Counting Zeros – Basic Google Analytics Troubleshooting

I’ve been spending more time in the Google Analytics Product Forums – it’s a great way of staying sharp, many of the questions and issues are similar to the ones my clients face, and it’s nice to be able to contribute to the community there.

One of the most common questions I tend to see there is something along the lines of ‘Why can’t I see any data’. Here’s some tips to get started, if you’re staring at a bunch of zeros:

1. Is your tracking code installed correctly?

Check to see that the Google Analytics tracking code (GATC) is actually on the page and deployed throughout your site. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to scan your site to verify that you have a near as damn it 100% deployment of code.

The Analytics Helper extension for Chrome is a quick way of seeing if there is GATC code on the page.

If you see code, then check to see whether it’s firing – I use Google Analytics Debugger all the time. That will tell you exactly what’s being fired off. Top tip – the Debugger tool uses the Developer Console to display results; when it’s open right click on the console and select ‘Preserve Navigation’ – that way you can look back over a series of calls to GA.

2. Do your UA-XXXXXXXX-X numbers match?

Pretty basic this one, but check that the GATC UA number on the website matches that of the profile your’re looking at. That’s the number which appears in your GATC on your website – compare it with the UA number beside the profile name in the main accounts list in your GA interface.

3. What filters are in place?

If you suddenly see data flatline, but the code’s still on the page and firing, then check out any recent filters you’ve configured. A poorly constructed regular expression, or selecting ‘exclude’ rather than ‘include’ can kill your data. I recommend always have a test profile where you can experiment with new filters before launching them on your main reporting profile – remember, if you break your data, you can’t go back and restore it.

4. Have you been patient?

If you’ve just installed the code then take a deep breath and wait – in the support documentation Google says it can take up to 24 hours. It’s usually faster than that, but there can still be a time lag. Check the Real Time reports – they should show data immediately (assuming that the Tracking Status Information says ‘Tracking Installed’).

If you’re expecting a low volume of visitors anyway, then there may simply be no visits to track – assuming you’ve filtered out your own visits on your main reporting profile use your test profile, or another unfiltered profile, to check that your own visitor data makes sense.

 

Want to learn more? You’re welcome to talk to me about GA, we can also meet up at the forthcoming Digital Knowledge Day 2013 – Stockholm 10th April, Sweden.

Google Analytics IQ Exam – Revising and Passing

I recently left my previous job at Malmö University and started a new role as an analyst with Search Integration – this is an awesome opportunity for me, Search Integration are a great company and the hook for me was being able to work 100% with web analytics. A huge bonus is being able to work with Brian Clifton, whose book ‘Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics‘ got me into the field of web analytics in the first place – definitely a Matrix moment!

Part of my new journey with Search Integration was to formalise my Google Analytics knowledge by taking the Google Analytics IQ test. I’m happy to say that I passed first time, with a score of 94%. There’s already some great posts about the IQ test out there – for example, I recommend checking out the very candid ‘How to  fail the Google Analytics Exam‘; but I thought it would be useful to share my insights about taking and passing this exam.

Passing the Google Analytics IQ Test
You can find a good description of what the test is like here, so I won’t bother going over that ground again. Here’s my top tips for passing, and getting maximum benefit from the exam:

1. You need to be familiar with Google Analytics, and using it on a regular basis, before taking the exam. You need to have a basic understanding of implementation and, crucially, interpreting the GA reports – this will give you a strong foundation to build on; otherwise your revision is going to be very abstract. Despite having worked a lot with GA I was very glad that I had revised – there were definitely areas I needed to brush up on.

2. Google’s IQ exam presentations are great. Watch them several times and make notes. I’d put aside at least 2 full days to go through them. Incidentally, right click on the links and open them in a new tab to get the full screen view – I noticed a few people were missing this on some forums and squinting at the preview size. My approach was to watch the presentations, pausing them often and referring to the Google Analytics help site and Brian’s book as supplementary material.

3. Use the awesome Google Analytics Test site – it’s an unofficial community driven labour of love led by Eric Fettman. I would say that most of the questions are harder, and require more lateral thinking, than the GA IQ itself. Beast yourself on their site. To get maximum value from the questions pay attention to the answer sections – for all the questions, not just the ones you got wrong. I found the site particularly helpful in identifying my weak spots.

