Google Analytics v5 – A Prettier, More Powerful, Tougher to Use Upgrade


Last weekend, Google Analytics announced the launch of version 5 – a brand new version of the world’s most popular web analytics tool. It’s more than a cosmetic change, the inner workings of the GA system have been overhauled and there are many major fundamental changes in this version.

This upgrade consists of a number of visual upgrades to bring up GA to the new style of all the Google tools (Gmail, Groups etc). It also includes a major rehaul of the navigation system of Google Analytics. So much so that they’ve started a new “Report finder” helper tool to help people figure out where their old reports have gone.

We had gotten a sneak peek at this version at last year’s Google Analytics Partner Conference, and have been using the beta version since late last year. There’s a lot to like about it, and a couple of major things to hate – here’s our tough but fair review of the Google Analytics version 5 (as it stands).

Home Screen – Completely Rehauled & Retooled (Two Thumbs Up)

The home screen of Google Analytics is the first thing you see when you log in – it contains links to the different accounts you have access to and it has gotten a major rehaul. Here’s the rundown of home screen features:

Things that have gotten better in the Google Analytics v5 Home Screen:

  • Visual style upgraded, looks decisively cooler now with more subdued fonts, better font size hierarchy and much less clutter.
  • All accounts AND their profiles listed in one view now. A huge time saver and saves one un-necessary screen in between.
  • Deep links into Visitors, Traffic Sources, Content and Conversion reports directly from the home screen. Saves sooo many clicks.
  • This home screen is AJAX-ably accessible from every other page in GA.
  • The top nav drop down also contains every account and profile now, another huge time saver.

Things that have gotten worse in the Google Analytics v5 Home Screen:

  • The old home used to contain critical stats from all your accounts, great snapshot view. Now there’s no way to do that.
  • It opens up the first account alphabetically when you click on the “Dashboard”, “My Site” and “Custom Reports” views. Not great to have your friend’s blog pop up when you open up your GA account on the projector in a hurried meeting.
  • Basic Help links and resources gone from the side nav.

Overall though, the improvements far outweigh the problems, and the home screen revamp gets two thumbs up from us.

Profile Dashboard – “Now, I’m a little lost” (One Thumb Down)

The dashboard is probably the biggest (and most shocking) change in the new version of GA. And you’re either really going to love it … or really hate it. The Google Analytics team believes that the Dashboard was the most underused feature, and set out to revamp it completely last year.

Things that have gotten better in the GA version 5 Dashboard:

  • You can have multiple dashboards
  • Because of the new URL structures, you can share links to these multiple dashboards
  • They’re highly customizable – using a new widget structure, you can have very detailed control over what shows in the Dashboard.

Things that have gotten worse in the GA version 5 Dashboard:

  • It’s moved to it’s own top navigation item. By default, an account opens up into the Visitors Overview. That’s a little misleading in the beginning.
  • Tough to customize. Earlier, you could navigate to any piece of data in your account and “Add it to Dashboard”. Now, you gotto master the tricky widget system and be very sure about “Metrics” and “Dimensions”
  • At the time of writing this, there is no way to export the data from a Dashboard into CSV, XML etc.
  • PDF reports are gone!!! It’s not in this version, and the GA team might not add them back in, because they say it’s pretty hard to maintain them.

While a lot of thought has gone into it, and the GA team has worked hard to make this customizable – I’m personally a little stunned by the changes. In this case, I gotto give it one thumbs down.

Navigation – Very Thoughtfully Reorganized (Two Thumbs Up)

The side navigation has been subtly, but thoughtfully improved.

Things that have gotten better in the GA v 5 Navigation:

  • A number of less relevant stats have been combined (e.g. Visit Duration & Page Depth, together are now Engagement)
  • Tree structure within each major category (e.g. Visitors has Demographics, Behaviour & Technology)
  • New AJAX-y behaviour lets you expand menus and see options without being forced to go into other sections.
  • Elegantly allows for 6-7 levels of navigation (e.g. Login -> Account -> Profile -> My Site -> Reports -> Visitors -> Demographics ->Location)

Things that have gotten worse in the GA v 5 Navigation:

  • Some Navigation choices a little arbitrary (Dashboard – My Site – Custom Reports are the three main categories??)
  • In-Page Analytics missing in the current beta
  • Benchmarking feature removed from GA for now
  • No Email reports right now, hopefully they’ll be back soon

Although on paper, there are a couple of steps back here too – Overall, the positives are significantly better than negatives. And from us, this is a confident two thumbs up.

