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10 Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes Sabotaging Your Results

10 Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes Sabotaging Your Results

Avoid these Google Analytics mistakes for best results.

Google Analytics can be a great source of insight on how your website is performing and how to improve it. But your insights will only be as strong as the data they’re based on.

If you can’t trust your data then you may be making some big mistakes in regards to your reporting, strategizing, and optimization.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Now, there are a few different reasons why your Analytics data may be faulty. So, to keep you on track, here are the top 10 under the radar analytics mistakes that may be sabotaging your results.

#1: Double Tracking Pages in Google Analytics

Multiple page views for one page in Google Analytics (GA) may seem like a good thing. But these extra page counts can skew your reporting quite a bit if they don’t come in as consolidated for the same URL.

Let me explain. We can’t always account for the mishaps of our users’ fidgety fingers. So, if they mistype your URL into the search bar, GA often defaults to tracking these URLs as unique page visits. For example:

  • www.domain.com/transport/cars/camaro
  • www.domain.com/transport/cars/Camaro
  • www.domain.com/transport/cars/CAMARO

These could each register as different pages in GA, which would make reporting quite tedious. This can make it harder to track down a discrete page’s traffic for custom reports.

So, to fix this little problem, you can create a custom filter in GA to force all your URLs to only come out in lowercase (or whatever case you prefer).

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Instead of having to find each misspelled variant when reporting on your individual page traffic, all typo variants will be directed to the same URL (the correct URL). This will stop any user typos from giving you a headache later on.

#2: Tracking Through Subdomains

As opposed to duplicate page tracking, if you’re using subdomains on your site, they may not be tracking properly at all. Or, to be more clear, they may be tracking as completely different session visits altogether, rather than the user moving from one part of the site to another (viewable in Behavior Flow).

The first visit would include anything your user does on your primary domain, followed by an exit or a bounce. Any activity on the subdomain would be tracked as a unique session.

This can be a big problem for your analysis. You want to see a complete picture of your customer’s journey through your site, which may be affected if GA is registering subdomain visits as bounces off your actual domain.

This can be a big problem for things like:

  • Downloads
  • Product pages
  • Externally hosted blogs

Now, GA has a basic hierarchy of tracking domains. It will default to tracking your primary and secondary domain. But it won’t go any deeper than that. So, you need to be sure to use Google cookies on any third domains (what would be called a subdomain) or lower.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

You should be using cookies on any subdomain that GA is reporting as a bounce within your actual customer journey. This will ensure that you’re still tracking a singular customer journey without any fragmentations. You can read this post for a more in-depth explanation of how to set up cross-domain tracking.

#3: Identifying Browser Issues

These days, everyone is optimizing their pages for desktop, mobile devices, and tablets. But not everyone considers that users also use different web browsers to find their website. And with each web browser comes a new host of issues to worry about.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

To be concise, it’s important that you’re optimizing your website load speed for all the most popular web browsers. You can use tools like Pingdom or LifeHacker to see if you have any issues.

You should also take your industry into consideration and think about which browser your target market uses most. Certain industries rely more on Internet Explorer than Google Chrome, and Mac-loyal users are prone to use Safari over other web browsers (since it’s the default browser). You should prioritize the browser performance of your key demographic.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

After you run your domain through one of the site speed testers, you can use Google’s Page Speed Insights to see what changes you need to make to speed up your pages.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

#4: Dark Traffic

Of course, you can’t have truly accurate insights if you don’t know where all your traffic is coming from. And it turns out that even GA doesn’t know everything about where your traffic is coming from.

Especially with direct traffic, which should only take up about 10-20% of your total traffic, dark traffic often inflates the numbers.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Why? More often than not, it’s because GA is registering affiliate link clicks and paid ad clicks as direct traffic. This doesn’t make much sense, because direct traffic should only include users who typed your URL directly into the search bar.

So, why is this happening? Most likely because you haven’t properly tagged your external links that lead back to your domain–so when a user clicks through a backlink, for example, GA tracks it as direct traffic.

