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So there was some great news from Google recently as they announced the roll-out of a new feature in Google Analytics (GA) which they call calculated metrics. According to Google, calculated metrics are:
"User-defined metrics that are computed from existing metrics and drive more relevant analyses and enable greater actionability without leaving the product."
So what does this mean? In short, calculated metrics allow you to go beyond the off-the-shelf measures available in GA by allowing you to create completely new metrics based on your needs.
There are 2 key factors you need to consider before creating a calculated metric. First, you need to consider the formatting output for your new metric. GA currently offers 5 formatting types; integer, currency, time, float and percentage. The second consideration is the formula, or equation, which will power your metric. When creating the formula in GA you simply type in the name of an existing metric (e.g. sessions, bounce rate, etc) and you can use mathematical operators such as Plus (+), Minus (-),Divided by (/), Parenthesis, etc to build the overall equation and logic.
As an example, let's say you're a B2B company and you generate leads through whitepaper downloads on your website. Currently in GA you can track this through a number of different methods. For example, you could track conversion volume (i.e. total downloads) by tracking hits to the Thank You for Downloading page URL or you could setup a custom event to track clicks on the download button. Alternatively, you could also setup a Goal in GA and track the rate of completion for visitors who downloaded a whitepaper based on total visits to your site.
These are all goods options for tracking performance in terms of downloads on your site, but depending on your needs these approaches may not be ideal. For example, tracking total downloads (via URL hits) will give you a volume metric which means that you would need to consult other measures to understand the context for a change in performance (e.g. did downloads go up because of a spike in traffic). On the other hand, using the Goals feature in GA isn't perfect either as it requires you to run an entire report just to see a rate of completion.
Calculated metrics serve as a middle ground between the tracking options mentioned above by allowing you to create what I call a ratio metric. Using the whitepaper download example, you could create a brand new metric called Average Downloads per User (Download Events / Visits) which means that you'll now have a relative view of performance in a single number. Furthermore, you won't have to consult/analyze other metrics (e.g. visits) for context and you also won' have to run the Goals report just to see a rate of completion. Finally, another great thing about calculated metrics is that they become part of the DNA of your Google Analytics implementation. You can build segments around them, apply them as dimensions, use them to create drill paths, and most of all you don't have to export your data to build your custom metrics manually. In this sense, GA helps you automate and streamline your custom measurement needs.
You can read more about the new feature here. It's worth noting that freemium GA users will be allowed to create up to 5 calculated metrics (so use them wisely), while premium users can create up to 50.
Overall I can't emphasize enough the potential value of leveraging custom metrics for more relevant and meaningful reporting, and it's great that Google is now offering this as a core feature in GA (and for free!). So go give it a try.