Being a data-driven business or organization is all the rage these days. But before you can achieve a state of data Nirvana, you need to have confidence that the data you’re relying on to make important business decisions is clean and accurate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of organizations that use Google Analytics have not taken the precautionary steps to prevent messy and inaccurate data from being passed into their GA account. In this guide, we’ll cover some of the basics to ensure that your data is accurate (a requirement if it is to be actionable), along with some helpful tips to begin unlocking the value of Google Analytics. We assume that you’ve already created an account with Google Analytics.
1. Install Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager (GTM) is an incredibly powerful tag management tool that allows you to implement custom code and easily place tracking tags on your website. It’s 2017, and at this point, there really is no reason why your website should not be using a tag management solution like GTM (it’s free!). If you plan to do more advanced tracking, such as custom event tracking or eCommerce, GTM will make these custom configurations much easier. If you don’t have GTM installed on your website, please go to the following URL to setup an account and follow Google’s installation instructions.
- Setup A Google Tag Manager Account
- Installing Tag Manager on your Site
- Video: How to Deploy GA with GTM
2. Make Sure Your Tags Are On Every Page
You’d be amazed at the number of organizations that rely on Google Analytics to inform their digital strategy but have not taken the time to verify if Google Analytics tags have been placed on every page of the website. Another common mistake is placing duplicate tags on a page, which as you probably guessed, leads to the double-counting of traffic for those pages. You can use free tools like GAchecker.com to crawl your website and check for GA, GTM, and AdWords tags. Since it’s a free tool, GAchecker is a bit limited in what it can do and report on. For example, GAchecker it will not flag pages with duplicate GA tags. We use the competitively priced Tagcheckr.com, which comes with a bit more functionality than GAchecker. It doesn’t really matter which tool you decide on, as long as you ensure that GA and GTM tags are placed and functioning on all of your website’s pages.
3. Exclude Your Internal Traffic
Chances are if your business or organization is over two dozen people, your site probably gets a pretty significant amount traffic from your own employees. In almost every case, you’ll want to exclude this traffic from Google Analytics, as it can skew your data leading to incorrect decisions. If you outsource web development or IT, we’d also recommend excluding these traffic sources as well.
To exclude internal traffic, you’ll need to obtain the IP addresses for your office, as well as your web dev agency. Once you have gathered all of the IP addresses that you plan to exclude, you’ll need to create a new filter in Google Analytics.
Filtering a Single IP Address
- Go to the view that you’d like to apply the filter to in GA and click Admin.
- Select filters from the sidebar and then click the red Add Filter button.
- Give your filter an appropriate name, select Predefined for filter type, Exclude, IP Address, that are equal to, and enter your IP address into the text box.
Filtering Multiple IP Addresses
Setting up multiple IP addresses within a single filter is slightly more complex as it employs the use of RegEx. You’ll need to add a backslash \ before every dot . in the IP address, and the pipe symbol | is used to represent OR. The screenshot below represents a filter that blocks the following 3 IP addresses:
- Go to the view that you’d like to apply the filter to in GA and click Admin
- Select filters from the sidebar and then click the red Add Filter button.
- Select CUSTOM, EXCLUDE, IP Address, and use the appropriate RegEx for your filter pattern.
4. Implement Subdomain Tracking (Referral Exclusions)
If your website has URLs like blog.mysite.com or tickets.mysite.com, you’re using subdomains. As a user moves from a page that starts with www.mysite.com to tickets.mysite.com Google counts this as a new visitor and new session. Depending on the amount of traffic that moves between different subdomains, this can lead to a large amount of duplication, which causes GA to incorrectly overcount the true number of visitors and sessions. It can also cause serious issues with goal funnels and tracking page value. The good news is that subdomain tracking is relatively easy to set up.
If you’d like to use Google Analytics to track traffic across multiple domains (say you own www.mysiteA.com and www.mySiteB.com), you’ll need to implement cross-domain tracking, which is not covered in this article. Google’s Cross-domain tracking Help Page
Subdomain Tracking Steps
- Make sure you’re in the appropriate GA property and select Admin.
- Under Property, click on .js Tracking Info, which should expand a new list of items.
