We often bring on clients that have existing Google Analytics accounts that weren’t set up optimally to make accurate data-driven decisions. This blog on Google Analytics basics will outline some initial steps to vet against your current configuration and assumes you already have an account created. If you have not yet created the account you will need to create a free account first. Since any changes you make to your existing Google Analytics account will only affect future data, you will want to give enough time to collect new data before making decisions on optimizing your website so that you have a large enough sample size. Let’s walk through some of the steps that can be easily missed.
Google Analytics Account Setup
When you initially created your Google Analytics account, there are a few settings you are asked to configure when creating the property. The below are the initial settings where we see the most mistakes happen:
- Website URL: Mistakes here are more common than you may think. It is critical that you setup the URL exactly. This means if there are any special characters like “-” don’t forget to include them. To ensure you don’t accidentally make a mistake when entering the URL, copy the URL from the browser and paste it in.
- Timezone: This may not seem like a big deal, but it can throw off your data especially if you are comparing it to other data sources so make sure to chose the correct timezone versus letting it default.
- Block Bots: There is a checkbox for known bots you will want to check this box for your “Filtered View” which is discussed further below. It is important to filter these out so that you are not making decisions regarding data from automated tools versus actual visitors.
You can find these settings under the “Admin” section of Google Analytics.
Google Analytics Views
When you first created the account, you were given a default view of “All Website Site Data”. Since you cannot get data back after it has been filtered or adjusted, this is the view you will want to leave untouched. This will allow you create future views as needed and will be critical to have in case you make any mistakes with your filtered views. The initial basic views you should set up in addition to the default would include a “Filtered View” and a “Test View”.
The Filtered View is where you will want your cleanest view of your data. In this view, you will want to block bots, filtered out your IPs and the IPs of any 3rd parties you work with regularly like a marketing agency. Additionally, this is where you will want to create your events and goals so that you can analyze not just click engagement but conversion actions as well.
As previously mentioned, once you filter out data you cannot get it back so this is where the Test View has value. The Test View is where you can test creating filters, events, goals, etc. to make sure you have configured them correctly before copying that work over to your Filtered View.
Google Analytics Goals & Events
Monitoring and growing traffic are incredibly important, but understanding what traffic is leading to conversions is critical. This data can then influence where you should be putting your time and marketing dollars towards maximum impact. When trying to determine what a “conversion” is for your site, we typically ask ourselves and/or the client we are working with “What is considered a successful visit to the website?”. This can take the form of a sale if, on an ecommerce site, a form submission such as a Contact Us form or Member Sign Up Form, Email Sign Up, Click to Call, etc. These events that take place on your website are not tracked by default so in order to track this information you need to create events and/or goals that display under the “Conversions” section of Google Analytics. The below screenshot is what you would see in this section if goals have not previously been setup. One of the easiest ways to setup goals especially if you are not a web developer is to use Google Tag Manager (discussed in a separate blog). Make sure when you are finalizing your goal tracking that you are tracking the final action of a goal. We often see goals set up to track a visit to the page which Google tracks by default. Rarely is landing on a page the ultimate goal for you or the user, for example, don’t track users landing on a Contact Us page, track the goal as someone who completes the action on that page such as a click or form completion. This information will help you determine what marketing channel is driving sales for your business not just driving traffic to your website.
These Google Analytics basics are just to get you started and to help avoid very common mistakes that start as the foundation of your measurement strategy so it is important to validate your current setup. Once these basics are in place you will be ready to make stronger recommendations for your online strategy.