Forensic web analytics using GA

In my role as a customer intelligence team leader on a major portal website, I often find myself needing to provide detailed accounts of individual user interactions to help understand a negative user experience or journey. I have coined the term “forensic web analytics” to describe this technique.

If you are a regular and in-depth user of Google Analytics you will no doubt already realise that the data in GA is largely de-identified – ie, it’s very hard to pick out a particular visitor to your website and analyse what happened for them. But it can be done and I’m going to show you how to do it.

Our portal site has a customer feedback form that can be launched from any web page. As well as capturing the data the customer provides, it also automatically captures some session data like the page it was launched from, the referring page, the visitor’s location, date/time, browser version, operation system version, screen size and color settings. This is not rocket science as it’s all available from the browser header when a form is submitted. Submitting the form also fires an event in Google Analytics that tells us a feedback form was submitted.

So armed with this knowlege, we can set about isolating the particular visitor from the 2000 or so other visitors who came to our site on that particular day.

Creating a visitor-specific segment

The first step is to try to isolate the individual visitor using the extra data captured when the form is submitted. To do this, we use “Advanced Segments”. The screenshot below shows an advanced segment aimed at targeting a specific user based on data from the browser header.

An advanced segment for forensic analytics

Creating an advanced segment for forensic analytics

Testing the visitor-specific segment

This segment needs to be used in conjunction with the date on which the form was submitted. So we use a single day date selection and this advanced segment, in the hope of seeing just one unique visitor in the Visitor Overview screen. If you are still seeing more than one visitor, you need to drill down further (which is why we capture the “feedback form” event).

Using event tracking for forensic analytics

Using event tracking for forensic analytics

Narrowing the search using the “feedback” event

You can also build this into your Advanced Segment to make the search even easier, especially if you are still seeing more than one unique visitor.

Creating a sub-segment for the feedback event

Creating a sub-segment for the feedback event

Visualising the customer experience

By this stage you should be down to a single website visitor. If not, you may need to look for some other signal that can isolate the visitor – such as time of day. Assuming you now have a single visitor, you can visualise the visitor’s journey on your website using Visitors Flow under the Audience menu in GA. If you don’t already use Visitors Flow, you should start using it as there’s an absolute goldmine of customer behavioural analysis to be gained from this feature of Google Analytics. So let’s look at the flow for our single visitor:

GA Visitor flow for a single website visitor

GA Visitor flow for a single website visitor

Using Visitor Flow we can see exactly where the visitor entered the website, which pages they visited during their visit and where they exited the website. Combine this with a search key phrase passed from Google and the customer’s own comments provided in the feedback form and have both visitor intent and visitor behaviour.

What do you think?

Can you see applications for this method in your business? How would you improve the process? We’re still in the experimental stage with this technique at the moment, so we’d love to hear your thoughts. Use the comments form below to share your thoughts and ideas.

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