on May 14, 2021 • 20 minute read
How often do you turn to Google Analytics for insights into what is and isn’t working in your marketing strategy?
Chances are, very often. So, let’s assume that one day, you are analyzing traffic growth over the past six months. And you find a sudden surge in traffic numbers in the last two weeks. You do a happy dance, then settle down to check how many dollars those numbers translated into.
Except you find nothing.
Even though traffic has more than doubled, your dollar numbers are pretty much the same.
If you aren’t careful, you start tweaking your landing pages, maybe even lowering your prices, breaking things that still work perfectly when you should be checking for duplicate GA codes instead.
That’s how costly Google Analytics tracking mistakes can be.
But how do you fix a mistake you don’t even know you are making? That’s why we set to find out the most common mistakes marketers make with Google Analytics tracking.
In this post, 40 marketers share all the GA tracking mistakes they’ve found through trial and error, and how to fix them including:
Download this free Marketing Overview Dashboard template to measure how well you are creating leads from your site.
Let’s dig in!
Did you know that it was possible to have traffic data from other domains show up in your analytics?
As I Know The Pilot’s Garth Adams shares, If your tracking code is exposed, or someone opens your source code and grabs it from there, they can potentially add it to their site and screw up your data.
“Initially, I didn’t realize that you need to set up filters to ensure that you’re only tracking hits to your actual domain and not other random sites. I’m not sure why people do it, but I’ve had people swipe my analytics code and put it on random sites. And because I didn’t have the filter in place to only track hits to my actual site, my traffic data was all over the place and very inaccurate.” said Adams.
On how to prevent this tracking mistake, Adams says “You need to create a custom view filter to only include hits to your site. You’ll need to select “Hostname” under “Filter Field” and in the “Filter Pattern” field enter the following: (^|\.)example\.com (but use your domain).”
This is the easy-to-make GA mistake. Topping the poll, almost half (47%) of marketers say they’ve made this mistake.
Take USA Rx’s Chris Riley for example who says “A mistake that I have made in the past with Google Analytics is to forget to exclude my IP address from the data. This means that my numbers were skewed and it looked like I had way more site visitors than I actually had when a chuck of them was from me visiting my own website. I caught this mistake early and it hasn’t been an issue since but I still double-check all my settings whenever I use Analytics just in case.”
And Riley is not alone, Kevin Miller of GR0, an agency shares that it’s a common problem; “Various internal teams are bound to be working on the website at any given time. Without setting a filter that excludes all internal traffic, you will be muddling your data. The high volume of internal traffic can skew your analytics causing you to believe your site is garnering more interaction than it truly is. Applying the appropriate filter will provide you the most accurate analytics for your website which will improve your overall strategies for growth.”
And this is especially important when dealing with client work. Kenneth Pasley of SaySo Productions says that “…numbers should tell a story, but that story should remain as honest as possible. With marketer to client transparency goes, a client NEVER wants to feel as though they are being fed nonsense.”
“I have heard several stories from clients who had left their previous marketing companies due to “over-inflation of numbers.” If a client, or their internal team members, are frequently visiting their own website for whichever reason, each visit will be counted and included in their metrics. That internal traffic can inflate the entire report for any given month, and make it seem as though traffic channels are better than reality. “ continues Pasley.
Pasley says that sometimes clients don’t know their IP and advises that you show clients how to find their IP address so you can filter it in GA, “The biggest hurdle with properly filtering out IP addresses is that many clients struggle with understanding what their IP addresses are. A quick walkthrough with clients on how to access their IP information, along with why it’s important for it to be filtered out, can mitigate any confrontations regarding overinflated metrics.”
Related: Google Analytics Data: 10 Warning Signs Your Data Isn’t Reliable
For most people, the main goal of a site will be conversions. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t track them.
That’s why Stand With Main Street’s Charles McMillan counts it as a top GA tracking mistake “You’ll have an imperfect image of your website’s results if you don’t have conversion data; after all, the site’s main aim should be to maximize conversions.”
Adding to that, Andy Dunkin of Adam Block Design advised “Make sure your conversion codes and triggers are set up correctly! If your conversions are not tracking properly, all of your data will be skewed and it really can make it difficult to make informed decisions.”
“It’s possible for conversion triggers to fire at the wrong time, or multiple times when set up incorrectly or not functioning, especially when you’re talking about form submissions or lead generation sites. If you receive three form submissions but your conversion tracking registers 5, for example, you may think one form of marketing or a promotional code is doing better (or worse) than it actually is,” said Dunkin.