Specifying what type of traffic your external channels are can help clarify where your traffic is coming from for Google.

The (Other) channel traffic is also traffic you should consider clearly defining as a pre- or newly defined channel that is more specific. In Admin, Channel Groupings, you can designate accordingly such as we did in the below:

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Dark traffic can cause some huge discrepancies in tracking where you’re getting traffic. This can lead to some costly budget reallocation mistakes. And that can lead to some very awkward conversations with your boss.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

So, the best thing to do is to make sure you’re properly tagging all your external links to make sure that GA registers them as links and not direct visits.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

By now you should’ve noticed that most of these tips focus on ensuring the data GA is showing you is accurate.  If you don’t properly tag your links in any of the campaigns you’re running it may not only compromise your campaign’s data, but also the traffic stats for your website as well. So, dark traffic can hinder accuracy on larger than just the campaign scale.

Dark traffic can also get seriously costly if you’re running paid ad campaigns. Click fraud and competitor click farms can not only skew your data, they can cost you quit a bit in fruitless ad spend.

As I said in the intro: if you can’t trust your data then you can’t trust your insights and strategies either. We’re shooting for confident, impactful insights here. The more granular your setup, the better picture of your traffic you’ll have to analyze and optimize.

#5: Avoiding Tracking PII

Keep in mind that Google is an international search engine. So, it deals with countless legal systems. To avoid lawsuits, Google prohibits the passing of any personally identifiable information (PII) through its server.

Tracking, reporting, and/or sending any PII through Google’s servers can mean big time trouble. This can come in the form of Google penalties as well as potential lawsuits.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

So, make sure you are staying as far away from PII as you possibly can. The easiest way to do this is through your Google Tags Manager. You can rewrite the data that GA is collecting to remove any potential PII with the “email=REMOVED” query string. Or, if that isn’t enough, you can even use your tag manager to send data from specific conversions (ones you feel may have PII) to a different Property ID altogether.

Either way just make sure you’re protected against any PII penalties, and you should be free and clear.

#6: Query Parameter Fragmentation

This is a complicated subject to start off with. To simplify it, let’s compare it to tracking subdomains from earlier. When using query parameters, your URL is divided into two parts:

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Now, don’t go mixing query parameters up with UTM parameters (which use “?” and/or “&” instead of “#”). The basic issue here is that GA will default to not tracking the different pages you may link to after the #. This makes granular tracking of any specifics after the # nearly impossible.

Much like subdomains, you want to make sure you can track your user’s journey throughout your site. So, you don’t want any fragmenting bounces between sessions.

Luckily, there are solutions available to help you out. You can check out this helpful workaround to get your query parameter fragmentation on track.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

#7: Event Setup (Keeping Bounce Rate Low)

Subdomains and query parameters aren’t the only things that GA defaults to registering as a “bounce.”

Truth is, there are quite a few things GA counts as bounces that you’ll want to track differently:

  • Video plays
  • Button clicks
  • Form submissions

GA defaults to tracking any activity to alter the original page visit as a bounce. So, to fix this, you’ll have to create certain Events in GA to track as goals.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

This way when the actions occur on your page, they’re reported as completed events instead of simply bounces. These events will help you track what part of your page is actually working (as opposed to just depressing you with countless bounces). Instead of counting bounces, you’ll be counting wins.

#8: Tracking Site Search

Site search is a great way to improve your user’s experience on your website. Especially for larger site’s with loads of content, a site search option can be a huge plus.

But it can also be a huge minus if certain searches are pulling up “no results found” or “all results found.” It’s safe to assume that this isn’t what your user was looking for.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

The easiest way to avoid issues like above is by properly tagging all the content you want available in site search. It may take some overarching organization. But it will pay off in the end.

You should also use a site search code to make sure you’re tracking is accurate. Site search can cause similar tracking problems as query parameters that will fragment your user journeys through your site. Using a site search code in your page’s source code should handle this and help you track user searches as well.

