BIG Partnership Digital Marketing Director, Euan Blair, shares a checklist of things to look out for in your Google Analytics account to ensure you are getting the most value from the data it collects.
Google Analytics is a powerful tool for any business. It lets you answer questions like: “how many people visit my site?”; “Where do they come from?”; “What do they look at?”; and, critically, “Is my website making me money?”
These questions can only be answered correctly if your Google Analytics tracking is set up and used properly.
Over my career, I have worked with hundreds of businesses and had access to their Google Analytics accounts. I have seen almost every mistake and misconfiguration of Google Analytics imaginable.
The following is a checklist of things to look out for, avoid and fix in your Google Analytics setup to maintain a healthy account.
I’ve defined each issue, the impact it can have, then explain or link to resources on how to fix the issue.
1. Incorrect account structure
Google Analytics account structure can be confusing unless you know what you are doing. It is structured as follows:
Account > Property > View
Each element is defined as:
- Account – the main “bucket” for a company, one for each client if you are an agency.
- Property – a property is your website. If you have multiple websites, you can have multiple properties, one for each site.
- Views – used to view your data. You should have multiple views, setup in various ways which I will cover at a later point.
So for my agency, BIG Partnership, we use the following structure:
BIG Partnership > www.bigpartnership.co.uk > All Website Data – Use Daily
I repeatedly see agencies and developers create their client’s sites (property) under their account instead of a creating a separate account for each client.
The problems this creates is in accessing information.
I remember once being able to see data, including sales and revenue figures, for a competitor agency’s full client list. This was because each of their clients was created as a property under a single account.
In that instance, I put a call into the competitor agency to flag the issue, but the client was not best pleased that every one of the agency’s clients could see their data.
Google realised this was a common issue. In September 2016, they gave site owners the ability to move properties between accounts. Before this, the only way for a client to have full access and control of their data and not see everyone else’s was to create a fresh account. This meant they lost previous data which prevents doing comparative date based analysis.
If you must create a new Google Analytics account for a client, make sure it is specific to the client.
I would not like to have been the agency that had to call all their clients to confess their mistake before the transfer method was released…
2. No filters set up
Google Analytics, as standard, records all visits coming to a website. If you or your staff visit your website, they will be counted in the stats, unless you have those visits filtered out.
I once worked with a large organisation that had multiple offices across the UK. When their staff opened their web browser, their IT department had set the company’s homepage as the start page. This massively skewed their stats; over inflating visitor numbers.
The look of disappointment on the marketing manager’s face was heartbreaking when I told her 80% of her website performance was from her colleagues. She had been presenting numbers to her board that were meaningless.
Google Analytics allows you to remove types and sources of traffic through the use of filters.
Common filters I use exclude internal traffic, traffic from agencies or other partners and SPAM bots. By excluding relevant IP addresses in the filter section, you can be confident you are measuring the correct type of user and basing your decisions on accurate data.
3. No back-up or test views
Filters are useful to give you clean data, but they can also be dangerous if misconfigured. They process data before it appears in your reports. If you make a mistake, you cannot remove the filter and fix the data that was already recorded.
It is best practice to set up both a back-up and test view. This gives you a source of unfiltered data and somewhere to play around with filters before moving them to your main view.
I tend to set up three views at a minimum. My preferred setup and naming convention is:
- All Website Data – Use Daily (the view used for all analysis)
- All Website Data – Back-up DO NOT DELETE (unfiltered just in case something goes horribly, horribly wrong)
- All Website Data – Test View FOR TESTING ONLY (used to trial filters before moving to the “Use Daily” view)
We all make mistakes. I once accidently misconfigured a filter even after testing it in the test view. I lost a day’s worth of data, but the back-up view minimised the loss. I had to spend extra time stitching together reports from the two views that month, but it was a small price to pay for something that could have been far more serious.
4. Failure to review data
The analyst in me used to die little any time a client said: “Analytics for my website? Nah, no clue.”
It is less common now, but this is a huge opportunity to help improve a client’s performance. Allowing a marketing manager to go back to their boss with accurate visitor numbers or show a business owner how their website is doing can be very powerful and helps cement the client relationship.
5. No goals set up
How do you know your website is meeting its target objectives if you do not measure them?