So what and how should you track? Jay Berkowitz of Ten Golden Rules says “A conversion is what Google calls a ‘lead’ from the website. For example a Sale, a Form Submission such as “Contact Us, a Chat on the website, or a call from a number on the website. The single most important metric of web analytics is conversions and often these are missing, duplicated, or tracking clicks on a form, not completed forms on a “Thank You” page.”
*Editor’s note: Want to see exactly how your users are engaging with your site, and what desired actions they are taking? Download our Google Analytics Website Engagement Dashboard Template to get started for free.
Related: How to Set Up & Use Google Analytics Conversion Tracking
Site search can share a lot of insight into what your readers want to see on your website. It’s a shame that lots of people miss out on this info when they forget to track site searches.
Kelly Maxwell of Seniors Mutual says “One big mistake I made (with analytics tracking) was not adding GA to my site search query. I have a search bar on my site to allow visitors to search for what they are looking for, and adding the GA code will allow you to see what people are searching for. This is really useful to create more content tailored to what people have searched in the past!”
Shotkit’s Mark Condon also pointed to this as a top mistake. Condon says “I have been heading the marketing department of my company for the past five years. One tracking mistake that we admit committing in google analytics is not enabling the site search with a query parameter. Due to this, we were not able to track the searches made on the website for a long time.”
“In order to avoid missing this, please make sure that you enable the site search option.” Condon adds.
To start tracking site search, click admin then view settings.
Next, toggle the Site Search Tracking button to ON and enter any words that represent internal query parameters.
If your site’s bounce rate is extremely low, chances are you are tracking sessions twice. In fact, this is a very common google analytics tracking mistake. And it’s easy to make because “Many CRM’s and CMS platforms offer a way to implement GA tags. However, clients often use this feature without checking if their developers added GA tags manually in the page code leading to double counting.” as Stephane Gringer of Chameleon Collective shares.
Gringer says that “Running a quick code audit and creating a tagging strategy is something that should always be done before tags are actually placed.”
Darjan Hren of Hren.io says “I still see it (duplicate codes) in about 10-15% of audits I do or sites I analyze. The bounce rates are really low and usually between 0 to 20%. …The Google Analytics tracking script is loaded twice so the bounce rate is doubled as it tracks it twice…This can be site-wide, making it a bigger problem or just per page but both can be easily fixed.”
For Triodox’s Ruslan Konygin, duplicate codes “ruins all the data literally, starting from the basic metrics like Pageviews or Bounce Rate. You can’t rely on your reports – so fix this as soon as you can.”
“A simple tip of detecting the duplication (in Universal Analytics): your average Bounce Rate becomes close to zero(1-3%).” Konygin shares.
While Hren says “To find out if you have these problems, in GA go to Behavior -> Site Content -> Landing pages and sort by bounce rate.
I also set the advanced filter to “Include sessions greater than 100” to get more accurate data as a page with a few sessions may just be hit by a bot or two.
The fix is really straightforward in most of those cases for this problem. Use the “GA Debug” Chrome+Brace extension to look at what is happening on those pages. Sometimes custom landing pages have manually added GA code which is also loaded via GTM site-wide so the analytics report will tell you what group of pages or singles pages need fixing.”
YourDigitalaid.com’s William Chin also added an often overlooked aspect of this issue. “tracking of staging environment data into your production GA.” “For those who are not technical, what’s happened is the same ga.js script is on staging and production (because this code is tracked in GitHub). So, when developers, content writers or any stakeholders are in the staging environment – it causes a huge discrepancy in average time on page and engagement (because you could be testing),” adds Chin.
On how to avoid this, Chin said “you either filter your staging environment domain out of your analytics or you can create a custom view in GA to only track production domain traffic. I chose to only fire GA on my production environment which seemed to be the safer bet (VIA GTM).”
“One of the most common mistakes we see when taking over the digital marketing for clients is that they aren’t filtering out Ghost spam.” Jacob Fitzpatrick of Fitz Designz shared with us.
How does it work? Fitzpatrick says that “Ghost spam hijacks your Google Analytics ID and inputs a fake visit into the analytics report. These visits don’t interact with your site at all.” “We’ve seen companies make big business decisions on inaccurate unfiltered Google Analytics data.” further shares.
In fact, Kirtsy Lynn of Luciding didn’t understand that this was useless traffic at first. “I am guilty of tracking spam referrals like many site owners seem to do. At first, I thought those random referral spam sites were excited about my site and sending me traffic. But I had a hard time figuring out where they were actually sending it to me from when I went to the site I saw listed in my referral track. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize it was referral spam.” Lynn says.
