More useful browser statistics from Google Analytics using filters

By Chris Kohlhardt on Jul 31, 2012 in Let's Talk Tech

The Problem

While the engineering team here at Gliffy has been working hard on our upcoming HTML5 application, I've been thinking about how much longer we'll need to support the Flash version of our product. The short answer is that we want to support the web browsers that our customers are using, but Google Analytics isn't set up out of the box to break down major versions of web browsers as you can see below.

If you're new to Google Analytics, you can reach this view by clicking on Standard Reporting->Audience->Technology->Browser & OS

Google Analytics Browser Statistcs  filters

You can then click through to the individual browser versions by clicking on the Browser. In this example below, I clicked through Chrome:

Here's the problem: As you can see there are 486 versions of Chrome in just one month of browser tracking to our web site. Tracking this many browser versions is not only unhelpful, it actually obscures what we're trying to figure out which is which major browser versions we need to support. If you include Safari, IE, and Firefox, you may be looking at market share numbers for nearly 1000 distinct web browser versions. Talk about data overload!

What we need is a way to organize the data so that it's not so overwhelming and that it helps us capture what we really care about: What are the major browser versions our customers are using?

Google Analytics Filter to the Rescue

Google Analytics has a nifty feature called 'Filters' that makes it easy to display data in different ways. This is how we'll organize the browser data so that it's more useful for our needs.

Step 1 - Create a new Profile

Filters have the effect of permanently changing the way data is displayed in Google Analytics, so you want to be VERY certain that any change you make isn't going to mess up your data. Fortunately, the Profile feature makes it easy to test out changes in a test environment without impacting your default profile data.

To create a profile, click Settings then the DEFAULT profile. This will bring up the Profile tab. From there, click New Profile, and enter a new profile name. I name my profile "Gliffy Major Browsers Profile".

A new profile, and any filter you apply to a profile, will only start collecting data or filtering data at the moment you create or apply it. You will not be able to modify historical data, only future data.

Step 2 - Create the filter

Double check to make sure the new Profile you just created is selected. Now click the Filters tab and the New Filter button. When researching this topic, I found one person who created a new filter for each major browser version which was an unacceptable solution. With Chrome releasing new browser versions nearly every 30-60 days, this is not something I wanted to keep up with. This would have also been a problem because of the before mentioned problem in that Google Analytics filters can't be run against historical data, and I wouldn't realistically be able to create new filters just as new browsers came out on the market. Fortunately, the regular expression support in the Filters feature enables us to have a really elegant solution to this problem.

OK, so here's the important part, create your filter as follows:

  • Filter Type: Custom Filter
  • Advanced
  • Field A -> Extract A: Browser: ^(.*)$
  • Field B -> Extract B: Browser Version: ^([0-9]+).[0-9]*.*[0-9]*$
  • Output To -> Constructor: Browser: $A1 $B1.x
  • Field A Required: Yes
  • Field B Required: Yes
  • Override Output Field: Yes
  • Case Sensitive: No

Finally, save the filter and you're good to go!

Step 3 - Wait a day, and revel in the more useful data!

You'll need to wait at least a day for the new data to start showing up in the new Profile you created. Speaking of which, make sure the new Profile you created is selected when you come back, otherwise you'll be looking at our DEFAULT profile which will be presenting the Browser stats the old way. Here's how the new data looks for me:

You can still click on each Major browser version to see the minor versions broken down in case you need that information. Of course, since you created a new profile to display this data, you'll still have everything shown the original way if that's your preference. If you want your DEFAULT Profile to show the data in the new format, you can visit the Filter tab for the DEFAULT Profile, create a New Filter, and then Apply existing Filter to select the filter you already created.

We'll be using this information to help us decide our browser support policy and the End Of Life plan for the Flash version of Gliffy. We'll be discussing that topic in more detail in a future post.