As a consultant, I encounter many clients who have installed Google Analytics on their sites. However, when I look at their profiles they are not completely configured. This means that they are not getting the most out of Google Analytics or even worse yet – that the data they are using to make business decisions is not entirely accurate!!
In this blog post, I am going to walk you through setting up your Google Analytics account and point out common mistakes I see all too frequently. So even if you’ve had Google Analytics installed on your site for a while, it’s a good idea to review the material below to make sure you have it fully optimized. For the purpose of this post, we’ll assume that the tracking code is correctly installed on the pages.
So, you are getting ready to launch your new website and want to add Google Analytics tracking. Or, perhaps you’ve decided to add Google Analytics onto an existing site because of all of all the great features. Congratulations!! You avoided the biggest mistake of all – not Installing Google Analytics on your site. Every site should have Google Analytics for a number of reasons. One very compelling reason is:
- It’s free and, in many cases, is easier to use than that tool you’re paying for! If you ever decide to switch from Omniture, Coremetrics, or some other Web Analytics tool to Google Analytics Premium, you already have your historical information in your Google Analytics report suite.
Common Mistake: Adding tracking code to the site, but not configuring the profile
People often just add the code but because it’s not their “system of record” and don’t take the extra time (1-2 hours) to actually set up the profile correctly. This can have many adverse effects that greatly diminish the efficiency of Google Analytics. Google is great because it’s so easy to use. When the profile isn’t set up correctly, Google Analytics then becomes difficult to use, thus negating its main selling point.
Check #1: Default profile, clean and unfiltered
The very first thing you should do is create your default Google Analytics profile (no filters applied) that will act as your “safety net.” It is considered a best practice to create an unfiltered profile to reference in case one of your other profiles becomes corrupted by a filter. Remember, once data is filtered it cannot be reprocessed. Having this “safety net” profile in place will allow you to get accurate unfiltered data if this were to happen.
Check #2: Ensure that default profile is optimized
Next, you want to properly configure your profile settings within your default profile.
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As you can see above, I gave my profile a meaningful name, which is my website followed by “(unfiltered)” to indicate that this profile will be my safety net or unfiltered profile. Next you need to fill out the country and time zone in which Google bases hours/days on in your reporting suite.
Common Mistake: Leaving the default page blank
The default page is the page shown to a visitor when they directly type in your domain into their browser. If you don’t fill out this field, your content reports will not be clean and you will see two line items instead of one. You might remember to add them together, but will your co-workers? For example, you may look in your content reports and see your home page show up two different ways as shown below.
By filling out the default page you will avoid this issue and all of your home page data will show up as index.html.
Common Mistake: Not excluding any URL parameters
Another common mistake I often see is leaving the Exclude URL Query Parameters blank. Let’s say you are looking in your content reports to see how many pageviews mypage.html received. In the content report, you see the following pages:
The problem is that both pages are the same exact page, but Google Analytics sees them as different pages because of the added query parameter – in this case sessionId. Google Analytics has a nice workaround that allows you to exclude query parameters, which will allow these two instances to show up as one page – mypage.html.
As you can see above, I added sessionId into this section to handle this issue. You can add other query string parameters by separating them with a comma.
If you are not sure what query string parameters your site is currently using, you can pull this information directly from Google Analytics! Use the Top Content report and in the inline filter type \? and you will get a list of all the pages containing query string parameters. Enter these parameters into your profile settings and it will make analyzing your pages much easier.
Common Mistake: Not setting up onsite search tracking
Site search tracking is often another neglected area within profiles. If you have onsite search on your website, select “Do Track Site Search” and enter your query parameter.
How do you know what your query parameter is? Typically, if you search on your site, the search term will appear in the URL. For example, if I search the CrossView blog for my name you can see the search term show up in the URL. In this case “s” would be the value I would enter into the query parameter field.
Check #3: Link Google Analytics to other Google tools
Now that you have the basics of your profile setup, you will want to link your Google Analytics account to your Adwords account and your Webmaster Tools account. By linking your Adwords account, you can analyze where people who click on your ads go once they reach your site. This information can help you improve your ads and your website to try and make more money per click. By linking your Webmaster Tools account you will gain access to the Search Engine Optimization reports. Google support does a nice job of illustrating how to link your accounts:
Check #4: Too many cooks (or Admins) in the kitchen!
Another potential issue is granting admin rights to all users. This is a major mistake. You should limit admin access to ONLY those users who truly need those rights. The more users who have admin privileges increase the likelihood of profile corruption and even worse, deletion.
Check #5: Goals, goals, goals
Setup the goals you want to track in Google Analytics. Goals are how Google Analytics tracks conversions, which is a method to measure the success of a website. Perhaps you want to setup a goal to track leads, so you can create a goal that is triggered when someone fills out your contact form. Or maybe you want to setup a goal for an email capture. Whatever is important to your business, just know that you can track up to 20 different goals in Google Analytics. Often I come across profiles that are not using any of these slots, which means these companies are missing critical insights into their business.
Check #6: Create an optimized main reporting profile (with filters as needed)
Now that you have your “safety net” profile created, you can create your main reporting profile. Follow the same steps to setup this profile and then add a series of best practice filters, alerts, and annotations.
At a minimum, I suggest setting up the following best practice filters:
- Include Hostname Filter – this filter will filter out any traffic that is not from your website.
- Exclude Internal Traffic – this filter will exclude all traffic from your corporate IP address or range.
- Lowercase URLs – this filter will convert all pages to lowercase. This is important because Google Analytics sees mypage.html and Mypage.html as two different pages. I also strongly suggest converting all marketing mediums, sources, etc. to lowercase. As various employees tag links, they may not always be lowercase. For example, Google will see Email and email as two different mediums.
- Show Domain – this filter is important for those of you who have setup cross-domain tracking. For example, let’s say you have a page called mypage1.html on www.mydomain1.com and a page called mypage2.html on www.mydomain2.com. Without this filter, your content reports will list both pages and you won’t be able to tell which website the page is located on.
- mypage1.html will become www.mydomain1.com/mypage1.html
- mypage2.html will become www.mydomain2.com/mypage2.html
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Common Mistake: Not taking advantage of Google Analytics custom alerts
After you setup the above filters, I would take some time to create a handful of basic alerts to notify you of potential site issues. There are many useful alerts you can create to be notified of certain happenings such as changes in organic traffic, page load times, bounce rates, etc. At a minimum I would suggest setting up the following two alerts, informing you of major issues.
- No Visits Alert – set this up as a daily alert to be notified of potential tracking or site issues.
- No Revenue Alert – set this up as a daily alert to be notified of potential e-commerce tracking or site issues.
Common Mistake: Not utilizing annotations to track significant milestones
Lastly, take advantage of annotations within Google Analytics. I come across businesses all of the time that fail to make use of this feature. Often I will be asked to look at data in a reporting suite and there is a spike, dip, or even a complete falloff in the data with no explanation. You may remember what happened a week or even a few months from now, but will you remember next year? What happens if the person who knew what happened leaves the company? Well, you get the point – annotations are a huge time saver and can be used to describe particular events.
That’s all there is to it! Remember, a few extra minutes during the initial setup will improve data quality and save you time down the road.