Much like a summer concert in Charleston, Google Analytics can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It can be full of sunny promises and a warm breeze, ready to provide you with all of the trappings of a truly glorious day, or it can be sticky and messy, making you wish you could hole up in an air-conditioned building until the end of your days.
Even I can admit this comparison is a bit of a stretch, but it also rings true. Google Analytics can be a wonderful world of data and reporting that gives vast insight into your web properties, but it can also be a sticky mess with even one small slip up. To help provide an overview of what you should look for and be aware of, I’ve enlisted song titles of my favorite band, which always makes my summer better even if no air conditioning is involved. Hopefully highlighting these easy-to-make mistakes will save you a lot of time, effort, and loss of accurate data down the road by watching out for them, and help you to not make them in the first place.
It’s important when you first set up Analytics to have a plan for how you want to organize and track your web properties. You can either create multiple properties each with their own views, or one property with multiple views. Choose whichever is most beneficial to you, but be aware the more properties you have, the more complicated the code implementation. To keep your Analytics account (and your website code) more organized and streamlined, use a “master property” and apply multiple views to it if possible.
When you are implementing the Analytics tracking code snippet, be sure you are including the correct unique ID (often called a UA) within the tracking code. Each Google Analytics property has its own customized UA and like the tracking code itself, it needs to be correct and included on every page you want to track. If you want the same page tracked in two separate GA properties, you are going to need to include both IDs (hence the more complicated implementation). This execution is extremely important, as it tells Google which data you want to be fed to which property within Analytics.
To coincide with the importance of customizing the Analytics code to each specific property, be sure to implement your Analytics code correctly overall. A lot of times we find Analytics code in the footer, only partially in the <head> tag or somewhere else altogether, which can make data being fed to Analytics incomplete or incorrect. Make sure you copy the entire snippet unedited and in its entirety onto every web page you want to track, immediately before the closing </head> tag.
Please, say goodbye to old tracking codes that you no longer use or need. If you’re a long time user of Analytics, you have probably evolved your Analytics over time. Maybe you have rebranded and no longer use the same URL that you used to, like Marketing Mojo, so you’ve updated your Analytics property accordingly. As our Director of Technology has said in the past, “clean code is happy code” – so if you no longer need old tracking codes on pages, clean it up!
Do you have multiple domains or subdomains? Do you have a shopping cart or donation process that jumps from your main website to a secure server or subdomain? If so, you need to make sure that the setDomainName portion of the Analytics code is customized to include your main domain, and not set on the default configuration of ‘none’. You can read more details in Amanda Sides’ post Stick the Landing Page, but this needs to be customized so traffic and other metrics are attributed to the correct source (paid, organic, etc.), and not reported as referral traffic. This can affect your “big picture” strategy as well – if you don’t know what sources your conversions are coming from, how are you supposed to make executive decisions on the best use of your budget?
If your AdWords and Analytics accounts are linked, you need to be sure Analytics is correctly reporting AdWords traffic for what it is (paid), and not as organic traffic. One way this can become an issue is if you haven’t enabled “Linked View(s)” in the Admin section of Analytics. Be sure to choose at least one view to link, as it is required for data to be shared between accounts and correctly attributed to AdWords in Analytics.
Third party and other Google-driven tools can be a great help to developers, but they can also cause issues when it comes to Analytics. Java Script tag managers, third party platforms like Convio, and hidden iframes can all prevent or hinder certain tags from tracking correctly. Place the code in the correct place, and make sure you do your research before utilizing one of these helpful tools.
All in all, Analytics should be your best friend and should have you singing its praises (preferably to Dave Matthews Band, if you’re anything like me). Just be sure as you get started or make updates, that you don’t make a small mistake that could cause you major problems and a big headache later on.