How To Use Google Analytics Whilst Avoiding Common (& Expensive!) Setup Mistakes
So…you’ve got Google Analytics installed on your website but when you log in, have a look around… you feel like you’re looking at the cockpit of a Boeing 777 and not sure where to start.
You’re wise to not to rush in too fast. Analytics is my favourite digital marketing too, but if you don’t have it configured correctly, or interpret the data out of context, it could lead to some very expensive, and incorrect decisions.
I understand, but rest assured you’re not alone.
I’ve looked at hundreds of Google Analytics accounts, and in this article, I’m going to step through the common setup pitfalls to avoid, so you can use Google Analytics confidently, use it to boost your online presence, improve marketing effectiveness and grow your business.
If set up correctly, Google Analytics should become your one single source of truth when it comes to your digital marketing.
The problem with many “How To” guides is they avoid some of the slightly more ‘in-depth’ issues which can make or break your tracking.
They also don’t really touch on how your website design and implementation can ease your ability to measure your marketing.
A bad implementation of your website, or implementing any third party solutions as part of your website in an incorrect manner (such as appointment or hotel booking software) can also curtail your ability to track your online return on investment correctly.
If you are a business owner or part of a marketing team, you can use Google Analytics to help justify your marketing spend…
…but if you don’t set up your analytics correctly (intentionally or not), it’s almost pointless using data from it to report on as you may have some of the following issues with your reporting :
- Wrong marketing decisions being made due to misleading data
- Your user numbers may be overinflated
- The success of your marketing campaigns may be underreported
(yes, imagine, you could look better just by tidying up some data!)
Sure, you can get a lot of digital metrics from different marketing tools you may use like the ones listed below :
- Number of Email Subscribers
(from your email marketing service)
- Number of Direct versus Indirect Bookings
(in your hotel booking engine)
- Number of Enquiries
(in your email inbox – if you have used a unique subject line on your website email link!)
But here’s a problem with using the solutions above on their own.
The third party tools won’t usually tell you WHERE your conversion comes from, or where your direct bookings for your hotel came from. Without that information, you can’t work out which marketing channels are working for your (or not!).
A correctly setup Google Analytics account can tell you all of the above.
(See “Google Analytics As Your Single Source Of Truth” below)
So let’s dive into some of the most common setup mistakes…
1. Ensure Google Analytics Is In Your Website Brief (or on your existing site!)
Just in case you are in this situation, ensure you have Google Analytics set up on your website.
It still amazes me how many websites I encounter without Google Analytics installed, and many of these are built by big agencies.
If someone has built your website without considering this, then I’d question whether they should be building your website at all.
Sure, you may not have asked for Analytics to be installed specifically, but this is digital marketing 101 (unless of course, you are using another tool but Google Analytics is the most widespread analytics tool, and it’s free…and much better than anything you’ll get inside your web platform).
You can check if Google Analytics is on your site in a number of ways. the easiest one is to view your website then look for the code like in the image below using these steps :
- Right click and click View Page Source (or in Chrome menus click View -> Developer Tools -> View Source)
- Ignore all the tech stuff and click COMMAND+F (or CTRL F on a PC)
- Type ‘UA-‘ without the quotes in the search box
- You’re looking for something like UA-12345678-1
- If that’s not found, do the same and look for ‘GTM’
- If neither of those are found you probably don’t have Google Analytics on your website
(Note : In October 2017 Google also released a new tag version called ‘gtag’ but it’s unlikely you’re using this quite yet)
Don’t Rely On Your Web Developer To Set Up Google Analytics
Web developers are not digital marketers so you shouldn’t rely on them to set up your metrics (although there are some exceptions!).
Most developers will install Google Analytics on your site, but all this does is install the basic tracking code.
You will get some amazing information from a basic installation such as some of the data below :
- Visitor numbers
- Location of visitors
- Devices they are viewing your website one
(Desktop / Mobile / Tablet)
- Bounce rate
(percentage of visitors viewing only one page)\
- Number of pages viewed per visit
- Most popular pages of your website
…and a whole lot more data is available
(would you like to know which mobile network your visitors are coming from? No…probably not but you can do. Easily).
The problem is, by just putting the Google Analytics code on your website, and not doing anything else, all you’re getting is basic data.
You will not be getting the metrics that really matter to your business like goals about enquiries or sales.
2. Ensure You Own Your Google Analytics Account
As I said before, your developers aren’t typically analytics experts and more often than I’d like, I see Analytics accounts set up under an agency or developer’s Google Account.
This means you do not own your own data!
It also means they will never give you admin access to your data, as you’d see ALL their client’s data!