#9: Conversion Tracking

So far, most of the discussed issues have dealt with properly tracking your traffic or on-page activity. You want to make sure that you know where you’re traffic is coming from. You also want to make sure you’re looking at the full picture of your customer’s journey through your site.

But you want to count your wins too, right? And you obviously want to make sure that you’re tracking these wins (conversions) accurately. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve hit your mark when you haven’t.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Miscalculating your conversions can come from a few different issues in your GA setup. Luckily, they’re fairly easy to fix.

The first is that you haven’t properly set up your conversions as goals in GA, so they aren’t tracking. This would, of course, lower your number of conversions, and thus your conversion rate.

The second is that you may be using an inaccurate sample size for your overall traffic. This is more specific to how you’re running your business. For example, if you’re a clothing eCommerce site and only sell in the U.S. and Canada, you can’t be calculating your conversion rate with “global traffic” in mind. This will make your conversion rate significantly lower than it should be. And this might cause you to abandon campaigns that are performing fine in reality.

It seems obvious, but double and triple checking how you’re calculating your conversion rate properly can make all the difference.

#10 eCommerce Tracking

Now, when it comes to eCommerce, tracking is integral to closely monitor your ROI. Especially in a space where conversions usually equate to sales, it should be easy to report on wins and losses. But it’s never that simple, I’m afraid.

There are a few must track metrics for eCommerce. If you aren’t keeping an eye on these yet, make sure you do moving forward:

  • Clicks (paid)
  • Direct Traffic (free)
  • Transactions (conversions)
  • Revenue (does this account for shipping, etc?)
  • Average Order Value
  • Cart Abandonment Rate
  • Returning Customer Rate

These metrics will give you a decent idea of how efficiently your eCommerce site is performing. Having said that, there are three major issues that many eCommerce brands fail to fix.

The first is failing to clean up your Referral Exclusion List. If you’re using online payment services like Paypal or Clicksafe, these count as referral sites. Unless you specify otherwise by adding them to your exclusion list, GA will default to tracking these URLs as bounces. So, every time a customer goes to pay for their cart, GA will report it as a bounce, instead of a conversion.

And that’s the opposite of what you want.

The second is only tracking last-click wins. Now, there are many different attribution models when it comes to GA. But eCommerce, as a rule, tends to lean too heavily on last-click attribution. This means that only the last ad your user saw is getting credit for the click and conversion. The issue with this is that, in some cases, you don’t properly attribute credit to assisted conversions or alternative marketing channels that may have helped push your user towards converting.

Display ads can play a big part when it comes to eCommerce demand generation, so make sure you take a look at different attribution models in GA.

Under the Radar Google Analytics Mistakes

Lastly, the biggest mistake eCommerce sites can make is failing to tie their actual sales and revenue data back into GA. This is where you can see some truly valuable analytic insights.

You shouldn’t be building strategies based on solely individual sales numbers. You should be calculating high level metrics like Average Order Value and Lifetime User Value to see how you can make more money off that initial conversion.

So, be sure you are plugging back in your delivery costs, lifetime user values, etc. to see what campaigns are really making you the most money.

Data – A Wonderful Servant But a Terrible Master 

You can only trust your insights and strategies as much as you can trust your data. Just like they say about the mind: it’s a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Don’t be blind and take everything Google Analytics gives you at face value. No system is perfect — and diving a little deeper into your account will help you understand the platform (and hopefully your business) a little better.

Run your account through a healthy GA Audit and make sure that you aren’t missing out on tracking any valuable traffic and/or conversions, as well as quickly finding any problems.

Moving forward, follow these solutions to sure up your analytics foundations. Then make truly impactful insights to grow your business in an informed way.

Johnathan Dane

Johnathan Dane is the Founder of KlientBoost, a PPC agency focusing on CRO and aggressive testing. He has grown two separate agencies to more than $5M in annual revenue in less than three years.

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