Analytics & Digital Marketing Tips

Google Analytics Premium Feature Tour: 50 Custom Variables

Google Analytics Premium Feature Tour: 50 Custom Variables

October 4, 2011           Analytics, Google Analytics

In Google Analytics Premium, the number of custom variables that are available has been dramatically increased from 5 (in Google Analytics Standard) to 50!  We’ve helped many clients using custom variables, to both;

  • increase the depth of data that can be collected
  • and to enhance the capabilities of segmentation in GA.

On many sites, it is consistently a struggle to keep inside the 5 custom variable limit.

The GA Premium 50 custom variable increase opens the door to richer data analysis possibilities that will help you better target, optimize, and convert your visitors.

Code Requirements

Once you are on the Google Analytics Premium platform, you can begin using up to 50 custom variables via the same code you would currently use.  And instead of being capped at 5 custom variables, you can now go up to 50.  For example, to track a visitor-level custom variable in slot #42 (the answer to life) for when a member logs into your site and they are on your platinum service-level plan, you can fire the following code:

_gaq.push([‘_setCustomVar’, 42, ‘member-type’, ‘platinum’, 1]);

Extended Custom Variable Usage

There are two methods to leverage the custom variables in slots 1-50 in Google Analytics Premium reports.

Custom Reports

When you are creating a custom report in Google Analytics Premium, using the interactive report builder, you can reference custom variable keys (names) and values in any of the 50 slots.  Another great feature is that you can leverage the Custom Report Filter setting to filter based on the name/values of any custom variable.

Custom Reports 50 Custom Variables

Advanced Segments

You can very easily create an advanced segment in Google Analytics that leverages the above mentioned custom variable #42.  After you’ve created this advanced segment, it will then be saved for future usage and it can be applied to both standard and custom reports that you’ve created.

Advanced Segments 50 Custom Variables

Custom Variable Architecture & Planning

As you add additional custom variable slot usage to your website, you’ll want to develop a slot matrix that lists what custom variables are in place, a description, and the scope (visitor, session, or page-level).
Custom Variable Slot Matrix

With proper planning, you’ll have a clear guide to expand to additional Custom Variables as needed and you are less likely to run into an issue where you overwrite the value of a variable.

Examples of Custom Variable Usage

Page-level

  • Page Type (member / guest) OR any other page attributes
  • Page Category/Section

Session-level

  • Member Signed Up
  • Member Upgraded Existing Account

Visitor-level

  • Member Level
  • Newsletter Subscriber

The above are 6 common, real-world examples of using custom variables.  Previously, 5 CVs were not enough, so we’re glad to have the ability of using up to 50 custom variables now!

Helpful Tip: Instead of using session-level custom variables, you can often just use event tracking and leverage it to create advanced segments.  This may save you a slot.  You should be careful though of firing both a pageview and event tracking when a page loads (especially if that is a potential landing page) because it will affect your bounce rate and other metrics.  UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments by Analytics Ninja, events are hit-level data and more closely align with page-level custom vars.  Due to the way that advanced segments work in GA (targets the entire session), you can use them in advanced segments to segment against all sessions that contained a specific _trackEvent call.

More Info on Extended Custom Variable Usage

For more information on Extended Custom Variable usage and considerations, view Google’s help article.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments about this new feature in Google Analytics Premium.

 

  • Joe – Nice post. Having 50 custom variables definitely opens up a ton of exciting possibilities.

    Is it correct that the 45 extra vars aren’t available in the API yet (i.e. at the time of this post)?

    Re: Substituting events for session level custom vars — Events are hit level data, as such they are much more similar to a page level custom var (almost the same thing) not a session level var.  While it is true the GA sessionizes all hit level data in advanced segments, likening _trackEvent to session level vars is inaccurate.  

    Of course, all implementation considerations will differ from case to case.

  • That is correct.  The API does not yet support var 6-50. You must use custom reports or advanced segments to leverage data in these slots.

    Great point about _trackEvent not really being a session-level variable.  I’ve noted this in the post.  We just tend to use them as such due to how advanced segments in GA work.

    Thanks!

  • Peter O’Neill

    Hi Joe,

    I was sent your way by Kayden.  You have made some excellent points although as I replied to Kayden, I think the challenge for companies is to make sense & use the data they already have rather than capture more details.  But let an analyst loose on a business requirements sheet (or ask a team to list everything they might want to know) and all 50 custom variables will definitely get used – there are never enough custom variables in SiteCat and I think they offer 150+.

    You have made a great point regarding the need for a Slot Matrix to record Custom Variables that have been implemented.  I have created one previously that also includes sections for Events, Filters and Profiles.  Agree on the tip for using events instead of Visit CVs, I do the exact same thing.

    Cheers

    Peter

  • Hi Peter,

    Thank you; I completely agree.  There should be KPIs behind the usage of custom variables.  Just collecting every piece of data and puking that data provides little value.

    Thanks,
    Joe

  • Hi Peter,

    Agreed. We are at such an early point in the overall maturity of analytics and need to start with the basics with many organizations. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Regards,
    Kayden

  • Hi Peter,

    Agreed. We are at such an early point in the overall maturity of
    analytics and need to start with the basics with many organizations.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Regards,
    Kayden

 

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