20 Ways To Use Google Analytics Custom Dimensions

August 28, 2012
By Sayf Sharif
The post was originally about Custom Variables and has been updated to reflect Custom Dimensions in Universal Analytics.

This is not a “How to Install Custom Dimensions” post.

I’m not going to bore you with a long rambling introduction to Google Analytics Custom Dimensions. We’ve talked about Google Analytics Custom Dimensions a few times on this blog, as we should… They’re an amazingly powerful way to get more out of your site data. Remember that custom dimensions need to be sent to Google Analytics along with an existing hit, such as a pageview or event.

Here’s the Google guide for Custom Dimensions.

And if you need additional background on using custom dimensions in reports, take a look at this great article by Dorcas regarding How to Report on Custom Dimensions in Google Analytics.

Hopefully you can discern the basics from those articles, and others across the web about how exactly to use custom dimensions, how to segment your reports, etc. This post though is about specific ways to use them. It’s funny how often I’ll talk to a client who seems to understand that they’re very powerful, but can’t figure out ways to use them on their site.

So here are twenty different ways you can use custom dimensions. Five for each of the four main website types. Content sites, Ecommerce Sites, Lead Generation Sites, and Self Service sites.

Ways to use Custom Dimensions with a Content Generation Site AKA a Blog

Content sites rely on getting people to consume content, the more the better. So it’s important to be able to really parse out what content works, and what doesn’t.

Track Your Authors

If you have multiple authors, place a custom dimension for that page and assign the author to it. This way you can segment visits that include that author, just look at that author’s performance, etc.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension1':  'Sayf Sharif'
});

Track the Categories

Same as the authors, track your categories, so you can see which ones do better than others, and where you should focus your efforts.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'Google Analytics'
});

Track Your Tags

You might uses tags on your site to boil down different non-category topics. This way you can see what tags and sub areas are interesting to people across various categories. Keep in mind though that if you set a custom dimension at the page level, you can only have one, so you’ll have to pick one tag, not multiple.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'Custom Dimensions'
});

Track Who Comments

Commenters are more likely to return to your site, and are more engaged. Track a default value of no on the visitor until they comment, they record they’re a commentor, and you can watch the behavior of these two types of users across the site.

ga('send', 'event', {
  'dimension3':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'event', {
  'dimension3':  'No'
});

Track Social Sharer

You can track a specific type of social sharer, or you can just say “this is a person who has shared”. So whenever they click a link to share on Twitter or Facebook, in addition to tracking that as an event add in a custom dimension either onto the user or a session. Now you know that THIS VISITOR has shared, and might do so again. That way you can see how many total users share, and see if it’s more than just the same 100 people sharing your content day in and day out.

ga('send', 'event', {
  'dimension4':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'event', {
  'dimension4':  'No'
});

Ways to use Custom Dimensions with an Ecommerce Site

Ecommerce sites are different, you’re more interested in product performance, so we want to track different things with our custom dimensions.

Track the Visitor ID

Google Analytics doesn’t let you put in personally identifiable information, but it’s generally held that random visitor id’s that you can then compare with your own database outside of GA, are ok. So this way you can track the same visitor even when they’re not logged into your site.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension5':  '1234567890'
});

Track a Product View (with SKU)

Track which products your visitors view during their visit. Some might not get purchased, but lead to other conversions, and other insights.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension6':  'SKU12345'
});

Track a Customers Ongoing Value

Like the customer loyalty, but track their overall value. Every purchase increment the ongoing value, so you can see which of your customers are your whales and how they react differently. Do customers who have made over $100 in purchases behave differently on the site than those that have spent less?

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension7':  '3400'
});

Product Availability

If your site offers the ability to see whether a certain product is in stock or out of stock, capture that value as a custom dimension in order to get an idea of how many products are viewed that are out of stock and whether availability impacts overall conversion rates, exit rates, etc.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension8':  'out-of-stock'
});

Checkout Account Type

Many ecommerce websites offer the user the ability to check out as a guest, with a store account, or even with a social network account. This can be helpful to track in order to better understand the communities shopping on the website and their preference in making purchases with various types of accounts.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension9':  'guest'
});

Ways to use Custom Dimensions with a lead generation site

Lead generation sites are all about getting people to contact you, so we don’t necessarily care about the same things a blog or an ecommerce site does.

Track Whether They’re a Lead or Not

Pretty basic, but if someone fills out an appropriate contact form, then track them as a lead. That way you can see the ones who come back, watch their behavior, etc. How do leads differ in their behavior on your site than non-leads? Is there a trick that gets people to convert?

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension1':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension1':  'No'
});

Track Newsletter Subscriber

Maybe they’re not a lead but subscribed to your email, see how often they come back, how the newsletter works, etc.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'No'
});

Track RSS Subscriber

Same thing but with your RSS feed. Is it any good? Does it convert people to leads?

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension3':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension3':  'No'
});

Track Demographic Information

You could track a whole slew of demographic information, particularly if you have a form that collects this sort of data when they fill it out. How do 16 year old Male leads react differently to your content than 18 year old female leads? While Google Analytics offers Demographic and Interest reports based on users’ information from the DoubleClick cookie, if you can surface this information on your site, it will be more accurate!

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension4':  'Male'
});

Track promo offers

This really could go anywhere, but if you’re using different header images on a home page for instance to drive internal promotions to sign up pages, you can see if someone actually saw that image, and then track their conversion rates appropriately. Or it could just be a marketing message you want to ensure they’ve seen, and how it affects your lead generation.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension5':  'September Promotional Image'
});

Ways to use Custom Dimensions with a Self Service site

Self service sites, are sites that are more about helping people, getting information into their hands. Like a help desk, with support articles. You’d want to use your dimensionss different here also.

Track Member Type

Maybe you have different support levels, or a paid service level vs a free one. Record the visitor’s member type, maybe yes or no, maybe gold silver platinum, etc. Or maybe you just want to record logged in vs not-logged in.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension1':  'Gold'
});

Emailed Customer service

Sometimes emailing or contacting customer service is a good thing on these sites, and sometimes it’s a failure. Besides just tracking it as a negative goal, track it as a custom dimension so you can see the differences between users who did contact customer service, and those who didn’t.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension2':  'No'
});

Complaint

And maybe when they contacted they actually complained, and you have a drop down on the contact form for complaints. Record the complaint, so you can then segment complainers from non-complainers and get some insights on what site behaviors they had to lead to complaining that might help you improve your site. Or even make it a visitor scope custom dimension and compare complainers vs non-complainers over time.

ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension3':  'Yes'
});
ga('send', 'pageview', {
  'dimension3':  'No'
});

Downloaded Help Article/Guide

If additional materials are available to assist

There you go. Twenty different ways you can use the 20 free custom dimension slots you get in Google Analytics (or maybe you have GA Premium, in which case you would have 200 dimension slots!). Get these in your websites today, and start gaining better insights into your visitor behavior.