How to use Google Analytics Cohort Report

By 8th May 2015December 18th, 2017Digital Marketing, Web Analytics & Reporting
Google Analytics Cohort Report

Google Analytics recently launched a new report – the Cohort Report. It’s currently in beta mode, but seems very promising indeed. When I started playing around with the new report, I quickly realised that it could only be as strong as its weakest link… which, for the moment, was me! So, I decided to sink my teeth to it and here’s what I found.

What is Cohort Analysis?

Before we jump into details about the new Cohort Report, let’s remind everyone of what a cohort actually is.

A cohort is a group defined by its commonalities – a group of people who all share a time bound event, characteristic or experience. A good generic example of this could be students who graduated in a specific year. Their commonality is that they are all students (group) that have graduated the same year (time bound event). A more ecommerce-relevant example would be first time visitors (group) to your site on a specific date (time bound event) or perhaps visitors to your site (group) generated through the release of your monthly newsletter (time bound event).

Why should you use Google Analytics Cohort Report?

Some would say that data in aggregate is useless, and I tend to place myself with at least one foot in that camp. With aggregate data you can, quite frankly, draw any conclusion… Which deems the whole exercise of analysing the data in the first place pointless. Analysis should provide answers to your questions for example: “Why is the conversion rate going down?” or “How many days before Christmas should we be sending out our sales email?”.

An aggregate set of data can tell you that your overall ecommerce conversion is doing great. Looking at micro trends of your data however, you might spot trends in revenue decline for certain cohorts. This could inform you of when to launch e.g. remarketing campaigns, sales offers, or email campaign.

In earlier posts I’ve written about how to set objectives, goals and KPIs for your site. Understanding what you want to achieve with your site is crucial when analysing your data.

Examples of Cohort Analysis for ecommerce

Before we look at examples, let’s quickly explain the metrics and dimensions in Google Analytic’s Cohort Report:

  • Cohort type: This only includes Acquisition Date. Acquisition Date means the first date a user to your site is recognised by GA, i.e. a user’s first session.
  • Cohort size: This is where you set the time frame of each cohort in the report. You can set this to show by day, week or month. This is very straight forward. If you set it by date for example, the dimension column will be displayed in weeks. However if you set it by month, the dimension column will be displayed by month. If you set it by… Well, you get the point!
  • Metric: The metric is what you’ll actually measure for each cohort. At the moment your choices are categorised into: Per User, Retention, and Total. You can only pick one at a time, but remember that you can apply segments to the Cohort Report as well.
  • Date Range: Depending on the cohort size you’ve set, the Date Range allows you to set the period of time you want to measure.

Here are a couple of examples of what you can measure in Google Analytics Cohort Report.

Desktop, Tablet and Mobile

In the below example I’ve used:

  • Cohort Type: Acquisition date
  • Cohort size: By week
  • Metric: User retention
  • Date range: Last 6 weeks

I’ve also added three segments to this report, which are: desktop visitors, tablet visitors, and mobile visitors. The idea with this report is to identify the differences between the User Retention of desktop, tablet and mobile visitors. We can see that over the weeks, both the tablet and mobile visitors tend to drop off more than desktop visitors. You’ll also notice that desktop and tablet visitors had higher user retention in week two compared to mobile visitors.

cohort analysis for mobile and tablet

Organic vs Paid Traffic

In this report I’ve used:

  • Cohort Type: Acquisition date
  • Cohort size: By week
  • Metric: Transaction (the total number of completed purchases on your site)
  • Date range: Last 6 weeks

I’ve added two segments to this report: Organic and Paid traffic. The purpose of the report was to see if there was a difference between Organic and Paid traffic over time. In the below example I’ve simply looked for the differences between the two channels. As you can see from the table below, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between them. The Organic visitors, that first arrived on March 22nd, have transacted 12 items over five weeks. Paid visitors that first arrived on the same date, have also transacted 12 items over five weeks.

By segmenting Organic and Paid traffic you could also monitor and compare specific initiatives of a campaign. For example, if you use different ad groups to bring visitors to your site you might not only want to compare those groups with each other, but also with other traffic from e.g.videos in social media and visitors to your blog post. This would allow you to see which initiative brought back the “best” visitors to your site, and in turn making your next campaign more productive – as you will have a better understand of which channels worked better than others. What defines the “best” visitors is dependent of the goals you’ve set for your site.

cohort report for organic vs paid traffic


Google Analytics’ new Cohort Report brings you more insight, as you can compare your defined cohorts over time. This is really useful if you want to compare different initiatives with the same purpose. For instance, you might want to send out a newsletter in order to get more sign-ups for a new service you’re providing. With the Cohort Report, you will be able to identify over time which newsletter works better for you, as well as which generated the most sign-ups.

Cohorts help you find micro trends, which can help you gain a better understanding into what’s really happening on your site. Overall stats, in comparison, can make it harder to tell which initiative is working better than another as they don’t have the same level of detail. The Cohort Report makes it much easier to pin specific initiatives and channels to converting traffic which, in turn, makes it easier to plan your marketing efforts and motivate spending.

If you have any questions about how you can best use cohorts for your site, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Want to know more about cohorts, well look no further! Check out the video below: