At Marketade, we strive to conduct research projects that positively impact our clients and their users. This is no easy task; a great deal of effort goes into identifying where to focus our research endeavors as well as how to define and measure success. While we continue to rely on qualitative techniques like usability testing and interviews, we also find value in tools that help us quantify the user experience, and track important metrics. Two tools that continue to prove their worth are Google Analytics (GA) and Google Tag Manager (GTM).
When used together, analytics tools like GA and GTM can provide a wealth of information about your site’s visitors and their behavior. They won’t replace qualitative testing or tell you why users interact with your site the way they do, but they can tell your what users are doing and how they behave on your site outside of testing environments. This info can be a great help when you’re looking to identify potential UX problems or validate your design decisions.
Specifically, website analytic tools like GA and GTM allow you to track information about your site’s visitors (GA), and add “tags” to your site that collect data under specific conditions (GTM). The two play well together, and any tags you create in GTM are captured as events in GA. For example, one of our clients wanted to know how many users were clicking on the “related articles” links on their content pages. We set up a tag that fires any time one of these links are clicked. Now any time the client wants to know how many users clicked one of those links they can go into Google Analytics, specify the time frame, and GA will report the total number back. They can even break the data down on an article-by-article basis!
Here are a few of the things you can track when you use GA and GTM together, and how they might be useful to you or your clients:
Clicks. This is probably one of the most common – not to mention most useful – things you can track, and is useful info for nearly any research project.
We use click events for everything from testing alternative CTA copy to measuring homepage carousel engagement. This type of data is great for both identifying problem areas to consider for research (e.g., why is the total % of users clicking on this CTA so low?) and validating design decisions (e.g., after changing the homepage layout, clicks on our primary CTA are up 42%).
Form data. This includes total views, number of submissions and abandonments, and even field-level engagement. If you’re not using a specific tool for tracking form usage, GTM can provide you with a fairly detailed set of information that flows directly into GA.
While some of these items are easier to track than others, there are a lot of great resources out there that can help you get this type of form tracking up and running. One resource that I consistently refer to is Simo Ahava’s guide to tracking form engagement with Google Tag Manager.
Form engagement is critical to the success of many online businesses. By tracking submissions, views, abandonments, and engagement, you can begin to form hypotheses about why users are leaving your form without submitting it, which can be tested via A/B or usability testing.
Site search usage and terms. With a small amount of setup, Google Analytics allows you to track search usage and user search terms automatically. For clients where site search is a crucial part of the user experience, we continually find ourselves referring to search data to develop research or content ideas. For example, we recently evaluated site search data of one of our clients in the vacation industry, identifying the top 15 terms that users searched for on the site. Using this data, we were able to identify content gaps and make recommendations regarding what content areas they should prioritize for upcoming articles and blog posts
This data is also useful for knowing how well site search functionality works for users. In one instance, we observed that site search users were significantly less likely to convert than users who primarily used the site’s navigation menu. After some qualitative testing, we identified some usability issues with the the site’s search functionality and worked with the client to implement changes that improved the user experience, including suggested search terms and improved search algorithms. A few months after the changes were implemented, we were able to show a significant improvement in conversions for search users when compared to the months leading up to the changes.
User journeys. Mapping user journeys and identifying problems along the way is critical for any website. Out of the box, Google Analytics provides you with user flows that you can use to see where drop-offs occur along any route through your site – a great way to spot pages with potential usability issues. You can even group pages together and compare how different sections of your site compare to one another.
Page scrolling. If you’ve worked in the UX field for any period of time, you’ve probably been involved in discussions involving how far users scroll down a page and how to prioritize page element placement based on that info. With the right tags implemented in Google Tag Manager, you can begin capturing scroll data for all of your site’s users, which is great to have when making the case for your design decisions.
In addition, this data is helpful for identifying potential usability issues. For example, say the data shows that less than 30% of your users scroll past the 25% mark on the page. This might be by design, for example on pages where your primary CTA is situated in the hero section. In other cases, however, this could indicate an underlying UX issue, such as part of your page giving off the illusion of completeness.
Conversions. Possibly the single most important use of GA and GTM for UX research purposes, all manner of user conversions can be captured in GA if the right tags are in place in GTM. These conversions can range from actions as simple as form link clicks or “thank you” page visits to more complex interactions like tracking form submissions from users entering on a specific landing page. What’s more, you can set these conversions up as goals in Google Analytics and assign them monetary values, allowing you to begin estimating the ROI on your UX research and design efforts.
One of the greatest benefits of both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager is their flexibility. The examples listed above only represent a small fraction of what you can do with these robust, powerful tools.
In future articles, we’ll explore specific examples of how we used these tools to inform our research projects and the impact they had on both our clients and their users.