When people talk about web analytics tools that can track and report data about your website, the industry standard is without doubt Google Analytics (GA).
At the time of writing, it is used in 76% of all websites on the world wide web.
Many of us have implemented GA straight "out of the box", meaning that we just added the code onto the site or got it started with the help of a WordPress plugin, and that's it.
It can be a very simple way to start watching your sessions and other metrics add up over time, which can give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.
But the problem with this way of setting up GA is that your data can contain the following:
- spammy and fake traffic
- internal traffics (it tracks your own engagements as well as your team's)
- no goal tracking
- if relevant, no ecommerce tracking
It's always a good idea to make important decisions around your website using hardcore data (instead of a gut feeling 🙄). But the "out of the box " setup approach will make your job difficult as it will most likely contain incorrect data.
And that's not what you want, especially if you run a business. Because the wrong decision, due to incorrect data, can hurt your business.
So whether you have recently set-up your account, or you've had it for a long time, it is never too late to make sure that your accounts are configured correctly.
This post will mainly cover the configuration of your account rather than how to set-up and implement Google Analytics on your site.
Below are what you should be thinking about for your account when it comes to setting the foundation of your site.
Important Note: Make sure you click on the 'Save' button after making any changes.
1. Check That Your Google Analytics Tracking Code is Working
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to check whether you even have a tracking code installed and working on all pages.
There are different ways of doing this, but the least technical way is to use an external tool called GA checker.
2. Fill in the Account Name: 'Admin' > 'Accounts Settings'
To make sure that structure makes sense, fill in the Account Name under 'Account Settings'.
It can be either your domain name, brand name or the organisation's name.
3. Decide on the Structure of Your GA Account
The generic structure of GA is as follows: 'Accounts' > 'Properties' > 'Views'
How you structure your account will depend on the organisational structure of your company, whether you have clients or not, and the level of access you want to give to your stakeholders for each part of the structure.
But let's assume that you run your own business with several employees.
As 'Accounts' tend to be the name of the domain name, brand name or the organisation's name, 'Properties' can also be the same. But if you have more than one website under your brand or organisation, you can create several 'Properties' for each of the websites.
After that, it is best practice to have several different 'Views' for different purposes. Below are what I have deliberately set up for my own Google Analytics account:
And below is why I set it up this way:
- Main – this is obviously my main view, where it is configured and filtered correctly, and it provides the accurate data that I need when I need to analyse my site's performance
- Main (Copy) – this is a duplicate copy of the main view above, just in case I need a backup because something has happened to my main one
- Testing – this is a duplicate version of the main view, where I can experiment with the settings and do some testing before applying it anywhere. It's risky to implement major changes on the main views as any data that has been altered is permanent. You can't go back and fix the data because of a bad test. So it's a good idea to test anything before moving it to the two main views above
- Raw – this is the "out-of-box" version, where it does not have any filter, customisation or configurations set up. It would act as another backup if I needed a default, or a raw version of my data
You don't have to have four different views, but at the very least, you should have 'Main', 'Testing' and 'Raw'.
Important Note: if you are using the above account structure, remember to refrain from changing the settings of the "Raw View."
4. Structure your GA Account: 'Admin' > 'Create Properties' & 'Create View'
Once you have decided on the structure, you can use the 'Create Properties' button and 'Create Views' button at the top.
A little tip: the first view you create can be 'Raw'. The next view you create after that can then be the 'Main' view. Before creating the any more views after that, follow the steps below to correctly configure the settings.
Once you have completed it, you can then go back to 'Admin' > 'View Settings' and click on 'Copy View' at the top. This will create a duplicate with all the settings done for you instead of having to manually configure it again.
Once you have the duplicates, you should then re-name that view accordingly under 'View Name'.
5. Select the Correct Time Zone: 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
To ensure accurate reporting based on your time zone, you must select the correct time zone.
Otherwise, if you are based in London but the time zone GA is San Francisco, your perception of what time your visitors are on your site is skewed.
