Google Analytics (GA) is an incredibly powerful and free tool, supported by a vast amount of help available online. However, there is such a thing as over-information, and we have found over the years that some mistakes keep being repeated unknowingly when setting up GA, reducing its effectiveness and even distorting the results such that they give you a false perspective.
But fear not, This Side Up has come to the rescue to help you discover what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, and set up Google Analytics properly so that you can make the most of it.
1. First & Foremost – You don’t have admin access to your GA account
This is a very common problem. Google Analytics accounts are typically set up when websites are created, i.e. usually by the web designer, and, more often than not, they set it up in their own GA account rather than creating an independent account just for your website.
If this is the case and you decide to part ways with the third party owner of the GA account at any stage, you will simply lose access to all your web traffic data and will have to start from scratch!
So check in on the level of access you have to your GA account and insist on having it placed in a separate, standalone account that you own. Aside from the risk management benefits, doing it this way makes it much easier to give third party agencies the access level they require should you enlist their services.
2. You only have one ‘View’ of the traffic data
By default, you get one ‘View’ of your website’s traffic data, labelled ‘All Web Site Data’. However, most people don’t realise that they can, and ought to, create new Views.
The main problem with only using the “All Web Site Data” view is a risk management one. Over time you may wish to create filters within this view to filter out traffic created by spiders and crawlers indexing your site, ghost traffic and also internal staff traffic which skew data away from the audiences you actually care about.
But what if after a few months of setting up a filter you realise that it was configured incorrectly and in fact you have accidentally wiped 50% of your traffic from being recorded!? Well if you only have that one view you are quite frankly snookered.
Best practice is to create three views: Master, Test, and Raw. Where the latter has no filters whatsoever and is purely for backup purposes, the test view is where you try out filters, conversion tracking or other advanced features before applying them to your master view which is usually heavily filtered.
Beyond this you can create even more views which you can use to isolate traffic segments or portions of your website to be used as a quick means of accessing the data.
3. Not excluding referral spam
Referral spam has been a growing issue, and although Google is aware these spammers exploiting the way the Google Analytics system works, there isn’t a default solution to deal with the problem at this stage.
What is referral spam? It is often dubious websites or individuals sending significant traffic into your GA account generally without even having first visited your website. Best-case scenario, it is a just a seedy technique to encourage you to check out their sites when you see them in GA reports where when you visit they promote services or products; worst-case scenario, it is a ploy to install malware on your computer.
In either case, the main concern is that it completely distorts your traffic data. Smaller companies seem to be particularly affected by it, as it sometimes constitutes half of their traffic.
You can use a tool such as Referrer Spam Blocker to remove referral spam from reports as well as keep most of it out of your data. Please note that you need full admin access to your GA account to do so.
4. Not tracking campaigns
Google Analytics is a great tool when it comes to traffic analysis, but it needs to be tweaked to give you better information. For example, it can’t separate certain data unless you tell it to, generally this is data from non-google sources. Email and certain social media traffic will simply be lumped into ‘Direct’ or at best referral, which makes it impossible to track the effectiveness and value of affected marketing campaigns.
To properly identify traffic from such channels, you can use Google’s UTM parameters at the end of your final URLs – make use of the Google URL Builder tool which shows how to create tagged links or Cardinal Path’s free campaign tagging spreadsheet to automate the process for larger websites.
5. You are using an outdated version of GA
If you weren’t already aware, in April 2014 Google released Universal Analytics as an optional upgrade to the now classical Google Analytics. The newer version is well configured to handle the complexities of modern multi-device browsing and website owner reporting requirements.
As such, whilst the classic version will still collect data, it has limitations as the more advanced end and which in time will become more and more evident.
Check that you have the universal analytics code on your website. And if you are unsure, a dead giveaway is that the old version uses “ga.js” and the new version “analytics.js” or you can make use of the tool mentioned in point 5 below. You can also find the latest version of the code by visiting the admin tab in your GA account and navigating to >tracking info>tracking code.
5. Incorrect implementation of GA tracking code
In order to capture traffic, each page of your website needs to have the relevant tracking code. Although it is usually a straightforward affair, there are sometimes problems which can have long-term repercussions.
For example, if you inadvertently add the same GA tracking code twice to a page of your site, GA will record the pageview twice, which will give you a figure double what it should be for those pages. It may also erroneously treat a single-page visit (i.e., bounce visit) as non-bounce. All in all, it will lead to results different to what they actually are.
Luckily, Google provides a free tool that checks whether the code is installed correctly, so do use it.
6. Not setting goals
Not setting goals is the single most common mistake made. Without defining what it is you want your visitors to do by using goal tracking within Google Analytics – you will end up with a lot of fairly meaningless data. So do take the time to set them up for your most important website actions as you will gain invaluable insight from it.
At a basic level you can set goals to fire whenever a user visits a certain page i.e., a thank you page for a successful transaction or form submission, whenever a user spends a certain duration on the website or views a specified number of pages. Tip – be sure to double check your match types when setting these rules.
At a more advanced level you can make use of events to set up goals to track user behaviour on a website. This is useful in many instances on modern websites where a form submission doesn’t necessarily change the page URL, you want to track click to calls for mobile, the number of PDF downloads, clickthroughs to your Facebook page and much more. To set up events you will need your web developer to place snippets of code onto your website or make use of a tag manager solution.
Do you have any other question about Google analytics or how to make your website perform better? Call This Side Up on 09 360 2299 or email us here and find out what we can do for you.