Imagine your accountant telling you “Sure you can look at the transactions, but you can’t change anything in your account”.
Crazy Isn’t It?
Up until around November 2016 you were stuck with this scenario, but luckily, after a lot of pressure, Google now allows you to move data between accounts.
There are two things I hear from developers which really frustrate me :
We’ll just start another analytics account for the new website
If you don’t have access to your account, we’ll just create a new analytics account
You do not need to start another analytics account if you are in this scenario, and it highlights the person you are dealing with doesn’t know analytics in depth, or doesn’t care enough to look for a solution.
To find out if you have admin access there’s usually a few giveaway signs :
- The name of your account has nothing to do with your business
e.g if it’s named after a previous agency, or some Star Trek type name, there’s a good chance it’s under your agency’s (or previous agencies) account.
- You don’t have admin access to your Google Analytics account
If you go to Admin -> Account -> User Management and you can’t add other users, then you don’t have admin access.
If you go to View -> Filters -> Add Filter and you can’t, then you don’t have admin access
This also means you can’t clean up your analytics data – which is Google Analytics 101 for a power user.
The good news is, its possible to create a new Google Analytics account, and transfer the previous account into your own one.
It’s even possible to reclaim access to a Google Analytics account if you have lost access details, or been hijacked by an agency that’s ceased trading (I’ve seen that too), with a few caveats.
3. Starting a New Analytics Account
If an agency ever suggests to you to start a new Google Analytics account, ask them why.
A new account will still track the same data, but if a lot of effort has went into configuring goals, excluding irrelevant traffic and setting up e-commerce data all that work will have to be redone.
The biggest reason for not starting a new Google Analytics account is you won’t be able to compare current and historical data in reports, as the data would be split across accounts.
Even if you’re not comparing data just now, you’ll probably kick yourself next year when you can’t compare data side by side easily.
You won’t be able to do this so easily if you start a new account :
4. Enable Ecommerce Tracking
It may seem weird, but e-commerce tracking isn’t enabled by default on Google Analytics.
If you are selling anything with any revenue attached to it, this should be reported inside analytics so you can see the success of any digital marketing activity.
It still amazes me how many Analytics accounts I look at, where the website is making online sales, but there’s no revenue data for them. Sometimes, by just flicking a switch in the account like below, a whole bunch of revenue related data comes flooding through.
One thing to note: Your shopping cart must support Google Analytics Ecommerce Tracking for this to work – you did think about this in the requirements didn’t you? ;-)
Most shopping carts support Google Analytics and usually provide a place for you to enter in your unique Google Analytics ID (e.g. UA-123456-1)
If you are using a third party hosted shopping cart, there’s another element you need to consider : Cross Domain Tracking – we’ll get to that later.
5. Get Rid Of Spam Data
Imagine if your visitor numbers were super inflated, or your bounce rate was way lower than you were reporting to your boss?
That’s what can easily happen when you have ‘spam’ data within your Google Analytics account.
This can be a trivial issue, but I’ve seen sites where their real traffic was 75% lower than Analytics lead you to believe.
Sadly, people with more time than sense can send data to random Analytics accounts and it pollutes your data. You haven’t been hacked as such, and it won’t cause any problems with your website, but boy can it cause problems with your data.
In the example below, almost 77.48% of the website’s data was spam – that means real visitor numbers were 77.48% lower than you’d think without diving into the details!
Note : Red elements below are bad, green are ok. Note the high bounce rate for the red ones.
The good news is there are ways to filter that out so only traffic from relevant websites you know about are reported.
It makes your data way cleaner!
6. Have Multiple Data Views
The true Google Analytics pros will always have multiple views set up.
The main view will contain filtered data such as removing spam data, and internal users. Imagine if your team check your website lots, then leave your website quickly. Yes, if you don’t filter these out your bounce rate will be overinflated, as will your visitor numbers.
A second view can be used which has all raw data (including spam!) to check any anomolies.
This set up is shown below :
7. Set Up Business Goals To Report On
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so now’s a good time to set up some business metrics and goals to track and measure.
The best goals and metrics will depend on both your business and the capabilities of your website, but some great examples are :
- Sales and associated revenue
- Enquiry form submissions
- Email link clicks
- Phone number link clicks
- Specific downloads (e.g. a trip packing list for an activity provider or other PDF)
- Email list subscriptions
After this, you can measure more ‘micro’ sized goals such as clicks to your social media channels.
When you start to set up goals, this is where you will discover the way your website has been implemented can make a big difference to the ease of tracking in many different ways.