4. Don’t get cocky. My revision was good, and I’ve a lot of experience in using Analytics but there were definitely a few questions which got me scratching my head. I made sure that I was particularly confident with the following sections:

- Cross domain, and sub-domain tracking
- Attribution rules (and dudu’s blog has one of the best visual explanations I’ve seen)
- Adwords integration with GA
- How cookies work in GA
- Ecommerce tracking
- Filter functionality

Really, the subject is so broad that it’s hard to point at particular subjects and say you must understand these more than others. However, a big epiphany for me – in my journey as an analyst – was really getting to grips with what a visit is, and how Google Analytics measures them. Also, really work hard at understanding the difference between a dimension and a metric – this will pay back big time.

5. As my driving instructor said to me, ‘don’t learn to drive to pass the test, learn to be a good driver’. Aim to exceed the level of the GA IQ test with your revision and you’ll not only feel very confident as you answer the questions, but also as you continue to use it in your job – which is the whole point.

My revision benefited from the following resources:

- The IQ Exam presentations
- Brian Clifton’s book and blog
- The Google Analytics help site (this gets better and better – good explanations, often with examples)
- The Google Analytics Developer site (I love this site, but you don’t need to dive too deep into it – it will help with GATC customisations and cookie understanding; the dimensions and metrics reference guide is also awesome))
- Google Analytics YouTube channel (check out the web analytics TV – benefit from web ninja wisdom and lots of real world cases)

There’s a ton of good analytics blogs, but here’s a start:
- Advanced Web Metrics
- Occam’s Razor
- Google Analytics Blog
- Lunametrics
- Analytics Talk

I guess my main take away is to make your understanding of Google Analytics as real world as possible – if you’ve got a access to a range of accounts representing different types of websites then you’ve got a great start. Otherwise pay particular attention to the examples and demonstrations in the resources I identify above.

Good luck, and feel free to get in touch (via comments below) if you’ve got specific questions, or comments, about the IQ exam.

‘Unlikely to prioritise first party cookies used only for analytical purposes’ – United Kingdom’s New Guidelines for Cookie Use

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office published new guidance for website owners regarding cookie user and online privacy. As the UK moves towards compliance, they are already half way through the year that the ICO gave businesses to get their digital house in order, the prevailing attitude is that businesses ‘must try harder’.

A Ray of Hope – Analytics cookies are not a ‘priority’
The guidelines contain the following information, on their FAQ on Page 27:

ICO Cookie Guidelines

“unlikely to prioritise” – looks like the door is not completely shut on using Google Analytics then – I am cautiously positive. It remains to be seen what other European countries do. While we wait, in Sweden, for the PTS to produce guidelines we should make sure our own houses are in order, identify the cookies we use and give users clear instructions on why we’re using them – hasty implementations of consent boxes and banners may not necessarily be the best solution in the long term.

New recommendation on cookie use – browser settings rather than banners

The IAB in Sweden (the trade association for the digital and interactive marketing industry) have, this month, released a set of new recommendations on how website cookies should be used. These place the emphasis on the website visitor’s browser setting to determine whether cookie will be used, and move away from the website banners that have been previously promoted as a solution.

These recommendations are a response to the Electronic Communications Act (Sweden), which is itself a response to the EU directive concerning on-line privacy. This directive requires consent from a website visitor before cookies are placed on their computer;  but – as I’ve posted previously – this breaks many important tools for ensuring a good visitor experience. Not least, it directly impacts the use of Google Analytics.

The IAB guidelines say the following:

- Cookie use, and type, should be clearly identified on the site
- Clear information should be given about what cookies do and their purpose

The awesomeness (but also what I expect will be the controversial element):

- If a user’s browser is set to accept cookies this means they have granted consent for cookies to be used (if the website clearly identifies which cookies are being used)
- If a user’s browser rejects cookies, then this must be respected

They promote the use of a standardised badge, to help users find out what cookies are used and make their own choice.

I need cookies to do my job – that is, to make the user experience better; these recommendations seem like a sensible solution for everyone. Unfortunately, I doubt that the EU will entirely agree – particularly given the apparent disagreement between EU ministers on how this directive should be enforced.

(You can see this slow car crash unfolding by checking out all my posts on the cookie directive).

What do you think? Will this work – is this an alternative to the opt-in banners which seem to be popping up?

IAB recommendations in Swedish and English.

Swedish Goverment Introduces Cookie Opt-In Banner – there goes their Google Analytics data…

The Swedish Government has introduced a banner on their website asking visitors to explicitly accept having cookies placed on their website (click on the image to make it larger).

swedish government website cookie banner

It sure ain’t pretty, and will probably have the same catastrophic effect on the Google Analytics data they collect that the ICO, in the UK, experienced when they introduced something similar. Will the last analyst left in the building please turn the lights off when they leave….