Pages & Other Features – Better Look, Worse Functionality (One Thumb Down)

The individual statistics pages have gotten a minor rehaul in appearance (look better, easier navigation) and a significant reduction in features (hopefully to be ironed out by end of BETA).

Things that have gotten better in the Google Analytics v 5 Pages:

  • Sleeker appearance
  • AJAX-y, nicer in-page navigation (important because many pages have been combined)
  • Custom reports (not technically here) have gotten a upgrade to allow for filters within them
  • Goals can now include Events (yayy)
  • Cool, new “Term Cloud” view

Things that have gotten worse in the Google Analytics v 5 Pages:

  • Email Options gone (sooo important)
  • PDF downloads gone (sooo important)

Although there are only two major downsides, Email and PDF are two such critical features that their absence forces me to give a thumb down in this department. It would’ve been two thumbs down if it wasn’t for the numerous other navigational and feature upgrades. If they manage to fix these two features back to their original glory, I’m happy to change this area’s grade to two thumbs up.

Overall Grade and What To Do Next

If we average out the score of the four different areas we’ve reviewed … the final review for the current edition of Google Analytics is one (cautious) thumbs up! Hopefully, the kinks and missing features will return before this rolls out to all users and we can enthusiastically endorse it from the rooftops.

If your organization uses Google Analytics extensively, here’s a 5 step plan for you to get ready for Google Analytics version 5

  1. Sign up for the beta – If you haven’t yet, head down here to get your Google ID whitelisted for the beta. You’ll need to play around for a few days to get the hang of the new interface.
  2. Love the new Report Finder – Use this handy tool to see where your favourite old reports have gone in the new interface
  3. Leave Feedback & Ask Questions – The GA team is very responsive and there’s a strong user community in the GA forums
  4. Warn your occassional GA users – Those users who rarely login and get email reports, will experience little changes when this comes out of BETA. Warn them changes are coming and you’re watching over them.
  5. Organizing a Google Analytics Training for regular users – Your regular GA users who use the interface for data analysis, regularly run reports, implement GA code should get a detailed walkthrough and training of the changes that are coming.

If you would like us to come to your organization and run a 2-4 hour training outlining the changes for Google Analytics v5, drop us a message. Our training will cover the following topics and more:

  • v5 Interface & Navigation changes
  • v5 Functionality & Features changes
  • The new “Widgets” and how to use them in a powerful fashion
  • Multiple dashboards and their benefits
  • Custom Reporting changes
  • How to use the “Term Cloud” and “Pivot” functionality
  • Advanced Segmentation and it’s common scenarios
  • And anything else your complex installation needs!

You can reach us here to learn more about this program.

We want to thank the Google Analytics team for all their hard work in this upgrade, and the Google Analytics Certified Partners group for the lively discussion over these features. Happy Analyzing with GA v5!

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Rachit Dayal

Managing Partner at Happy Marketer

Is the Managing Partner at Happy Marketer, and handles clients with needs in Web Analytics, Search Engine Optimization, Google AdWords, Website Design and Conversion Consulting.

As Singapore’s first Qualified AdWords Professional and one of the first Analytics Qualified Professionals in the region, Rachit has been on the forefront of search marketing in Singapore since 2004.

But as this industry comes into maturity, he believes now is when the fun is starting – when clients dare to dream of exciting campaigns, and we can finally show tangible positive ROI from all marketing campaigns.

  1. AnonymousAnonymous03-24-2011

    Nice thoughtful critique and I agree pretty much with all your points, though I am not a big fan of the new home screen (missing summary stats and account/profile search is clunky to use).