Google Analytics lets us measure sales, downloads, form submissions and views of key pages. By setting these as goals, you can quickly see how your website is performing and work out what type of traffic is working best and what pages are most important to your visitors. This information lets you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
The ease of tracking goals is dependent on your business’s objective and set-up of your website, but a good analyst will help you create a measurement model and map goals and actions on your website to track overall performance.
6. No goal funnels
Related to not tracking goals is not having goal funnels set up.
A goal funnel maps out each step in the process of completing a goal. They are used to improve the effectiveness of these processes and reduce the number of people abandoning before completing it.
Imagine you sell products online. Your checkout process has several steps for entering in delivery address, billing address, credit card details, etc.
With a goal funnel, you can see how far people get through the process and where they drop off.
I have used this with retailers to help improve the checkout process leading to more sales. I have also used with sites that generate leads by improving contact forms.
You simply list each step in the process while setting up the goal. Google Analytics then gives you a nice funnel report you can use to determine pain points for your users which you can then fix.
7. Very low bounce rate
A “bounce” is recorded when a visitor views one page then leaves without engaging with anything on the page or visiting another page on that website. The bounce rate is the number of visitors who bounced expressed a percentage of total site visitors.
Google’s Analytics Evangelist Avinash Kaushik, (subscribe to his blog!) came up with my favourite definition of a bounce – “I came, I puked, I left.”
Clients often ask: “What’s a good bounce rate?” The truthful answer is: “It depends.” It is based on the purpose of the page; blog pages, for example, tend to have higher bounce rates than other pages. Users read the information they came for then leave, but a high bounce rate on these pages is not necessarily bad.
I have a general rule of thumb that a bounce rate up to 40% is pretty healthy. 41% to 70%, you can improve on this, especially the closer to 70% you get. Any pages over 71%, depending on the context of the page, should be prioritised for review.
If, however, you see ridiculously low bounce rates – say 0%,10%,15% – you should also prioritise reviewing these pages. Chances are those pages have two Google Analytics codes firing off which is skewing your data. Your developer will be able to provide a solution to this.
8. PDFs not tracked
PDFs are used on websites for downloadable documents; factsheets, case studies, sales sheet, white papers, etc.
Google Analytics tracks web pages that include the tracking code. PDFs, while they can be viewed online, are not web pages and therefore aren’t tracked in a standard Google Analytics configuration. Fortunately, download volumes can be tracked with just slight tweaks to your website.
The exact method of tracking PDFs differs based on your website and Google Analytics setup. The same method can be used to track all downloadable documents, regardless of file type.
9. Capturing private customer data
The previous points prevent a business from fully understanding their performance and acting to improve it. This point, however, relates to data protection and if you run afoul of it, can come with a serious financial penalty, up to £500,000 for serious breaches!
Google Analytics usage terms state that you cannot capture Personal Identifiable Information (PII). This includes names, phone number, email addresses, credit card details, etc.
This can occur if your website records this data when some completes an action. I have seen client websites that when you complete a contact form, the “thank-you” page is something along the lines of “/firstname.lastname@example.org .“
The email address then ends up in a Google Analytics content report. A quick way to check if you are in capturing PII is to navigate to a content report and filter for “@” as shown below.
If you find this, you need to talk to your developer immediately.
10. Not linking Google Analytics and AdWords
AdWords is Google’s paid advertising program; the ads you often see on search results pages. You pay each time some clicks on your ads and are therefore sometimes called PPC (pay per click) ads.
The AdWords platform itself gives advertisers a wealth of data such as how many times their ads were seen and clicked on. Unless you hook AdWords up to Google Analytics, you will be blind to what that traffic does when it arrives on your site.
By linking the two platforms together, you can improve your AdWords performance by spending less on poor quality keywords and allocate that budget to keywords shown to perform well.
Unless there were exceptional circumstances, I would never recommend running an AdWords campaign without first linking it to Analytics.
So that is my top ten issues to look for in Google Analytics and keep your account healthy.
Avoiding or fixing these will ensure you are working with accurate data. I would not base decisions on anything else. Garbage in, garbage out as the saying goes.
If you would like a review of your Google Analytics setup or to talk over any of the items listed, please get in touch.