Why am I writing yet ‘another’ Google Analytics Most Common Mistakes article?
I agree, many authors have had their take on this topic. There are two main reasons why I feel the need to write one more article about this:
- Almost every new client we come across has errors or missing settings in his Google Analytics implementation. I hope that by writing this article, awareness of this all too common issue may be increased, even if only a little bit. Each and every seemingly minor improvement is actually worth a lot.
- Many authors focus on common pitfalls about analyzing and interpreting Google Analytics data. But they often forget about the quality of the data. If not everything is measured correctly, then analyzing doesn’t make sense. Garbage in, garbage out.
Without further ado, lets dive into some common Google Analytics implementation mistakes:
Number 1: Not using Google Analytics at all
Yes, there are still websites around that don’t use Google Analytics. And there are a number of reasons why.
- Maybe five years ago it was not common at all to install a visitor tracking tool. There was no established standard around yet, developers often charged extra for the implementation and the website owners didn’t see much of an advantage in using a visitor tracking tool.
- There are alternative visitor tracking tools around. In fact there are many. More often than not, even the hosting providers offer easy one-click installations of such tools. So, there are websites around that do use visitor tracking tools, just not Google Analytics.
- There are website owners who just don’t like giving away even more data to Google and want to keep the data in-house.
I understand that there were reasons many years ago, not to use Google Analytics. But the advantages of using Google Analytics today are so enormous that the only reason I would not use it is for legal reasons. If the website is restricted by law not to collect visitor data with an external tool like Google Analytics, then that would be a valid reason not to use it. There are no other reasons.
So let me explain some of the main reasons to use Google Analytics today:
- It’s free!
- As a very well-designed system, there are countless ways to analyze the data, while remaining surprisingly easy to use. I have not come across any other visitor tracking tool that has more to offer. (There might be people who are using Adobe Analytics who might disagree. But that is insanely expensive and has many other downsides. So for 99.9% of the websites Google Analytics is the right choice.)
- Most marketers know how to use Google Analytics and interpret the data. Google Analytics has become the standard in the industry. Every online marketer will have a huge advantage doing his job if he can access a qualitative set of Google Analytics data.
- I have never come across any kind of data anonymity issue with Google Analytics. The visits are anonymized automatically and marketers can’t view any personal data about the visitors. Google really holds privacy very high. Do they use all the collected Google Analytics data from all their website for their advantage? Probably. But only in an anonymized form and to improve their services, which is good for us, right?
Number 2: Duplicate Google Analytics Code
More is not always better. Implementing the Google Analytics code more than once on a website is a real problem and people do it all the time. This is a particularly frequent issue for WordPress sites, as there are many ways to implement the Google Analytics code. The most common way is to install a plugin which does the job. As a result, many plugins which do nothing more than inject the Google Analytics code have surfaced over the years. The error usually happens when setting up the website. The owner might try out more than one plugin and forgets to disable the unnecessary ones. Some themes have a built-in setting to inject the Google Analytics code. There is also the possibility that the developer might custom code the tracking pixel into the theme files somewhere else. We’ve seen all of these mistakes.
Are you safe if you’re not using WordPress? Absolutely not. It is super easy to implement the Google Analytics code in Shopify. This is the reason why there are no Google Analytics plugins around for Shopify that could increase the confusion. However, just as in WordPress, developers can custom code the Google Analytics code into Shopify theme files. And yes, that happens too.
How do you detect a duplicate Google Analytics code?
Luckily, there’s a really easy solution: Download the Google Tag Assistant and check if it detects more than one Google Analytics code with the same property ID (different property IDs are not a problem). If you see the same Google Analytics code with the same property ID, you’ve got a problem.
If you have a duplicate Google Analytics code installed you will also detect this in the tracking data. The bounce rate for instance will be incredibly low. Usually less than 5%. Every marketer knows, such a low bounce rate is next to impossible to achieve. A bounce rate that low is usually an indication of a wrong Google Analytics implementation.
Number 3: E-commerce tracking not turned off on an e-commerce website
Depending on which e-commerce platform you use it might be easy or a bit harder to get e-commerce tracking enabled. There are two requirements:
- You need to have custom code added on the website. It is not difficult, and many plugins / extensions / etc. for e-commerce platforms have such an option built in. You simply need to use the right plugin, and turn that feature on. If you have built your own e-commerce platform it takes the developer only a few hours to implement the additional e-commerce code.
- In Google Analytics itself you need to enable e-commerce tracking within the settings.
The advantages of using e-commerce tracking are huge. You will not only be able to analyze which channels generate revenue, but also how much revenue. This is crucial if you want to optimize those channels from a profit / cost perspective.
Number 4: Measuring the wrong goals (or no goals at all)
I would say every business website has been brought into existence to achieve one or both of the following goals:
- Generate valuable leads (contacts to which you can sell services later)
- Generate revenue (on e-commerce platforms)
Such goals are also known as macro conversions, major milestones which you want your visitors to reach on your website. Those milestones help you run your business, and the more visitors reach one of those goals, the better the business runs.
And then there are micro conversions. One micro conversion would be for instance a minimum time spent on the website. In that case the visitor leaves the website without giving his contact details or buying something, but at least you know that he is somewhat interested in your service. Another micro conversion would be a minimum number of pages visited on the website. That again is not much in terms of revenue, but again, it tells you the visitor is interested at least to some degree. You can use that to retarget those visitors and maybe convince them to leave their contact details or purchase something at a later point in time.
The following are just some of the issues we regularly encounter with new accounts:
- No goals have been set up.
- Micro conversions have been set up instead of macro conversions.
- Duplicate conversions.
Having set up goals in Google Analytics helps to determine which visitors convert, and very importantly, what path on the website they took on their way to conversion. For e-commerce websites a properly configured goal with a funnel will also show you every step of the purchase and where visitors tend to abandon the checkout process. This is very helpful for analyzing and improving that part of the buyer journey.
There might be online marketers around who think a minimum amount of time spent on the website can be a macro conversion and therefore a valid goal for a blog or an online newspaper for instance. No sir, even for those websites the minimum spent time is not a goal. Even a blog or a newspaper needs to generate revenue in some way. That may happen by showing ads or selling e-books. Measure the amount of downloaded e-books and measure how many ads the visitors have seen or better yet clicked on. Those are actions that generate revenue.
So, be careful which goals to set up. Maybe you first need to consider what value your website really generates before setting up the goals. For e-commerce websites it’s easy, for other websites it can be more difficult.
Number 5: Setting improper filters
Filters are a powerful tool to reduce the data on a specific Google Analytics view to only see relevant data. And the filters are very flexible. For instance, you can build a filter to only see visitors from a specific referrer. Or you can set a filter to omit all visits from your own company. Filters can even be combined. You could show only visits from a specific channel who also have made a purchase on the website. The possibilities are endless. There is however a huge downside to filters: You lose all the filtered data. So, if you made a mistake and your filter is too narrow, then you will get the wrong data to analyze. And again, the filtered data is not recoverable. Thus, make sure to have at least one unfiltered view set up in your Google Analytics property that logs every single visit. Basically, you can use Google Analytics segmentation to achieve the same result as in a filtered view. So first start segmenting your traffic, and once you are satisfied with the data go and create an additional view.
There are unlimited ways to screw up your Google Analytics data. Invest enough time to get it right from beginning. Doing so will not only save you a lot of time and resources in future, but also help you generate value from your site. Moreover, every online marketer will love to work with proper data and they will be able to show their full potential if the collected data is of high quality.