This might sound silly, because all Google Analytics accounts are created equal but many Google Analytics accounts are not setup correctly and so do not collect good or useful information which can be used for real world business decision making.
Here is a short list of things that go wrong when people set up a Google Analytics account.
Badly structured accounts
Google Analytics has a very well defined structure for account set-up. However, I frequently hear even seasoned Analytics users using the words property and account interchangeably. The reality is that these are very different things.
A common mistake some web designers make when setting up properties for their clients is to add them under their own agency account. This isn’t correct, each client should have its own account. If your Google Analytics account number is UAXXXXX-57, it means you are one of many the website designer has added to their own account.
Furthermore, your log-in details do not belong to the account, they belong to you as a user, and are completely separate from the account.
If the account is set up correctly, there should never be any need for the request “can you send me the log-in details for Google Analytics?” The question should be “Can you add me as a user to the Google Analytics account?”
The structure of the accounts should be:
The account should reflect the business itself. Let’s imagine a newspaper publisher. They would have one account, in which all their websites would reside as “properties”
The property is the website or mobile app. We’ll see later that sometimes two websites might be considered as one property in some circumstances, but usually property is equivalent to website. Each property should have a number of views. In our example, one newspaper website would have one property in Analytics.
The view is the data collected and consequently the reports generated by Analytics. A website might have a number of views because views can filter the data as it is collected, as we will see shortly. You should always have one view with no filters at all for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here – suffice to say it is best practice, and some! In our example, one newspaper website might have many views.
You control who can log-in to see your views by adding their Google accounts as users or administrators, which brings me neatly onto the next common mistake.
Not tracking site search
Surprisingly, I find that site search is not tracked much more frequently than you would expect. It is tracked on a view by view basis, and is set-up on the view settings tab under ‘Admin’ for the view.
The questions is whether to strip the search parameters from the URI. My preference is to strip them from the URI in all views except the unfiltered back-up view. I still track site search in the unfiltered view, though, but simply leave the strip search parameters checkbox unticked.
Not linking AdWords correctly
If you are running an AdWords campaign (and if you’re after more targeted customers, why wouldn’t you be?) then it is important to make sure that your AdWords account and your Analytics account are linked.
By doing this, you will achieve a number of benefits. You will be able to access Analytics data while logged into AdWords, which makes it easier to optimise the PPC traffic, as you’ll be able to see user behaviour post-click. Also, you’ll be able to understand ROI better within Analytics, as you’ll see cost data for traffic sourced from AdWords as well as revenue and completed goal values from Analytics itself. This helps you understand which landing pages work best, which ad groups in AdWords work best, and which keywords work best, and also perhaps why some are not working as well as you would like.
If you don’t link AdWords correctly, though, especially if AdWords is not set for auto-tagging, data from AdWords can become confused with other data. In the worst case scenario, it is mixed in with organic search data, and this disrupts not only your understanding of AdWords, but also of organic search.
Other paid search providers like Bing currently don’t link directly to Analytics. However, it is possible to link other cost data sources via the Analytics API and setting up custom data sources. At the very least, other paid search providers should use campaign tracking URL attributes (utm_source etc.) to identify themselves as paid search.
Not setting up goals or funnels correctly
You know what you want your users to do on your website. It might be to buy a product, to complete an enquiry form, to subscribe to a newsletter or whatever. In each case there is a clear point at which the user has done this desired action. Google Analytics allows you to set up such completion points as goals.
Surprisingly often, we see this isn’t done at all, or that it is done, but the tracking isn’t done correctly, and so the figures are wrong.
Frequent ways in which this can be broken include using a URL as the goal, but that URL is not unique to the completion point (e.g. if a form redirects to the same URL as itself on completion), or using the wrong match type on the goal meaning more than the completion point might be tracked by accident.
Occasionally, workarounds might need to be done on your website to enable goal tracking. For example, using virtual pageviews for goal completions to ensure their uniqueness.
Once you have a goal set up, if there is a clear linear path that a user must take to complete that goal (e.g. a form they have to fill in, or a payment pipeline they must go through) then you can also set up the funnel, i.e. the steps the user must go through to complete the goal. This helps identify the sticking points in the process a user has to go through, and helps inform you about what you might do to increase conversion.
Goal conversions can also be linked to Google Adwords conversion tracking so your Adwords account can perform better.
Google Analytics is a treasure trove of useful information which can benefit your business, but like many things you need to get things right from the start for it to be right in the end.