Tag Archives: Google Analytics

The 3 things that I wish Google Analytics could do

Cant-Do-ThatFor the past 5+ years, Google Analytics has been my go-to web analytics tool. While it isn’t as robust as Omniture or WebTrends, the pricing model (Free!) and easy installation & simple configuration processes have resulted in widespread adoption. According to the technology adoption and trends tool BuiltWith, Google Analytics is used by more than 44% of the top 1 Million website. In comparison, Omniture is used on only 1.35% of the top 1 Million websites.

I’ve been spending significant time with Google Analytics over the past few months and I seem to be running into more limitations each and every day. Here are the 3 things that I would expect to be able to do with Google Analytics (but I can’t):

  1. Advanced segmentation isn’t really advanced. After I wrote my post about about the robustness of advanced segmentation, a colleague asked me to help her with creating a report on user behavior using internal and external visitor segments. Knowing that I’ve set up Views where I’ve excluded traffic using an internal IP address, I began searching for the “Filter by IP” field but could not locate it under any of the available options. Once I realized that this was not possible, I resolved to creating the 6 essential Views that we set up with all client accounts so that she could report on this behavior in the future.
  2. Custom Dashboards aren’t really customizable. I met with another colleague before the Thanksgiving holiday break to discuss the buildout of a custom dashboard. He sought my help with creating one since I had built a custom dashboard for my blog. We attempted to create a basic widget that displayed on a daily basis the total visitors vs. new visitors vs. returning visitors — a graph that a marketer would commonly look at. While the visitor metric could be added to the graph, we couldn’t add the visitor type dimension. To work around this limitation, we added the % new visitor metric. Furthermore, we could only add a single metric!
  3. API’s aren’t really open. I add an annotation every time that I publish a new post on this blog. Since my blog posts get automatically pushed to social media networks when they are published, I began investigating whether I automate the process and cut the manual step of adding these annotations. I looked into the Google Analytics API’s and while Google has multiple API’s — API’s for data collection, account management, and data reporting — none could be used to create annotations on the fly.

Google does have a support forum where new features can be requested so I posted my suggestion for automating annotations. While the features that I want are not currently available in either the standard or enterprise version, I’ve noted that Google has invested significantly in the platform this year. I fully expect the product development team to continue to release more valuable functionality in mid to late 2014.

What features do you think are missing in Google Analytics?

Sudden traffic drop? Strategic diagnosis with 3 simple questions!

dont-panic-buttonThis week I received an email from a client that discovered their website traffic suddenly plunged. Their Google Analytics visitors dropped by more than 50% in August and the situation never self-corrected. My first response was: DON’T PANIC! Since the issue was only 60 days old, I knew that we could identify the problem and suggest an appropriate solution.

I used a simple strategy (3 questions) to diagnose the situation:

  1. Has anyone changed/modified the Google Analytics tracking code? These kind of sudden changes are typically due to a configuration change. The client reported that their developers inadvertently reused the tracker code from the blog on their corporate website. Since this error was corrected in the end of August, I first investigated this potential cause. I applied a custom advanced segment to exclude visits from blog pages but the sudden downward shift was still present. This meant that the problem was unrelated to a tracking code change.
  2. Looking 60 days prior to and after the change, what sources referred traffic to the site? Oftentimes, traffic will fade away when an ad campaign ends so I looked at the Acquisition > All Referrals section of Google Analytics. The report showed that the majority of traffic was direct, yet the remaining referral sources didn’t dramatically shift from one source or site to another. This meant that I was potentially getting closer!
  3. Looking 60 days prior to and after the change, what content received the most traffic on the site? An alternate reason for a shift is that an important page is removed or modified. I looked at the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report and discovered that a careers page dropped from the top 3 position to the bottom 20 position. This change occurred right around the time of the sudden traffic drop. Since a careers section typically draws 30%+ of the visitors to a corporate site, I contacted the client about this change and they explained that their recruiter recently left the company. They added that she was instrumental in referring potential candidates to the site. BINGO!


Key Takeaway:

  • When it comes to analytics, there’s no substitute for formulating a strategy and then digging into the data. Insights are rarely immediately apparent!
  • The best approach to this kind of analysis is the scientific method: develop an assumption, analyze the data, and determine if the data supports or disproves your thinking.
  • Don’t be afraid to be wrong. You may not get the answer that you were hoping for the first time!

What other factors could contribute to a traffic drop? What reports do you review to understand the cause of a traffic drop?

Resolving Google Analytics reporting issues

head-against-brick-wallThere’s been an increase in issues with Google Analytics reporting ever since the Display Advertiser support feature was introduced. The first place that I look when Google Analytics reporting stops working is the tracker code. Debugging tools are commonly used to identify and solve these tracker code errors but since the solution is dependent on the mechanics of Google Analytics, I wanted to first discuss how the Google Analytics tracker works.

How does Google Analytics work?

The Google Analytics tracking code is composed of a JavaScript file, which is embedded into a page. Once embedded, this JavaScript file (aka, the ga.js or dc.js file) is executed when the visitor browser requests the page. As part of the execution, the JavaScript file requests a single-pixel image file called the __utm.gif, which is responsible for transmitting key parameters to Google Analytics, like the browser size, image depth, etc. Additionally, information on the visitor session and ad campaign is stored in a cookie and transmitted via the image file whenever it is available. Google Analytics processed the parameter data and displays it within 24 hours of being collected.

So why is my Google Analytics reporting not working?

In most cases, reporting is not working because of a malfunctioning tracker. There are several debugging tools that can be used to investigate this issue but my favorite is Tracking Code Debugger, an extension by Google for the Chrome browser.

Assuming that Google Analytics is already reporting some activity (if not, then read how to verify your web tracker setup), the next step is to install the debugger tool. Once installed, you’ll need to follow these two steps:

1. Click on the debugger icon to turn it on (the red “ON” will be displayed).


2. Next, select View > Developer > JavaScript Console (or Open Apple + Option + J).


NOTE: Make sure that the console filters are set to ALL.

If everything is working correctly, then you’ll see the following for your site (below is the output for my blog):


From the above, the tool is reporting that I’ve got a single tracker running on my site. Also, the campaign source is currently set to Facebook. The most common situation is one where there’s more than one tracker on the page. If that was happening, the above information would repeat. In that event, you’ll need to remove one of the trackers.

What techniques/tools have you used to resolve reporting issues?