Understanding Google Analytics Custom Reports

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One of the major new enhancements in Google Analytics is a revamped custom reporting tool. While the core of custom reporting has stayed the same, there are some new bells-and-whistles that really make it more useful.

One of the major paradigm shifts of the new GA is the move to more customization. Just look at the new custom reports and the new dashboard. Google wants to move away from puking the standard reports and let us create our own report suits. I can live with that.

Why Use Custom Reports

Simply put, custom reports help you, the analyst, save time. Why bother using the standard GA reports when you can create a report that contains the exact information that you, or some other stakeholder, wants?

Remember that custom reports are build using Dimensions and Metrics. Dimensions are the attributes of your visitors and the visits they create (i.e. keyword, traffic source, etc.). Metrics are the actual data that is collected (things like revenue, conversion rate, visits, etc.)

So what custom reports should you create? That’s a really hard question to answer. Custom reports, are, well, CUSTOM. They’re specific to your business and your reporting needs.

Here’s one tip: focus on outcomes. What are the business objects you’re trying to analyze? Pull metrics like conversions or revenue into your custom reports to get some idea of how your business is doing. Then look at the metrics that support outcomes.

For more juicy information about custom reports you can read Avinash Kaushik’s excellent post about custom reports you should check it out. It will serve as a great roadmap for creating your own custom reports.

Now on to the changes!

Custom Report Filter

GA Custom Report Filters

The first thing you’ll notice about the new custom reports interface is the ability to apply a “sticky” filter to your custom report. This filter is actually the same as an the filter that appear at the top of each standard report.

I like this feature a lot. Many times someone will ask for a custom report that needs to be segmented or filtered.

Let’s look at a real life example. I often get requests from content owners for a report about their pages or sections of the site. Normally I would do this using the Site Content > Pages report with an in-report filter.

But now I can save a couple of steps by creating a custom report and applying a custom report filter. My buddy @sondra is really excited for this feature. She does a ton of content reporting.

Google Analytics Custom Report Filter

Different Dimensions Per Tab

Like the old version of custom reports you can still add multiple tabs of data. BUT, unlike the previous version you can change the dimensions on the different tabs! This is a huge advantage and truly makes custom reports customizable.

Now I can mix and match dimensions and metrics to create a custom report that has all the data I need.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I need to keep an eye on content performance, some marketing campaigns and various AJAX widgets on the site. I can now combine all of this data into a single report.

I can create one tab for site content and use a dimension like Page. I can create a second tab for marketing campaigns with a Dimension of Campaigns and I can create a third tab with The Event Category/Action/Label Dimension.

Multiple Tabs in GA Custom Reports

Another new part of the tabs is the ability to add Metric Groups. This makes it easy to add A LOT of metrics to a report BUT keep them organized. Each report tab can have it’s own set of Metrics groups. This provides an almost infinite way to jam all sorts of data into a report.

Data Type

Continuing down the custom report setup form you’ll notice the next big change: the data type. I’m excited about this feature. A normal custom report has a drill-down, or explorer, setup. You explore the data in your custom report by clicking on a row of data and drilling down.

For example, I might create a custom report that “nests” marketing media below city. To explore the data I would need to click on a city to view all of the marketing media.

But with a Flat Table all of the data is right there in one view. No more clicks!

All you need to do to create a Flat Table is choose “Flat Table” and select a couple of dimensions for your report.

GA Custom Report Flat Table Settings

And here’s what the data would look like:

Google Analytics Flat Table Report

This view is especially useful if you’re going to export your data for use in another tool, like Tableau.

[For all the nerds in the group, this is the same way that data comes through the API.]

There is one drawback to the Flat Table view; you can only use two dimensions in a Flat Table view of the data. But it’s a start!

To Be Continued

You may have noticed that there are a few things missing from the new Custom Reprots.

First, there is no longer the ability to share custom reports. While I don’t know their exact plans, I can pretty much guarantee that Google is not taking away this functionality. They’re probably just changing it.

Second, there is no longer a way to export a custom report in PDF format. In fact you can’t export ANY report in PDF format. Again, I think this is just a feature that will be upgraded soon. So stay tuned!

There you have it. MUCH more customizable reports in Google Analytics. How do you plan to use them to make your life easier?

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    1. says

      Custom Reports are brilliant, both in the old and the new interface.

      I actually only use ONE report 99% of the time inside Google Analytics. And that is a custom report mimicking the conversion funnel, segmentet into the different marketing channels/dimensions (source/medium). Whenever I need something more detailed I just customize that custom report and preview it.

      You’ve already touched all the nice custom report features in the new interface, and I agree with them. However there’s also (IMHO) a couple of absolute failures:

      – You can no longer preview a custom report while designing it. I really, REALLY use that a lot, so it would be a huge failure it that’s not in the final version.

      – When you want to select a metric in the designer, all metrics come in a huuuuuge alphabetically sorted list with no grouping at all! Are you kidding me? Took me a couple of minutes to locate the turnover e-commerce metric. Mostly because it is wrongly named “Revenue”, which I had forgotten. Imagine how this will feel for an analytics beginner.

      – The overall metrics is now moved above the graph. Which is annoying in some cases, as you usually want to compare your dimensions against these. The ability to turn off the graph would be nice.

      • says

        @Soren: You make some great points. I completely agree that putting all of the dimensions and metrics in a long, alphabetical list is a FAIL. Categories would be very helpful. Overall I think the changes are a big improvement and outweigh the annoyances. Let’s hope Google fixes these few pain points.

        @Anthony: Thanks, glad you like the blog!

    2. says

      Are these enhancements rolling out over time? My GA dashboard and custom reports look the same as the have for a long time. Am I being an idiot and missing something?

      • says

        Hey Aaron, you’re not being an idiot :) I think the new version of GA should be rolled out to everyone by mid-May. Or keep an eye on the official GA blog. They have been posting a link to an early-access signup form.



    3. says

      Good article! What metrics would i need to find out which OS/browser access which content? We want to see analyse the number of users who access the our site via mobile and what content they are actually looking at. Any ideas?

      • says

        Hi Kelly, I would use an Advanced segment based on the Mobile Dimension. This dimension categories a visit as coming from a mobile device. Once you apply that Advanced Segment use your Content reports to see what people are looking at.

        Great question!



    1. […] Custom Reporting is another feature of Google Analytics that allows users to quickly monitor their own site-specific metrics. The amount of information you will receive in your report is solely dependent upon the scope that you choose to implement. The advantage to Custom Reports is the ability to download the data you have them set to collect in an easily manageable tabular form, commonly referred to as a comma-separated value (CSV) file. Much has been written about how to implement custom reports and what to track using custom reports. To help save you some time weeding through all of them, here are a few links that I have found to be the most valuable: Google Analytics Help, Google Analytics Blog, Occam’s Razor, Search Engine Watch, and Analytics Talk. […]

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