on and what content on your site is attracting the most attention. There are a number of ways to get more out of Google Analytics. A number of the tools and features such as event tracking, the ability to set user defined values for profiles and Multi-channel funnels can be very powerful. There are a few things that can help you get the most of these. In fact I would say that there is really only one, Regular Expressions.
When searching or creating filters "Matching RegEx" can be the most flexible and useful of the options available. Creating queries that can match to parts of string can be useful for filtering through referring URLs for specific parameters by matching to specific parts of the string. For example, the query "2012.*page/[3-4]" would match to "2012/02/page/4" but not "/category/NAME/page/4/", "2011/05/page/4" or "2012/01/page/1".
Heavy parametrised URLs such as some kinds of dynamic content and some other forms of search page referrers are some strings where regular expressions can be useful. Grouping or classifying keywords is another use and can make it easy to group things such as misspelled brand terms into one easy to manage query such as "Brand|Rband|Bra nd".
Getting more from Google Analytics' Tools
Aside from adhoc searches, multi-channel funnels, filters and user defined variables are some of the tools where "Matching RegEx" can really make a difference. There are a number of interesting things you can do with filters to extract information from referring URLs to be presented in existing traffic reports. Search engine referring URLs are prime candidates for this.
The ability to create flexible and sophisticated queries for creating rules to catch all common brand variant spellings, or even specific campaign terms. It can accomplish the same thing with referring affiliate or campaign link URLs. For many mature sites with a history of a lot of marketing activity, this can often be the only way to create usable multi-channel funnels.
Regular expresssions are all but essential to getting the most out of Google Analytics. There are a lot of tools and information available to get you started, and Google even has a short guide available in their Google Analytics help section.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Use Google Analytics to Develop Social Media Strategy
Anthony works as an SEM Manager in the tourism and travel industry. Most of his free time is lost to creating comics about the digital industry, writing blog posts and drinking coffee.