The simplest form of goal is to track a “Destination Based” goal such as an enquiry form leading to the destination of a “Thank You” Page such as yourwebsite.com/thanks-for-your-enquiry
This is where your web developer can start to hurt you a little bit by implementing your site without thinking about how to measure it.
If you have an enquiry form that stays on the same page with a little green message that pops up saying “Thanks – We’ll be in touch”, it’s a lot harder to measure it.
Also, if you have a specific thank you page, it’s a chance to show something else to someone who’s shown a strong interest in your services – e.g. a little video explaining your services.
If you do have one of those messages, and the page stays on the same web address, it’s still possible to measure it, but you’ll have to get a bit more geeky so I won’t cover it here (hint : Google Tag Manager, it’s epic!)
To measure a “Thank You” page as a goal, all you have to do is this :
- Go to Admin, and select the most appropriate view
(this means you click on the cog on the bottom left)
- Click Goals, then New Goal
- Click Custom the Continue
- Enter a name for your goal
- Leave the default goal slot ID
- Click Destination as Type, Continue
- Click Equals To, and cut and paste the last part of your website address in here
(Note: Follow the instructions Google gives you, it’s not the whole web address as I commonly see, it’s the part after the domain name e.g. for https://mysite.com/thank-you/ you should just put in /thank-you/)
- Click Verify This Goal
(If you get everything correct you should see a number under here if you have an active website. If it’s 0% it may be you’ve made a typing mistake, or there’s no active enquiries)
There’s a whole bunch of cool things you can do when creating goals such as :
- Setting up funnels so you can visually see where people are dropping off
(See the funnel visualisation below)
- Making your goals more generic to minimise future errors
- Tracking a whole bunch more stuff such as email and phone clicks, but that’s for another day.
This is an example of a funnel visualisation created from a goal – without this is harder to realise more than 50% of users who add to cart aren’t getting to the next stage! This is a good time to go and try and work out why!
Wouldn’t you love to be able to see how many emails you received were from your website, and see which source of traffic lead to that email? You can use Google Analytics Events and Goals combined, but it’s a little bit more in depth than this article.
Advanced Tip: You can also track phone calls using 3rd party systems (or Google if you are using AdWords). Tuck that up your sleeve for later. I once had a Head of Marketing say he wasn’t bothered about tracking phone calls for advertising. That’s a crazy thing as the sister company were getting a ton of calls per month so their campaigns were probably working way better than he realised!
8. Use Google Analytics As Your Single Source Of Truth
If you have a relatively basic understanding of Google Analytics, this is where you should realise why tracking goals inside Analytics give you far more information.
You may see the raw data about the number of email subscribers in your email platform such as MailChimp or (even better) Active Campaign (use referral link) but the problem with this is it won’t tell you where that visitor came from – e.g. the marketing campaign, the referring website etc.
This is where Google Analytics can really excel by bringing all that data together.
If you log into Google Analytics, navigate the left hand menus to get to Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels.
If you see a report like below, and you don’t have revenue in multiple channels it may indicate an issue.
If you have appropriate goals set up, you can change the drop down under ‘Conversions’ (top right below) and select yor different goals to see where conversions are coming from.
If you drill down on each channel group by clicking on the left hand column, you’ll get more information on where these conversions came from.
You can use this to see if some of the following types of campaigns are working :
- Paid listings on 3rd party websites
- Referrals from articles on 3rd party websites
- Which keywords are driving conversions
(assuming you have linked Google Search Console to Google Analytics)
- …and much more!
This is one of my favourite starting reports, and if you have analytics configured correctly, you’re looking at digital marketing gold below, whether you realise it or not.
Just getting this right could save you thousands of dollars a year the next time you get a sales call like “Would you like to renew your paid listing on XYZ website?”……”Erm, no…you’re not driving any traffic to me”.
You wouldn’t want to miss out on savings like this and many other insights just by having a poor Google Analytics setup would you?
9. Ensure You Have The Correct Currency Set
This probably isn’t an issue for US-based readers, but Analytics uses USD as the default currency.
If you have AdWords or eCommerce data being sent through in another currency, there may be currency conversion happening behind the scenes, so your data could be very misleading!
You can check this in Admin -> View -> Settings
10. Not Using Google Annotations (Notes)
This is a simple one to give your brain a break…
Imagine looking back and seeing a spike in traffic, or even worse a massive drop in traffic…
…and not knowing what caused it.
Let’s face it, we’ve got attention spans less than a goldfish nowadays so can you remember what happened on your website last month, never mind last year.
The good news is you can add small notes known as annotations within Google Analytics. They are very subtly hidden behind a discreet little arrow in most analytics reports as highlighted below :
When you add an annotation, you’ll see a little speech bubble which you can click on to let you know what happened on the website.