    A couple of things to be aware of:
    – Benchmarking report is going for good – including current UI (as of next week)
    – PDF export will be going as well i.e. its not a case of it not being added yet to this beta

    Brian Clifton
    Author: Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics

    • Rachit DayalRachit Dayal03-25-2011

      Great to see you here Brian!

      – I wasn’t a big fan of the new home page either, until I switched full time to using the new version. Now, I realize that the process of getting, finding a piece of information has shaved 30-40% of the clicks as before. So, that got me converted.

      – Benchmarking report: I saw that post in the GA blog and in the forums. I don’t think I’ll miss it up, wasted many consultations explaining how it worked and thought it did more bad than good (atleast in Asia, where I wasn’t even sure what was included in our local benchmarks)

      – Really?? PDF gone forever? Within our GACP walls, I saw the words “PDF Reconsideration” being used. My understanding was that they haven’t built it, and they won’t build it unless there’s a hue and cry about it. (Which there seems to be now, I saw a number of folks complaining about it in the GACP and Public GA forums. Are you a fan of PDF?

  2. Søren SprogøSøren Sprogø03-24-2011

    Great critique, and I agree in all your points!

    However, a couple of point:

    – I’ve heard in a lot of places, that PDF and E-mail export will reappear soon.

    – New Dashboard is as useless as before, if not even more useless. However you should soon be able to apply filters to the individual widgets, which would make them kick ass!

    – Apparently you guys haven’t checked out Custom Reports yet. 3 thumbs down from me.

    – When designing Custom Reports, the metrics are now listed in a loooong dropdown list in alphabetical order. That’s NO grouping. Took me a couple of minutes to locate my favorite metric, as I couldn’t remember wether it was called turnover, revenue or something else.

    – You can’t preview Custom Reports. Man, I use that a lot in the existing interface. I have one standard custom report I use all the time. And when I need something more specific, I go in and customize & preview that one.

    • Rachit DayalRachit Dayal03-25-2011

      Great points Soren,

      We haven’t really played around with Custom Reports, but I did notice the Grouping problem. That was everywhere (including standard data pages dropdowns). Would love to see more thoughts/blog post from you on where Custom Reports has gone wrong.

      Email will definitely be back, I saw a GA support rep say that on the GA public forums. BUT they used the word “transition” all your old emails, so I’m a little scared they’ll overhaul the whole system.

      PDF though, is still up in the air. Brian (in his comments below), seems to think it’s gone for now. I sure hope that’s not true, and if it is – there’s a huge cry from the crowds about it so that the GA team reconsiders it.

  3. SorenjSorenj12-02-2011

    I’ve got a specific question.

    I run a major site and we’re monitoring the amount of keywords that sends traffic.
    In GA4 (just as your screenshot shows) I could track changes in the total keyword metric – That I cannot do in GA5!

    If I drill down the numbers are basically ridiculous.
    In October 2011 our site recieved X visitors through 8633 non-paid organic keywords.
    Same dates in GA 5 reports 113.074 keywords??? WTF.

    Is it me who’s just moronic navigating the new interface or is this a deliberate way of manipulating users (here: Look at the new SEO tab, we’ve created and don’t you worry your little head about large scale SEO-efforts)???

    The above mentioned metric is one of the top 5 important KPI’s ever for the site…

    So How do I get my metric back in GA5?

    Best regards

    Søren J
    (yes yes, another Dane ;o))

    • AnonymousAnonymous12-03-2011

      Hey Søren,

      Actually, I don’t see such a huge variance in my old and new reports. For this metric, the two things I’m comparing are …

      v4: Traffic Sources –> Keywords –> Non Paid
      v5: Traffic Sources –> Sources –> Search –> Organic

      v4 used to have a nice Narrative, so finding that number in v5 seems a bit harder. But other than that, pretty similar numbers.

      Check out the screenshot for what I see – is there a smarter way to do this?

      • SorenjSorenj12-04-2011


        You’re right… 
        It seems to me that I ran into the infamous and dredded “fast-access mode”. 
        But thanks for clarifying, thought I was going wack ;o)

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