Update: And here’s something similar from Uppsala kommun:

and here’s another Swedish site bearing a similar banner (I’ve chosen the English version here) msb.se:

 

 

 

 

 

Cookie Killer Law – EU Commissioner Smack Down: Things just got more confusing…

Confusing and bad news for website owners – EU Data Supervisor says that industry guidelines for cookie use are not sufficient and that consent for cookie use must be actively obtained – criticizing the softer stance of EU Commissioner. 

Rather than have the usual picture of biscuits, jars or muppets to go with this cookie post I thought I'd channel some Johnny Cash instead. Image: Flickr - Diogo A Figueira.

This is another of my posts about the EU directive which threatens life as we know it. This is an amendment to the EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive which forces website owners to obtain consent from a website visitor before cookies can be left on their computer. The upshot of this would be a sudden, and profound, hole in the data we collect on customer behavior on our websites.

No one really knows what the hell to do – since the Directive’s amendment, confusion has reigned supreme with some EU countries not getting round to implementing it while others, like the UK, bashing out a rapid response – and then giving organisations a year to respond to it.

Websites which have attempted to get visitor consent have screwed their site, and their data collection, with unwieldy solutions – the UK Information Commission’s Office, I’m looking at you.

Right now, there has not been any major indications that cookie use is being reduced.

In the background, marketing and advertising associations have been putting together guidelines for how cookie users can respond to this – use cookies, and yet still remain within the law. Check out the guidelines from the Swedish brand of the IAB here.

EU Data Protection Supervisor criticizes EU Commissioner – Advertising Association guidelines unworkable?

Neelie Kroes, the EU Commissioner behind this directive, had previously said that European companies have a year to comply with the directive and that she supported efforts by advertising associations (such as the IAB) to create some kind of standardized opt-in.

Not good enough, responded Peter Hustinex the European Data Protection Supervisor. In a recent speech he specifically said that the guidelines suggested by the IAB fell short of the requirements of the directive, despite them being welcomed by Kroes, the EU Commissioner.  He went on to say that Kroes’ support for a US ‘do not track initiative’ also fell short of the Directive’s requirements. One measure he suggested was a default browser setting of non-acceptance for cookies.

Read his whole speech here.

What Happens Now?

More confusion – even the EU can’t seem to agree on what this directive means. Germany and Denmark have aready got a ban on using Google Analytics (from earlier concerns about IP addresses), but many companies in those countries continue to use it, knowing that the risk of being penalized is relatively low. However, for those of us operating in the public sector there’s a risk that we could get some form of all-encompassing edict of ‘no cookie use without consent’ and boom, there goes our main method for collecting data for improving our websites. Sigh. Where do we go from here? I really don’t want to be saying ‘I told you so’ in a few years time.

Cookie Law Comes Into Effect In Sweden – PTS are reponsible and no detail available yet.

The new cookie law came into effect, in Sweden, on the 1st of July. It’s a response to the horrendous EU directive, widely seen as a cookie killer, which is an attempt to address online privacy issues. I’ve previously blogged about it here. The short version is that the directive requires consent from a website visitor, before a cookie can be placed on their computer. This impacts a whole bunch of website functionality, but not least Google Analytics. Brian Clifton has blogged about the implications for Google Analytics in two blog posts, shortly after the launch of the directive in the UK and then a little later.

If you’re in Sweden, then there’s a couple of things worth knowing. First, the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) is responsible for the execution of this new directive, and its Swedish interpretation. When I posted this, they had some information for website owners, but nothing concrete. There’s certainly not a ‘cookies are the big bad’ message from them – so far, so good I say. Right now, they are saying that they are giving website owners time to figure out how to get consent for cookies from website visitors.

The other important thing to know is that the Swedish arm of the IAB has prepared guidelines for website owners and are looking for feedback. The guidelines are available in both English and Swedish. Their suggestion is that consent is based on the users browser settings. The IAB guidelines are a best practice suggestion which avoid killing our website functionality with ugly consent requests (check out the banner on the top of the ICO’s website from the UK - and then take a look at what this has done to the data they’ve been able to collect from Google Analytics).

Best thing you can do right now? Don’t panic, read Brian’s latest blog post and get your website’s privacy statement in order. Checking to see what cookies your website is leaving on people’s computers might not be a bad idea either.