One quick way to stop google analytics from tracking bot traffic is to go to the Admin section and click View Settings:
Next, check the “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders” option in the Bot Filtering section.
Another way to do it, Lynn says you should “create a custom view filter (Admin –> Filter) to exclude the domain you think is spam. You can include multiple domains by putting the pipe (|) symbol between them. This needs to go in the “Filter Pattern” field after you select “Campaign Source” for your excluded custom field.”
Fitzpatrick says that the best thing to do is to “filter out any Google Analytics events to events that didn’t occur on your actual site’s domain. You can do this by adding an exclusion filter on your hostname in the Google Analytics settings. This way you only see the data that actually occurred on your site, the real data.”
Related: Identify and Filter Bot Traffic in Google Analytics with These 10 Tips
When you are installing GA code manually, it’s easy to make mistakes like leaving pages out.
Greta Simeonova of PAN Digital Marketing says that “Failing to track every page, which could lead to a lot of misconceptions about what the data is telling you and not installing the code correctly.” is a top mistake. “You can fix this by making sure that every page is property tracked and provides sufficient information about what’s going on,” Simenova says.
But just how common is this mistake? Carter Seuthe shares how Credit Summit makes the same mistake. “Our biggest mistake was not putting Analytics on individual pages for a time.” “It’s important to have it on all pages you need to perform and marketers need to pay attention to this when new pages are set up.” Seuthe shares.
Pay attention to pages on your subdomain for this mistake too.
Ever get a missing code notification for your site? Eden Cheng of WeInvoice shares the missing code as a top analytics tracking mistake to watch out for. “As per me, the one mistake that we all do while using Google Analytics tracking is missing the Google Analytics code. This happens all the time, especially with websites that use multiple CMS. Though Google Analytics has a missing code notification many people still miss that because the notification mechanism is slow and sluggish.”
Similarly, Oz Party Events’ Isaac Bullen shared that “I’ve ended up with a missing Google Analytics code in the past on more than one occasion.”
But why does it happen? Bullen shared one common reason, “The times that I’ve had this happen has always been when I’ve changed a WordPress theme and forgotten to make sure the new theme still shows the Analytics code. I think this is something lots of site owners do by accident, so I know that I’m not alone on this.”
“The way that I’ve managed to fix this problem is by using the Header and Footer scripts plugin on WordPress sites. This way, changing the WordPress theme doesn’t remove the analytics tracking code,” says Bullen.
Related: 26 Tips for Properly Setting Up Google Analytics On Your Website
Do you have an app as well as a site for your property? Chances are like Janeesa Hollingshead of JJ Studio’s clients you forget to track all your property types.
“One really common mistake that I’ve seen multiple clients make is to set up one property for their website and another property for their web app but fail to use cross-platform/cross-property tracking,” Hollingshead says.
“When this happens, they inevitably send traffic to their website with UTM parameters that are then not tracked through to conversions and events on the app. Instead, they’re just tracked as referrals from the website. It completely stunts the ability to track activities through the entire funnel.” adds Hollingshead.
If you aren’t keeping track of custom metrics on Google Analytics, our experts say you are making a mistake.
Matthew Bertoia of StashStock for example, says “A mistake I know I have made and have come across others doing the same is misusing the goals feature. Google Analytics can help you keep track of specific instances that happen on your website whether it be clicking through to a certain page or lasting a specific amount of time.”
About how this impacts StashStock’s business, Bertoia says “I personally found this tool later than I would like to admit and after I found it I did not use it properly. Now that I have goals that are valuable to myself and my company, I can use other tools in analytics to see how many individuals completed those goals and the channels that brought them there.”
Similarly, Spiro Koulouris of Gout And You shares “One of my biggest mistakes that I think other site owners make is not setting up a filter to merge referrals from the same root domain. The problem with this mistake is that you can’t easily look in analytics and know exactly how much traffic you’re getting from sites like Facebook.”
“Instead of having all Facebook traffic on one line, you end up with several links of variations, such as from the mobile app and from the actual site.” Kouloris adds.
Kouloris recommends using custom filters to fix this mistake “ This mistake is easy to fix with a custom view filter. The filter needs to be a “Search and Replace” filter and it needs to be “Campaign Source” for the filter field. Using the same example of Facebook, this is what you’d put in the Filter field: ^.*facebook\.com$. You just have to remember that filters like this only work going forward and doesn’t fix the historical data.”
