Most people want dashboards so that they can just see their slice of the business without navigating through all the other reports. This makes sense, and for the most part Google Analytics is great at letting users slice and segment their data to do exactly that. So I was surprised the first time I discovered that that the dashboards in the new version of Google Analytics don't have segments anymore.
While you can't limit the data set with segments, each dashboard module lets you apply filters. Those should work. Right?
Sort of. To track how many visits I got to a blog section of the site, I viewed visits as my metric in a segment (using the criteria "Page containing /blog") and then in a dashboard module (also using the criteria "Page containing/blog"). Finding that they didn't match at all revealed an interesting piece of information about the page dimension:
In Google Analytics, the visit metric gets incremented each time a user hits the site for the first time. The visit is ONLY associated with the landing page. This means that if you are viewing the pages dimension with visits as a metric, these "visits" actually correspond to entrances. They aren't visits at all!
This means you can't make dashboards like this:
and you can't make custom reports like this:
Yikes! What do you do?
1) If you really need visits to a site section, always use advanced segments. Segments apply to the entire visit, so making a segment on a page works with the visits metric.
2) Whenever possible, choose visitors or unique pageviews rather than visits in your dashboard module.
This explains why the Content reports only show page views and unique page views, rather than visits. It also explains why any page-level custom variable is completely understated in the default report -- it is really just counting up the number of entrances to that page.
UPDATE: As of June, 2012, GA has acknowledged the issue with "visits" in the page-level custom variable report by replacing it with a new metric called Visit Starts.