- Click on Referral Exclusion List
- Add the appropriate domains to your exclusion list.
TIP: Be sure to add the www and non-www domains to your exclusion list. If you’re unsure of subdomains your site uses, the following site can provide them for you. We recommend checking with IT/web dev to ensure the list is complete.
5. Consolidate Your Site Pages
Did you know that the webpages mysite.com/Blog and mysite.com/blog will be reported on as two different pages in Google Analytics? If you plan to do any sort of analysis relating to web pages (which I’m assuming you plan to do since you installed GA), consolidating duplicate page content is a must. To implement this fix, we’ll again create a custom filter which will force all letters contained in the URL to lowercase. Now, if a user goes to the page mysite.com/Blog, the filter will use its magical powers to force the URL to lowercase and send the page as mysite.com/blog back to GA.
Force Lowercase Filter
- Go to the view that you would like to apply the filter to.
- Click on Admin and in the right right column, select Filters.
- Click +Add Filter and name your filter “Force Lowercase URLs”.
- For filter type, select Custom, and then select the Lowercase radio button.
- Select Request URI as the filter field.
One thing to note is that the filter will apply on a going-forward basis. So if you’re looking at page data the predates your filter, you’re still going to see uppercase letters in your page reports.
6. Linking Your AdWords Account with Google Analytics
If you run search campaigns on AdWords or display campaigns on GDN (Google Display Network), you’ll want to make sure that your AdWords account is linked to Google Analytics. AdWords by itself does not show what site visitors do once they reach your site. Google Analytics can help fill this void but requires that you first link GA with AdWords. Once you’ve created the link, you’ll gain access to a new set of AdWords reports inside of GA that can be found under Acquisition / AdWords.
How to Link AdWords with Google Analytics
- Make sure you’re in the appropriate GA property.
- Click on Admin.
- In the middle column under Product Linking, click on AdWords Linking.
- Click on + New Link Group and select the appropriate AdWords account to add.
- If you have multiple AdWords accounts (say you have an AdWords grant and a paid AdWords account), be sure to link all of your accounts to GA.
7. Track Your Marketing Campaigns in GA
According to Jim Gianoglio of Lunametrics, “Tagging your marketing campaigns is essential to get these actionable insights from Google Analytics.” The primary benefit of UTM tracking is that it allows you to identify the campaign, source, and medium that drove the traffic to your site. If a particular social media campaign is doing a fantastic job of driving qualified leads to your website, wouldn’t you want to know about this so you could increase your campaign investment? Assuming you do, you’ll need to implement UTM tracking.
Data-driven businesses and organizations meticulously tag all of their external marketing campaigns for channels such as email, social, paid media. Notice I said external channels. You never want to use UTM tracking on internal links (only tag your internal links if you want to degrade and dirty your data). In order to tag your marketing campaign links, you’ll need to use Google’s Campaign URL Builder. Before you go crazy tagging all of your marketing campaigns with UTM click-trackers, I would encourage you to read the short 4 Steps to Better Campaign Data in Google Analytics. All too often we see clients implement UTM tracking with little thought given to process and naming consistency, which often leads to duplicate, messy, and oftentimes, incorrect data being passed to GA. If you’re going to use UTM tracking, take the time to do it the right way, and it will pay dividends for years to come.
Conclusion: Measure What Matters
Now that we’ve shown you how to gather and clean your data in GA, your next step should be to develop a measurement strategy (sometimes referred to as an analytics strategy). Cianna Bedford defines a measurement strategy as, “An all-encompassing plan that organizes your business goals and how they will be measured. This strategy follows a path beginning at the broadest goal possible (often a goal for the business as a whole) and breaks it into measurable metrics and specific ways to segment those metrics.” Having a sound and robust measurement strategy is what makes winners and losers in the world of analytics, and don’t you want to be a winner? We’ll talk more about measurement strategy in future posts, but if you’d like to gain a better understanding of what a measurement strategy is and how you can implement one for your business, please check out these articles from leading analytics experts.
- The Importance of a Measurement Strategy
- Digital Marketing and Measurement Model – Avinash Kaushik
- How to Create a Web Analytics Measurement Plan
In the meantime, if you have any questions relating to this post or analytics in general, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.