Don't trust Google Analytics

Don’t Trust Google Analytics

5 Simple steps to data you can trust


Like many communications professionals today, a sizeable chunk of my work involves digital marketing.

I consider myself quite literate with the digital reports we use to inform decisions. At least I did until last Thursday. Our agency ran a training session with a digital data consultant. The purpose was to sharpen our skills on Google Analytics and its role in digital campaign measurement.

A part of the session involved the analyst walking us through the back end analytics on some of our client websites. What he rapidly uncovered was both shocking and unbelievable. In each client site he looked at, the Google Analytics set up was a real mess, and simply not delivering reliable data.

This explained why our digital campaign reporting was in some cases not remotely matching the client Google Analytics data, despite our use of tracking code protocols.

As a result of these revelations our clients will now have healthier, usable Google Analytics in place.

It was a relief to solve our data riddle, but unnerving to realise that the Google Analytics we’d all been trusting was just plain wrong – in a big way.

What’s more, our analyst suggested shambolic Google Analytics is a pretty standard state of affairs for many businesses big and small. I find this pretty scary.

So, some tips to make sure you can trust your Google Analytics:


  1. Know what you need to measure

First things first: For Google Analytics to have real value, the team setting it up and, the people reviewing the data and making recommendations, need a great understanding of the business objectives and role of the website. Are they seeking a lower the cost of acquisition? How does the website help in this? Is a shorter session time a good or bad thing? Do you want or need more page views? Good, usable data does not just happen – it requires thinking and planning.


  1. Audit your Google Analytics

Don’t just assume the Google Analytics data you are looking at is a true reflection of what is happening with your site traffic.

Consider how old your site is. Who originally built it, to what brief? How many developers have tinkered with it since? Very often there will be invalid tracking code (GATC) formatting, pages not formatted, and even codes accidentally imported from other websites.

Filters are another common cause of mischief that must be handled with care, as they will distort and reduce visible traffic data. Make sure you have one clean, unfiltered sample to refer back to. And make sure internal traffic is excluded, as it can distort your view of what is happening.



  1. Don’t leave Google Analytics to your web developer

Web developers specialise in building websites. They are not marketers or trained data analysts. They’ll all tell you they can do Google Analytics (And yes, they can, to a more-or-less level). But as often as not GA takes a back seat to the site design and build stuff – just another coding item they have to tick off the list before moving onto the next job. For you however, the analytics will be critical in assessing and improving site performance.


  1. Engage a data specialist

I strongly recommend engaging a data analyst to do an audit, or help you set your GA up properly from the outset.

Done properly this is one of the best investments you can make to improve the returns on your digital marketing. A good GA expert will do more than just ensure your data is as clean and accurate – they will help make sure you are measuring the things that matter to your business success and set KPI’s.



  1. Invest in Google Analytics training

    It is always worthwhile to provide Google Analytics training for all team members who have anything to do with marketing or the website. Google Analytics has a language of its own. Your team should know how Google defines a bounce, a session and so on. For most of your team it does not have to be overly technical – a day will make a big difference.



  1. Implement robust UTM protocols.

If your business is engaging in any form of digital marketing, it needs to be properly tracked on Google Analytics. Google Analytics really serves best to support Google products. It was not primarily developed to measure marketing campaigns. To measure campaign traffic effectively, you need to implement a UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) code protocol consistently across all of your content creators. This is not just for digital advertising. All traffic sources should be tracked, including eDM and all social media posing.


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