When to use custom variables in Google Analytics

Article written by Claudiu Murariu

Rubik cube by kirtaph@flickerCustom variables make advanced web analytics possible and, when done right, can offer amazing insights on the behavior of your visitors. The concept behind custom variables is quite easy: when you know with high confidence that a user is part of a certain segment of traffic, you tag that user with a label that suits your interests.

Google Analytics changed the game of web analytics by making it accessible to everyone, but can it get you reports like the conversion rate of all the visitors that were once referred by a friend through a provided form on your website? What about the number of visitors that purchased on your website after downloading one of your whitepapers? No, it can’t, not out of the box. However, using custom variables and some little implementations on your website, the above reports are piece of cake.

What makes custom variables really good? It’s the fact that you can set them up to be persistent across sessions. So if a user downloads a pdf file today and comes and convert on your website next week, Google Analytics will be able to report that he is part of the segment of users who once downloaded a pdf. You will know his behavior across different visiting sessions.

How to start with custom variables

One starting point can be to tag the users that micro-convert on your website. Most of the times the micro conversions happen through a form and forms make custom variables really easy to implement.

Why micro-conversions? Because it already shows engagement from your visitors.

What to look for? How many of the people who micro-converted got to eventually macro-convert :) e.g. How many of the users who downloaded the trial came back to the website and bought it? How many days after? :) Yes, Google Analytics can give you this.

If the terms of micro conversions and macro conversions are still strangers to you, check out this great explanatory tutorial provided by Avinash Kaushik.

How to do it

Just forward to your dev team the following 2 resources and they’ll know how to continue from there:

Attention: Custom variables are addictive. Once you start using them, you won’t be able to stop   :)

Custom Variables, Part II: The Code

When to use custom variables in Google Analytics by