Gazing into the sprawling, exhaustive database that is Google Analytics for the first time can feel a little overwhelming for the uninitiated.
There are sweeping lines, multiple colors, various tabs, customizable dates and a variety of charts that can appear like a randomly assembled collection of arbitrary data with little chance of being meaningfully interpreted. You assume the smorgasbord of metrics serves a grand purpose (especially since us SEO's hunch over it like 14-year-old girls as if it contained locks of Justin Bieber's freshly shorn hair), yet ultimately still have trouble identifying how to successfully use the tool.
Apply that idea to attempting to explain certain traffic trends to your clients, many of whom aren't well-versed in analytics, and the rabbit hole gets deeper. Sometimes the interaction feels a bit like an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's, "Alice In Wonderland":
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
With that said, I'm naturally a big fan of any SEO tool that minimizes complexity and, even better, visually explains noteworthy occurrences in data or analysis with easily recognizable specifics. Something that provides the "why" behind the "what" Google Analytics amply supplies.
That's where Chartelligence comes into play — an intuitive tool with a simple concept that makes bridging the gap between raw data and beneficial analysis that much easier.
How It Works
Chartelligence is a Google Chrome extension — they've promised to release a matching Firefox plugin soon — that allows you to take your Google Analytics (or Quantcast) graphs and overlay key data to keep track of telling events, better understand your chart trends and make more well-informed business decisions in the future.
If you've ever wondered why your traffic tanked for a few days without any apparent cause or suddenly spiked due to unclear circumstances, you've come to the right place.
Built into the tool are charted lines representing public holidays, economic swings and Google algorithm updates (Panda, Penguin) throughout the year. In addition to those pre-loaded markers, you can also build your own custom layers to track dates that you suspect might be affecting the way your metrics are peaking or dipping (such as an infographic launch or a Pinterest Marketing push). Just go into your Google Analytics graphs and click on the semi-transparent light bulb icon at the top right corner to make your selection.
The Wrath of Penguin and Panda
As previously mentioned, a lot of sites were knocked down a few pegs (or worse) when Penguin and Panda came into town, along with their subsequent updates. If you have a sneaking suspicion you or one of your clients were slapped with a Google penalty, it's essential to identify which update affected your site the most.
Once that is understood, it becomes much easier and efficient to craft a recovery plan, instead of blindly swinging at what is believed to be the assumed problem or doing something that can even further dig yourself into an electronic hole (i.e. an overabundance of unreputable link building, keyword stuffing, etc.). Fortunately, Chartelligence helps determine which, if any, correlations exist between lower rankings, decreased traffic and past algorithm updates.
Other Cool Features
Aside from manually choosing and adjusting which date markers to display, Chartelligence has an impressive feature — the aptly titled "Amaze Me" button — that automatically correlates the highs and lows of your data and "guesstimates" why each big change occurred by assigning particular events to the points of note. It's especially helpful if you're not quite sure where to start in your investigation.
When all is said and done, being able to clearly identify, analyze and explain key trends in ranking and traffic data is invaluable to setting out a solid game plan with a client to improve and move forward. And isn't that what it's all about?