6. Exclude Any URL Query Parameters: 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
If you are not aware of query parameters, these are the extra characters that you see after a web page, traditionally after the question mark:
So in the above example, it would be anything starting with ?ck_subscribers (this is because of traffic from my newsletter, which is powered by ConvertKit, hence the "ck")
The problem with them is that it can create dozens, hundreds, thousands or millions of landing pages in the report when it should be under the one.
So in the picture above, instead of having one URL for each page, there are multiple URLs for the same pages.
And this can skew up your data as you are not able to accurately measure how a particular page has performed.
Yes, you can apply some filtering or even export it and use some kind of Excel formula wizardry. But why do that when you can simply add the parameter within 'View Settings' to clean it up:
7. Set Your Preferred Currency: 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
This is particularly important if you are an e-commerce company as it will allow you to see the value of your traffic, conversion and revenue in the currency of your choice.
Otherwise, the default would be American dollars.
And speaking of an e-commerce company...
8. Set Up E-commerce Tracking: 'Admin' > 'Ecommerce Settings'
Even though most of the steps on this post do not require a developer, this one does.
But if you have an e-commerce site, this is a very useful tracking feature and a powerful one once you start integrating various data together.
For example, you would be able to see which device is bringing you the least revenue and investigate what that is.
Or you can look at your most valuable source of traffic and work out how much to invest in that area.
Or understand which product is your most successful at a particular period via a specific traffic source.
The opportunities are endless.
Google has put together a guide on how to set up e-commerce tracking, which you can pass on to your technical staff to implement for you.
9. Filter Out Bots and Spiders: 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
This is a simple process of clicking the checkbox to filter out known bots and spiders that can affect your data.
10. Enable Site Search (if relevant): 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
If you have an internal search box, where your visitors can search within your site, you will be able to see what they are searching for.
This will give you further insights into how your visitors are behaving on your site, the kind of things they are looking for, and whether you have the content that can meet their needs.
The only way to see this data is to enable it and then view it in your Google Analytics via 'Behavior' > 'Site Search', and then the relevant sections after that.
11. Set Search Query Parameter: 'Admin' > 'View Settings'
If you have enabled the site search tracking setting above, you will then need to set the 'Query Parameter'.
You can test that by going to the search bar on your site, search for anything random and when the search result page comes up, look at the URL. Whatever the letter comes up after the question mark, that will be the search query parameter.
For example, if you search google analytics on the search box of this website, the resulting URL will be iamahmedkhalifa.com/?s=google+analytics.
Therefore, the search query parameter is the letter 's'.
12. Select Your Default View: 'Admin' > 'Property Settings' > 'Default Views'
After you have worked out your structure, you can then choose your 'Default View'. If you have followed the above structure, it should be the 'Main View'.
13. Select the Right 'Industry Category': 'Admin' > 'Property Settings' > Industry Category
Although it won't affect you too much, it will still allow you to have tailored reporting, so there's no harm in having that set.
14. Add Relevant Users and Set Permissions: 'Admin' > 'User Management'
This is an important part of Admin as it will allow you to make sure that every stakeholder has the correct user permission, adequate control and access to the relevant data they require.
If you own the business/website, you should always have the 'Edit, Collaborate, Read & Analyze, Manage Users' setting.
Unless it's necessary, you do not need to give 'Manage Users' permission to anyone else.
And depending on the structure you have set, you can choose to set users' permissions for a specific view, properties or the entire account. For example, in your property, you may have four views, but you only want to give access to one of them.
You can do that by visiting the relevant view and then click on 'User Management'.
If you set permissions via the Account, it will set the same permissions for all the properties and views that are on the account.
15. Filter Out Any "Internal Traffic": 'Admin' > 'All Filters' or 'Filters'
To prevent Google Analytics from tracking your own activity (and anyone else in your team), you will need to exclude the relevant IP addresses.
To find what is your IP address, you can Google it or visit the aptly named whatismyipaddress.com from wherever you access your site the most (office and home tend to be the most common options).