“Not segmenting. By goals, by traffic sources, by technical dimensions, whatever. If you want to look for problems and opportunities, you have to understand what segment it affects. Bad site load times or bounce rates…. for who? What browser? What device type? Is it only a specific traffic source? Knowing who, where, and what will make learning why easier.” adds Ben Froedge of Ben Froedge LLC
*Editor’s note: Want to better understand how a specific segment of your website is performing? Download our free Google Analytics (Website Segment Drilldown) template to get started.
If you use the new Google Analytics view, you should pay attention to this one.
Dan Martin of Route says that “In order to get better cleaned up data create a new view in Google Analytics and make sure in the new view you block all parameters.”
“This will help you to better understand how people are really interacting on your page.” Martin adds.
How does this help? Martin shared that “Coming into a new company recently no one could tell me anything about the consumer journey on the website because there were so many entries with UTMs that it was impossible to glean anything. Cleaning up the data helped us better understand who comes to the website and why.”
“Not properly using UTM parameters when running paid ads is the #1 mistake that I’ve made with Google Analytics.” Chanel Meekins of Pierre Michel Beauty says.
If you aren’t tracking ads with UTM parameters, you won’t be able to tell which ads are doing well and which ones need to be benched.
Meekins says “This made it virtually impossible to tell how the ads were doing in regards to sending quality traffic to the site. Because without proper UTM tracking, everything looked like organic or direct traffic. It took some trial and error for me to get it right, but I think this is what happens to a lot of online marketers. Setting up UTM parameters from the start when you’re promoting content on your site is the way to avoid this from happening to you.”
*Editor’s note: Using Facebook or Google Ads? Monitor your ads costs, conversion rates, and overall performance of your paid campaigns with our Facebook Ads & Google Ads Paid Marketing Overview Dashboard Template
Even though you don’t want to be tracking internal sessions, Growth Hackers Agency’s Jonathan Aufray advises you to test your GA setup before you call it done.
“I’ve seen a lot of marketers with Google Analytics not set up the right way.
For example, the tracking system wasn’t installed properly, UTMs not working, not having integrated Google Search Console or not tracking the user journey.” says Aufray.
“To avoid those mistakes, what’s important is to actually test if your system is working. Open an incognito window, go to your website, start browsing, click different links and go to different pages of your website.
Then, check on Google Analytics if you could analyze this and track what you actually did when visiting the site in incognito mode.” Aufray adds.
Have you ever found yourself looking back at interesting analytics data but unable to recall what happened at that point?
Filip Silobod of Honest Marketing Zagreb calls out this mistake.
“Not putting annotations in Google analytics is a common mistake everyone makes. Annotations is a custom text you put on a certain date in Google analytics so you can read what happened on a certain date.
Things happen, traffic spikes on a certain date are not uncommon. Having an annotation that gives an explanation for a spike or drop, is useful when comparing data. Otherwise, you had to guess what happened.” says Silobod.
Related: 24 Underrated Google Analytics Features You Should Use More Often
When asked for a top mistake, Alex Birkett of AlexBirkett.com says “I’ve never seen a Google Analytics implementation without some mistakes to clean up, but by far the most common error committed by marketers is using UTM parameters to internally link to another website page.”
To explain further why you shouldn’t be doing that, Birkett shares that “This strips session data and totally ruins attribution efforts. It’s also unnecessary.
You can do page path analysis quite easily, or if you really want to systematically track internal links for key campaigns, you can use internal link tracking parameters with custom values. This sounds complex, but it’s actually really easy to do and basically just requires some top-down organization of which internal campaign key is used for which value and how they’ll be used.”
Similar to only tracking on property type, some people make the mistake of only tracking desktop performance.
Mehvish of Zen Media says “One Mistake One Google Analytics tracking mistake that is common is ignoring the difference in devices. Simply tracking performance from one side of the spectrum (desktops) is not reliable since mobile search has seen a huge rise since the pandemic.”
If you’ve read this far, you probably already found one or two Google Analytics mistakes that you’ve been making. And you shouldn’t feel bad about it! As you can see from the results of our survey, almost 46% of our respondents feel very comfortable with using various debugging tools, but an almost equal number of respondents (42.3%) only know the basics.
Keep these mistakes in mind when auditing your Google Analytics account. Once you have them fixed, the next step is to actually use all the data you’ve tracked.
And if you want a better way to measure and understand your Google Analytics data in a way that will ultimately help you grow your business, check out Databox’s Google Analytics integrations for smart marketing teams.
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