Most businesses look at Google Analytics as installing the code and that’s it all done when nothing could be further from the truth, yes it will provide you with data on how many visits your site is getting but that data could also be skewed by various factors that you haven’t considered.
In this article, we are going to look at best practice for the setup and reporting in Google Analytics and some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. If you are interested in looking at more than just your Google Analytics and want to conduct your own Audit, download our FREE DIY Audit Checklist here.
So, once you have your code installed on the site where do you go next?
It is the general case that we see all accounts with just a single view which contains all the company’s data. This is not usually considered best practice as changes can be destructive to your data. We recommend early on that it is best to create two duplicate views to protect your data and you end up with an account structure that looks like the following.
Master View – This is the out of the box Google Analytics view or (Raw Data) with no customisations or filters applied and no changes will ever be made to this data.
Reporting View – has any filters that may be required (some of which we will discuss) applied, such as spam filtering and internal traffic. This is the view that all of your reporting is created and the main view for your daily activities, hence the name.
Test View – A duplicate view of the Reporting view, used as a testing ground for any changes that you may wish to apply without potentially destroying or losing data. This view may also include data from staging/test sites and internal traffic. Once any changes have been tested here they can be applied to the reporting view.
One of the first things to consider is what access to you provide to different people within the organisation, your data in analytics is important and as such not everybody who needs access will need the same access rights.
Google Analytics now provides four different levels of access rights within its platform and these are as follows: –
- Manage Users
- Read & Analyse
The first two correspond to the old Google Analytics ‘Administrator’ role, collaborate is a new role that deals with shared assets such as Dashboards and Annotations. Read & Analyse corresponds to the previous ‘User’ level.
Some of these options are fairly self-explanatory such as ‘Manage Users’ but some need a little more explanation and understanding.
A user who has ‘Edit’ rights will have the ability to alter view data and this will apply to all users, so they can change settings, view filters and create goals.
‘Read & Analyse’ is not as some people think a different way of saying ‘read only’ as users with this level of access can still manipulate the data by creating such things as: –
- Intelligence Alerts
- Custom Reports
- Advanced Segments
The main difference to ‘Edit’ being that these changes are only visible by default to the user that created them and they do not affect the underlying data.
You can assign different access rights to users at all three levels of an account but there are a few things to consider when doing this, the three levels of the account are as follows: –
If you provide access at the Account level, then you cannot restrict access at any of the other levels. Access at this level can be provided to anyone who has an email address that is linked to a Google Account. Contrary to popular belief this DOES NOT have to be a Gmail address, it can be any email address if it is associated with a Google Account.
One last thing to bear in mind here is that all account Admins will have the same access rights as the account creator including the ability to delete, views, properties or even the account.
Are your settings correct?
This may seem like an obvious one but it’s worth spending 5 minutes of your time to check, you will need admin rights to do this and all the settings discussed can be accessed via ‘View Settings’ in your GA.
Time zone – Has your timezone been set to the relevant region for your domain, also make sure that this is consistent across all views.
Currency – If your business is an eCommerce store or you report on anything that involves currency make sure that this is set to the preferred currency as this will reflect in goals and eCommerce results.
Correctly Set Default Page – This can cause more issues than it solves so unless you are sure in what you are doing it is best to leave this blank. It is designed to avoid fragmentation of your homepage page views but it has SEO implications and can hide duplication issues that can be dealt with in better ways.
Filtering of Bots – Built into Google Analytics but by default, this is turned off, this should only be applied to your Reporting and Test views. We all know that Bots and Spam Traffic can inflate and distort your data so although a very basic implementation (there are other ways to deal with spam) it does help and is worth applying.
Enable Site Search – If you have a search facility to enable users to search your site (and let’s face it you should) then this can provide valuable insights into how users are behaving on your domain and can help in identifying things users can’t find. You will need to know the query parameters being utilised by your search engine to enable this.
Link Other Accounts – Are you utilising Adwords or Search Console (Webmaster Tools) if the answer is yes then ensure that these accounts are linked to your Analytics account.* Both of these tools can share data into your Analytics giving a much clearer view of performance from all avenues and allow additional reporting options.
*All accounts will need to have the same email address for this to work correctly
Query Parameters – these can affect your results in a big way as each time a query parameter is added to a URL it is seen and reported as a separate page by Google Analytics. These can great a large number of pages to be reported on that you do not really care about, if they are not different enough for you to be of use then they can be excluded.
Content Grouping – Depending on your site structure and what your site is about, content grouping can help to organise pages/content into logical groups. So, if your site dealt with pets, for instance, you may wish to have your data sorted by cat or dog. Obviously, this is a basic example and further grouping can help drill down into further information.
Filter IP’s and Referrals – Google analytics will record all sessions even if they are from your organisation’s own staff or any external agencies you may be working with and again this can inflate and skew your data. You can exclude IP addresses of your own machines and other domains that visit the site for the purpose of auditing and development, and it is recommended that this is setup as soon as possible.
You should also look exclude to exclude self-referral (traffic from your own domain) and Payment Gateway referral such as Paypal.
Is everything tracking that should be?
Is every page that should be tracked on your website actually being tracked, if pages exist on your website without the relevant code then they will not pass data to GA. There are various tools out there that can crawl your site and check for pages without the analytics code implemented, we use Screaming Frog.
If you have a mobile site that is a separate site from the main site (usually only on large sites as most small sites should now be responsive) then you need to ensure that mobile tracking is on all pages, again Screaming Frog can check this.
Ensure that tracking is on your 404 pages as this will help identify broken pages on the site if your 404 page has 404 in the URL this is a really easy way for it to be highlighted.
You should also check that the tracking code is appearing where it should be on the page as this can stop the script from firing and finally ensure that there is only a single occurrence of the code on each page, multiple codes will track multiple visits.
Verify your eCommerce code is working
If your website involves transactional data, such as in an eCommerce store then it’s always a good thing to check that this is tracking correctly. Put a few test transactions through your site and then check the data is being reported correctly in GA. (This can take 24 hours to show)
Setup Goals and Events
All websites have a purpose, whether it’s to sell a product/service, gain a lead or merely provide information. As such all websites, can have goals and events and these can be tracked within GA. Ensure that you have Goals set up in order to record the things that are of value to your business, this might be a form fill or it might be to track a thank-you page from a transaction.
Google Analytics provides a number of predefined goal templates and while these can be used to some effect it is generally better to define your own goal through the custom option.
If you can define a set path in which a user is expected to complete to reach a destination triggered as a goal, then you can also setup a funnel for that goal that can assist in identifying where people are dropping off and not completing the goal (abandonment).
In some instances, you may not have a specific page for the goal such as a thank-you page but you may be able to trigger a goal via an event such as an on-click. These usually involve wrapping extra code around a button or image that drives an action and you can use tool’s such as Raven’s URL builder to assist in creating this code.
One thing to bear in mind here is that Goals and Events are not retroactive and will only track from the time they are implemented so it’s important to get these up and running as soon as you can.
Because GA by default only records data when a page is requested on the site, there are many instances whereby actions are triggered but do not activate or load a page. This is where event tracking comes into its own and can even be used to track exits onto off-site links. Other uses include: –
- Opens/Downloads of Pdf’s etc
- Video Plays and other actions
- Mailto: and Tel: links
- Form Completion etc;
Hopefully, you can now see that there is much more to setting up your Analytics than applying the code to the pages of the website and hoping for the best. When it is implemented correctly GA is a very powerful tool in the hands of your marketing team and can identify opportunities as well as show how a site is performing and we will touch on other aspects of GA in other articles.
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