Google Analytics for SaaS Part I: Setting up Analytics

Google Analytics for SaaS Part I: Setting up Analytics

It is clear that Google Analytics for SaaS applications is different than other ecommerce stores. Being a SaaS startup, you will have to look at google analytics from a unique perspective. A lot of different reasons contribute to this fact.

One being  the difference in the business model SaaS inherits to generate recurring revenue. Further, the complexity a SaaS system brings to the table. If you are working with a SaaS business there are a number of chronic factors you need to deliberate that are normally left out of consideration. For instance, profitability, market share, userbase growth and cashflow.

Google analytics is not capable of tracking individual users but making a few tweaks in its configuration will surely make this process possible. As it is quite essential to meet these business objectives in order to monetize customers and sustain your traffic. Kissmetrics and Mixpanel might be a few good alternatives for tracking individual users but is costly for a SaaS startup.

It is mandatory for your analytics set-up to provide you with actionable insight which will assist you in propelling your business forward. By the end of this article, you would be able to integrate google analytics on your SaaS business and track behavior of each individual user.

 

Create a Google Analytics Account

As right now, we are keeping this tutorial aligned with needs of just startups and for such firms, budget might come off as a sensitive factor. All the more reason to consider Google Analytics for data maintenance.

The reason why you should choose google analytics to track your users behavior is, its FREE and reliable. The internet is full of installation guides for google analytics, so I am not going into the very basics of signing up for a google analytics account and adding a tracking code to your SaaS website.  


Here, I am assuming that you have successfully installed the google analytics code on your website.

 

Decide how you want to collect data

A lot of intelligent tools have been developed in the past few years, all aimed to collect and integrate data in a meaningful way. At this stage, you should be confident when choosing  the best tool to collect data and send to google analytics for processing.

Google analytics is not the only tool to collect data but there are other alternatives too that you might consider using when it comes to data collection.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of google analytics, google tag manager and segment and determine the best ultimate option.

Google Analytics

Pros

  1. Its free and easy to install
  2. Allows customized data collection
  3. Anyone with a little knowledge can integrate
  4. Flexible and friendly user interface

Cons

  1. Limits data collection to 10M hits per month
  2. Upgrading to Analytics 360 is pretty expansive

Google Tag Manager

Pros

  1. Easy to collect data from multiple pixels with a single tag
  2. Provides various levels of access for quality control

Cons

  1. Requires a sound knowledge to setup, maintain and send data to analytics
  2. Requires a developer’s help to set up the data layer
  3. No dedicated team support to help set up and maintain its implementation

Segment

Pros

  1. Easy to import data and send to multiple integrations like google analytics
  2. Easy to use your data
  3. One click access to 100+ tools

Cons

  1. Is a paid tool and the price increases as you get more users and data
  2. Needs a developer’s technical expertise to implement it
  3. Collecting data from your saas project might take some time

 

How to analyze your SaaS app in google analytics

Before sending your SaaS traffic to google analytics, always think of the way you want to look at data. Seeing all of your app’s traffic together might not be helpful to segment and analyze a specific audience.

The best practice that we can use for SaaS customers, is to divide the traffic in two sections. The first section would be of customers who use the app on regular basis and the other would be of your random app visitors.

The users section would be your sub domain i.e app.saas.com and the visitors section will include landing pages and blog pages.

  1. Visitors getting to your landing pages e.g saasstartup.com,blog

  2. Your customer behavior e.g app.saassturtup.com

The biggest benefit of dividing your app traffic is you can understand and analyze a particular section in detail. For instance, you can see how logged in users behave; how often they interact with your app vs how people are discovering the site.

 

Create multiple views to better analyze a section

Once you have categorized your app traffic into backend and frontend visitors, it’s time to implement divisions in your analytics account. What you need to do is create two more views under the property in analytics account.

You should have the following three types of views configured..

  1. All website data (default)

  2. Logged in users (app.saas.com)

  3. Landing page visitors (landing pages + blog page)

 

Once you have created views, apply filters to logged in users and landing page visitors to only include traffic from specific hostnames. You should then filter spam and internal traffic.

Google analytics doesn’t guarantee to provide accurate and clean data. Your analytics data is a mixture of people visiting your site  from within your organization, spam traffic  and other web crawlers. To make meaningful decisions, you would always need accurate data of your customers.  

So, when you create separate views and apply filters, make sure to block all spam sources and exclude internal traffic.

 

Create custom dimensions to store user data

Custom dimensions are like any other dimensions in google analytics except you can customize them yourself. You can create them to collect data that google analytics doesn’t automatically track.

When it comes to collecting data related to user behavior, google analytics doesn’t collect every information we need. Some of the key data you would want to collect might be:

  1. Which plan a user has subscribed to

  2. Which specific month or year a user signed up

  3. From where did you acquire a user

  4. Login status

  5. How often a user interacts with your app(heavy user, casual user)

  6. What was the original source of traffic -  which channels users used to find you

Custom dimensions are not limited to  just provide information about users but are also helpful in collecting ecommerce data. The other most viable benefit of using custom dimensions is that  you can build reports as soon as they are set. There are multiple ways to report custom dimensions data in analytics.  

  1. Use custom dimensions with standard reports

  2. See custom dimensions data with dashboards

  3. Use core reporting APIs to report custom dimensions

In conclusion, custom dimensions are the ultimate tools to track any data that google analytics doesn’t collect by itself.

 

Client Id or User Id for tracking individual users

As I mentioned earlier, google analytics doesn’t track individual users but instead it associates a “client id” to each device or browser. The client id is sent by universal analytics and is made up of a unique random number.

The key benefit of implementing user id is you can tie together all activities of a user. You can keep track of all activities by creating a funnel which will analyze the most engaging points and the drop offs.

To identify individual users, you can not rely on client id because of the following drawbacks:

  1. It is stored in the browser and when a user deletes cookies, he/she will be assigned a new client id on the next visit

  2. You can not identify unique users across multiple devices

  3. Create attribution issues across multiple devices

To fix this issue you would have to use user_id instead. It is made up of alphanumeric characters and represents a unique logged in user. This is not created by universal analytics but is rather an internal id, your backend uses to identify the user. The below image shows the difference between user_id and client_id in GA.

difference between client id and user id

What you need to do now is pull the login ids from the authentication system and send it to google analytics as user id.

 

Setup of Goals and Funnels

One of the most important things to know is, being able to set up and distinguish between your primary and secondary goals. As a startup, your main objective is to sell things, so your primary goal would probably be a purchase and secondary goal might be a registration or a lead subscription.

Setting up goals in google analytics is easy, so anyone with a little knowledge of analytics can set them up.


Once you set up goals you can then see a user’s progress through funnel visualization (conversions >> goals >> funnel visualization). Let’s say you have set up ecommerce goals for number of visitors reaching the subscription plans, number of people reaching the subscription form and then those completing the purchase.

goal funnel visualization

With the funnel visualization report you can see the number of users reaching the goal and how many of them dropping off at each step. This information  helps when you want to pay more attention to conversion optimization for particular steps of your funnel.
 

So far, we have discussed a few important things every SaaS startup should follow when analyzing traffic in google analytics. In the next article we will share some more important metrics to measure and cover some advanced hacks for SaaS startups.

Hussain Mehmood

Hey I am Hussain Principal Analytics Consultant @ MarketLytics focusing on measurement strategy and analytics implementation. I started marketlytics in 2010 to turn my passion for understanding user behaviour into my day job. I use & extend google analytics, tag manager and kissmetrics everyday to deliver performance measurement & data driven insights.