Reporting how many people performed a particular event in Google Analytics

Almost every website on the planet implements Google Analytics to help understand their traffic, and now a fair few mobile apps use it too. At its most basic it tracks the number of visitors/users and page views, but it can also be used to track specific “events” too, things like adding stuff to your basket or pressing a particular button, so that you can get a better understanding of how people are engaging with your product.

It turns out that there’s one incredibly important stat which (as far as I can tell) is ridiculously hard to get hold of: how many unique people performed a particular event?

“Unique Events”: What it is, and what it isn’t

When you look at an events report in Google Analytics, you see two headline stats: Total events and Unique events.

The “Total events” is pretty obvious: the total number of times anybody has performed that event during the given time frame. The “unique events” however, is rather more confusing. As the help text explains, this is the number of unique sessions in which this event was performed. So if I log onto the website and add five products to my basket, that only counts as one unique event. If I come back tomorrow and add some more, that counts as a second “unique event”.

That confused me. For a long time I was labouring under the misunderstanding that it was the total number of users who had performed that event, so it always confused me that it came out higher than I was expecting.

Counting unique users

So if that’s not what “unique events” means, then how do I found out how many unique users have performed that event? As far as I can tell, the answer is depressingly complicated. The best way I’ve managed to find is to create a custom segment that segments the set of users based on whether or not they’ve performed that event. Then Google Analytics can tell me how many users are in my segment during the given timeframe.

Custom Segments

Custom segments are created by pressing the big down arrow button at the top of any given page. You can then create an advanced custom segment based on two conditions: the event action and (optionally) the event label (see picture above). This lets you create a segment based on having performed a particular action with the given label (if you want to see just people who have added one particular product, use the label, if you just want to see total people performing that event you can leave the label out). Then Google Analytics will tell you the number of people in that segment.

If you know of a quicker way to find out this information, I’d love to hear it!