1 year later, we still love Custom Variables

One year ago today, Jim and I helped Google Analytics roll out a new feature that hugely expands analysts’ ability to segment all kinds of visitor-level data.  Since then, we’ve included Custom Variables in almost every web analytics engagement, so we’ll detail some of the most creative applications below.

Custom Variables brought the free GA tool’s segmentation power up to and beyond that of its premium competitors, some of whom are still catching up.  We remain honored to be the first Google Analytics Certified Partner to join the GA product team on a webinar, which was viewed live by hundreds and watched on YouTube 10,000+ times:

Check out the YouTube video of our March 24 webinar with Google Analytics about custom variables and how we deployed this advanced technique to enhance Business Insider’s metrics:

Our section begins at 30:00 and doesn’t suffer as much from the sound quality issues that commenters pointed out.  That said, if you’d like a readable copy of our portion of the PowerPoint, or an interpretation of what we’re saying, please contact us.

 What can this feature do for you?  As the Google Analytics Blog explains:

“Custom variables are one of the most powerful features in Google Analytics. With them you can segment traffic by almost any attribute. For example, you could compare traffic from first-time customers versus repeat buyers. Or, if you run a content-oriented site, you could see which authors produce the most traffic.”

We’ve proposed and/or implemented dozens of uses for custom variables to Google Analytics clients (and for the very similar “props” to Omniture SiteCatalyst users).  For example:

  • For a software commerce site, recording trial usage at the visitor level, so later upgrades are attributed to the correct trial in web analytics reporting
  • For a university site, assigning audience segment at the session level based on landing page, so visitation and conversion are known for each segment
  • For a fitness commerce site, remembering cart abandonment at the visitor level, so checkout experience can be improved to boost subsequent purchases
  • For a magazine site, capturing the last premium article viewed prior to subscription at the session level, so that content driving orders can be promoted
  • For a fitness commerce site, recording answers to a post-purchase survey at the session level, so offline and demographic attributes can be linked to revenue
  • For a content site, tracking registration status at the visitor level and sign-in status at the session level, so that these audiences can be analyzed separately
  • For a furniture commerce site, noting prior purchaser status at the visitor level and sign-in status at the session level, so that these audiences can be analyzed separately
  • For a travel site, grabbing internal promotions seen or clicked at the session level, so that these house ads can be optimized
  • For a health commerce site, clocking time of day at the session level, so that offline marketing can be concentrated in the best dayparts
  • And as we detail in the webinar, for a financial news site, tracking template and content section at the page level so visitation and engagement can be boosted for each

These are the kind of attributes that usually aren’t captured in URLs and so aren’t visible to web analytics software out of the box.  Sometimes CRM systems track such visitor-level data, but cannot link it to marketing channels and revenue to provide meaningful recommendations.  That’s where we come in.

Empirical Path will “review and recommend content and audience segmentation” as part of our Standard and Advanced Web Analytics Audit, a fixed-fee offering that kicks off most engagements.  Contact us to learn more.

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