Understanding Google Analytics

Understanding Google Analytics

Understanding Google Analytics

Google Analytics is currently the best tool for measuring site metrics, namely for their reliability. However, there are instances where Google cannot account for some users and this makes the data from Google Analytics imperfect (reliable but not 100% accurate).

In the heart of Google Analytics is the Page View. This is the most basic default hit that gets sent automatically on the load of a page is the page view. Many other metrics, such as the Bounce Rate, depend on an accurate accounting of the page views on your website.
Inaccurate information is usually not the fault of Google. Developers may implement stuff incorrectly, analysts may configure Google Analytics incorrectly or visitors themselves may be altering your data. You can still trust data such as visits and page views, but you can’t rely 100% on revenues, transactions, goal conversions, and conversion rates.

5 Google Analytics errors you can fix:

1 Failure to tag pages: Google Analytics works by putting a JavaScript “tag” into the code of your pages. No tag on a page = no data for that page.

2 Poor location of Google Analytics tracking code: many developers place code like the Google Analytics tracking in such a way that the visual elements of the website can load before the code executes, as this increases the page load speed. Placing that code in such a way will miss visitors that quickly click through pages on the site before the tracking code executes. Luckily, the Analytics code does not slow down page loading and loads asynchronously.

3 More than one Google Analytics tracking code on the page: if the same code is inserted more than once on the page, that will double all visits and all stats will be inflated.

4 JavaScript errors on the page: Google Analytics only functions if the JavaScript code on the page executes. If you have errors in any of your other JavaScript on the page, the Google Analytics code won’t execute

5 In-page Analytics is Inaccurate: Google Analytics does not track clicks or submissions without an HREF element. This means those buttons need to be coded correctly in order to pull through on Analytics. It does not track pages containing Flash and cannot separate the number of clicks from different links that lead to the same location.

8 Google Analytics errors you cannot fix and have no control over:

1 Some browsers have JavaScript disabled: Google Analytics tracks information for any visitor that loads the JavaScript tag in the page code. Browser disabled JavaScript = no data. However, this has been proven to be a rarely encounterd problem.

2 No cookie = no data: Google Analytics doesn’t track a visitor unless it can accept a cookie. Cookies are important because they are used to tag a visitor and aggregate that visitors behavior over the course of multiple visits.

There are a number of different ways cookies can cause problems:

  1. The visitors browser doesn’t accept cookies.
  2. The visitors firewall blocks or deletes cookies
  3. The visitor deletes cookies manually

3 Cookies time out: Google Analytics ends a visitor session after 30 minutes of inactivity. A new session cookie would be placed when the visitor starts browsing again. This will be considered a brand new session by Google Analytics and would duplicate data.

4 Same device, different user: Visitors sharing devices = misleading data.

  1. Husmita visits ABC.com for the first time and a cookie is set on her computer.
  2. She then goes for a jog.
  3. Jane then gets on the computer and visits ABC.com for the first time.

These should be counted as two separate visits, but the unique visitor is tied to the cookie and the cookie is tied to the device. Therefore these will be considered visits from the same “unique” person.

5 Same user, different device: multiple devices = misleading data

  1. Jane is standing in line at the grocery store.
  2. She starts researching XYZ product on ABC website from her iPhone.
  3. A cookie is set on her iPhone.
  4. She gets home, unloads the groceries and then purchases XYZ product from ABC website on her laptop.

In a perfect world, Jane’s behaviour would be tracked as she switches devices. Since it doesn’t, in this example, Jane’s purchase will be attributed to a brand new/separate visit to her initial browsing.

6 Google Analytics doesn’t reprocess information: if you’ve used Google Analytics for two years and only now decide to set up a goal funnel, your Goal Funnel will be visible from the time you set it up forward but no data will be available before that time.

7 Google hasn’t processed your data yet: Google Analytics isn’t real time, although there is some limited real-time data you can get through the Real Time reports. For all other data, it’s best to assume that Google Analytics is 24 hours behind.

8 Google is sampling your data: If you have a very active website and you try to run a report that includes a large amount of data, Google Analytics might use data sampling. In other words, they will not use the whole of your data it’s too resource intensive for them to do so and speed is greatly increased when they provide you with a subset of that data.

What’s the point of measuring if the analytics are wrong?

With Google Analytics, the slight errors are consistent and therefore still allows the data to be considered reasonably solid and realistic. The amount by which the data could possibly be inaccurate is never a large amount – unless there is a user fault (major coding error or a goal set up incorrectly). Therefore the data can still be used and relied on to draw conclusions and comparisons.

Leandra Koopman

PPC Manager
The No Nonsense Group