Top Tip : When your web developers do something, add a note! ;-)
Top Tip 2 : When you go live with a new marketing campaign (even an offline radio ad or print media ad!) put a note in here. You could even post in here every time you do a Facebook post, depending on how often you do it, or what effect a post has on your traffic. Wouldn’t it be great to remember in a year’s time, that spike in traffic was due to that one post that went viral….
11. Make Sure Your Online Sales Are Attributed To The Right Channel (Cross Domain Tracking)
If you have everything on your own website, and don’t rely on any third parties then this section shouldn’t apply to you (but read on just incase you use ‘iframes’ which are explained later).
If you have a look at the “Channels’ report and you see something like this, then you probably have an issue :
This is a classic case of being able to question and interpret the data you are looking at, and “feel” if it looks right and put it into context.
If you see something like this, then you’re probably OK :
If you use any form of third party to fulfil sales or bookings then you are about to read one of the most common pitfalls you can fall into (without even realising), and many web developers won’t be aware of this either, as they are not analytics specialists.
Listed below are a few example scenarios where this may happen :
- You use a 3rd party ecommerce shopping cart
- You have a WordPress website then click to Shopify for e-commerce
- You are a hotel and use a 3rd party booking engine
(e.g. Synxis, Siteminder, Resbook, etc)
- You are an activity provider and use a 3rd party booking engine
- You use a 3rd party appointment booking platform
(e.g. Acuity scheduling)
By default, Google can attribute goals and revenue to different marketing channels such as:
- Organic Visits
- Direct Visits
- Paid Traffic (e.g. Google AdWords)
- Referrals from other websites
- Social media
This is amazing – and it can work straight out of the box IF your website is standalone.
If you use a third party at the end of your sales cycle, by default, if you got referred to from WebsiteA, then someone visited your website and booked on a website called something like MyBooking.com, without something like Cross Domain tracking being set up, the sale will be attributed to MyBooking.com.
If you are measuring your marketing correctly, you’d want to know the source of the booking was from Website A (especially if you are paying for a banner or listing on that website, or it was from an article written by a social media influencer you hosted!).
This is why you may not be able to track revenue correctly :
The downside is, the source of revenue is lost forever.
The big thing is many developers don’t think about this, or don’t even understand it’s an issue!
To fix this, there’s two main things you have to do :
- Add some code to the Google Analytics Code
You need to add in a bit of code to the standard Google Analytics code like below :
See https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1034342 for more information – above image taken from there(Again, this type of setup is easier using, you guessed it, Google Tag Manager but let’s stick to pure Analytics in this post!)
- Tell Analytics to treat traffic to and from the 3rd party site as though it’s your ownFor any websites that are part of your user experience you need to tell Google Analytics about them, and add them to the Referral Exclusions list.Head to Admin -> Property -> Tracking Code -> Referral Exclusions
You only need to add the top level domains, not subdomains (e.g. myshopify.com, not yourshop.myshopify.com)
For more information on this, see the help article from Google :https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2795830
As an added extra, if you think your user journey is all contained in your website, you may have data from a third party website embedded via an ‘iFrame’ (this is what YouTube uses by default). If this is the case, then the solution for this is a bit trickier and unfortunately outside the scope of this article (to check, view the source code of the page and search for ‘iframe’).
Another issue which may come up here is when your payment processor uses ‘Verified By Visa’. In this case, you may see other banks listed in the Referrals Report and there’s no real way of solving this at the moment. An example of this in New Zealand is Payments Express or DPS.
12. Designing Your Website For SEO & Analytics
Now, this may seem weird, but it always helps if you can get an Analytics pro involved in any website brief or build.
I’m not suggesting you design a website purely for Google Analytics, but if you have a really nicely structured website, with different silos of content, that’s not only great for Search Engine Optimisation, but it makes your Google Analytics reporting quite a bit easier.
In the Content Drilldown reports, you can start to see which sections of the website are more popular, then you can drill down further to look at specific pages.
So, there you have it. 12 Common mistakes when setting up your Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is a super powerful tool to help improve your online presence, track the success of your marketing campaigns and to help you make your website work like crazy!
Not only that, but Google Analytics can help justify your marketing spend AND save you money by eliminating elements which aren’t working so well (but ensure you’re looking at the data correctly, in the correct context before making any big decisions!).
If you’d like to get up to speed fast in your Google Analytics knowledge, work it like a pro, and are ready to boost your online presence, head on over to complete your Google Analytics health check today, and become a pro tomorrow!