And don't forget to ask your employees, colleagues and any agencies and freelancers that you use it too. Send them the link, and ask them to provide you with their respective IP address of where they access the site the most.
When you create a new filter, name it (e.g. 'Internal Traffic') > click on 'Custom' as your filter type > 'Exclude' > Choose 'IP Address' and start filling in the IP addresses.
You should then separate each IP addresses by the pipeline symbol (|) and precede each dot with a backslash (\). For example:
In the world of 'Regular Expressions' or 'Regex' for Google Analytics, each character has its own meaning and to ensure that each of the IP addresses are excluded correctly, these characters are required to make it readable for Google Analytics.
16. Filter Out Any Spam and Fake Traffic: 'Admin' > 'All Filters' or 'Filters'
This is perhaps the trickiest part, mainly because it may require constant maintenance.
Even if you have created the relevant filters, spammers could still manage to find a way to sneak back into Google Analytics (though they are getting better at tackling them).
Filtering out fake traffic is a whole other blog post, but you can read about this quick fix in removing fake referral traffic, which I advise you to read.
17. Link Your Google Ads Account (if relevant): 'Admin' > 'AdWords Linking'
By linking it together, you will be able to see the ads and their respective performance directly within Google Analytics. Combined with other metrics such as e-commerce tracking, it will give you further insights into how your paid traffic is engaging on your site.
18. Link Your Google Search Console Account: 'Home' > 'Acquisition' > 'Search Console' > 'Landing Pages'
Similar to the above, by linking Google Search Console to your GA account, you will have data from both tools within the same platform which allows you to integrate it with various other metrics.
Within the Google Analytics report itself, you can set up Search Console data sharing to integrate more data on GA. But of course, you need to verify your site with Google Search Console.
19. Make Use of UTM Tagging For Non-Paid Traffic
For your data to be accurate, relevant and easy to read, it is advisable to use UTM tracking correctly and where possible, for the non-paid traffic sources like social media, emails and newsletter.
This can make a big difference to the quality and accuracy of your data.
And lastly, the fun part, but also a crucial part of setting up Google Analytics is creating your goals.
20. Set-Up Goals Tracking: 'Admin' > 'Goals' > 'New Goal'
If you have not set up your Analytics goals, you are missing out on valuable information on anything related to conversion rate.
Most people assume that you need to have sales to have a conversion rate. But every site has its own version of conversions:
- product sales
- contact form enquiry
- phone call request
- email subscriptions
- time on a blog page
- visit to a landing page
- create an account
- download brochure
- submitted content
- appointment confirmation
It's up to you to work out what the ultimate goal for your visitors is when they land on your site, then take it from there.
There are templates you can use to set-up your Google Analytics goal, as shown below:
But you shouldn't be afraid of using the custom version at the bottom, as it is very similar and allows you to choose a more specific goal.
I won't go through every single type of goal you can create, as you have read enough by reaching this far, but follow the steps required and choose the type of goal.
The most common type of goal is a destination, so if you have a Thank You page, Payment Confirmation page, Email Confirmation page, etc. this is a perfect choice.
However, if your goal is more "action-based" e.g. play video or click on a specific part of the site, it will require some technical assistance as you will need your developer to implement Event Tracking, which Google explains here.
That was easy, wasn't it?
Okay, maybe there were quite a few steps to go through to make sure that your data is up to scratch.
The annoying part is that there are certain aspects of Google Analytics we haven't touched, and as mentioned earlier, managing fake traffic is a pain.
There is a reason why many big brands and agencies have their own dedicated staff to manage their Google Analytics and provide high-quality data about the site. It's a lot of work and requires a specialist.
But you shouldn't despair, as following the steps above will go a long way to making sure that you receive accurate data about your websites' performance, which can eventually help our business in the long run.
So it will be worth it, trust me. 🙂
My question to you: how did it feel that you have to carry out the above process? Did it overwhelm you? Were you aware of it? Have you been ignoring it?
Leave a comment below, as I would love to know.