Cookie Killer – New EU Directive on Cookies and Privacy – New Swedish Law

New privacy laws could impact on our ability to gather user data, potentially restricting the use of tools like Google Analytics.

The New EU Law

The EU will soon be enforcing a new directive which directly addresses the way cookies can be used – it’s a development of the EU’s ePrivacy directive. How will it affect your website? Well, no one seems to be totally clear but there’s certainly a ton of, what seems to be, well founded gloom.
Essentially the law requires website owners to get consent from website visitors to record and store information about them :

site owners need to get an explicit opt-in in order to deploy practically any cookie” – Wired

Photo from Jim Linwood - Creative Commons Licence - http://bit.ly/j7haTF

Sweden’s New Law ‘Bättre Regler för Elektroniska Kommunikationer’ – A response to the EU law

In a few day’s time the Swedish Government will be voting on a new law ‘Bättre regler för elektroniska kommunikationer’ which will enforce the EU law.

Using my second language with a legal document is not a happy combination, but cookies are under the spotlight in this new law. For example, page 317 of the law says:

“Abonnenten eller användaren ska inte längre bara ges tillfälle att hindra lagring eller åtkomst, utan måste lämna sitt samtycke till åtgärden”

This sounds like the opt-in which the Wired Article, and several other commentators have described (Techcrunch have come out of the corner fighting on this one ‘Stupid EU Law‘). However, the Swedish law just does not seem clear enough.

“Vissa menar att samtycket måste inhämtas innan man besöker själva hemsidan, det vill säga i praktiken kommer man till en ”för-sida” där informationen om cookies ges till den enskilda användare som får godkänna dessa för att sedan länkas vidare till själva hemsidan.”: Ny lag för Cookies – Mathias Berggren

The EU law states that cookie use is acceptable where it is absolutely mission critical, but opinions will no doubt vary on what is critical.

Google Analytics – Can we still use it?

My sector, and many others, rely on using 1st party cookies to gather data on what our visitors do on our websites. This enables us to optimize the user experience – for a content rich website, like a university website, it’s a vital tool. This new law could very well prevent the use of Google Analytics, and thus leave a potential gap in our ability to understand how people use our websites.

There’s discussion about this on the Google Analytics forum.

Our search optimization efforts, measurement of YouTube success and use of adwords would, presumably, also be impacted. So, can we still use Google Analytics?  It would be nice to get some kind of  measured response from e-delagationen or Datainspketion (who have previously commented on the use of Google Analytics).

In the UK, the Information Commissioners Office’s guidelines do not include the use of cookies to gather statistical data as sufficiently mission critical to allow their use, without first getting consent.

A Final Word

Several commentators consider this law simply to be unworkable, as to police it would be extremely difficult. Germany has banned Google Analytics, but do German sites continue to use it? It would be interesting to find out how such a ban actually works in practice.  This law could be a massive blow to our ability to manage websites, a blanket  enforcement of ‘do not track’ (or ‘do not track without consent’) could result in some bizarre user experiences with opt in messages plastering websites. Alternatives do exist when it comes to data collection, it’s true, and making sure we only collect aggregate data could defuse privacy issues at a stroke.

Let’s see where this lands – Don’t Panic.

I’ll be at the Google Analytics conference in Stockholm tomorrow, no doubt more light will be shed on this subject there.

Please feel free to leave comments on the new law, and particularly the Swedish law – be nice to get a lawyers input on this.

Views from Google – Should you care?

So, I was at the Suniweb conference this week – it’s the annual event for web people from the Swedish Higher Education sector. It was up at KTH in Stockholm this year, and was a great experience. It’s fantastic to meet up with colleagues, and great to feel a real buzz around many of the subjects I’m passionate about.

Björn Lija gave a great presention about Google Analytics, which included the slightly controversial statement that measuring Google traffic into our websites was not particularly valuable. (cue tweeting from the audience!). Björn and I discussed this afterwards  and, as always with web analytics, it’s all about placing the data in context. Here are some of my reflections…

Yes, staring at the amount of views from Google will, in itself, not be particularly helpful:

  • Measuring any metric, without segmentation or lacking the context of a goal, is going to make insight and action extremely difficult. Just as the amount of Google traffic is buried in the visitors from search bucket, so also is the fine grain visitor detail buried in the traffic from google metric.

So why would you measure traffic from Google? Well, if you’re doing any SEO work for a start:

  • Google owns search, so if you’re doing any SEO work then you need to pay some attention to how the trends in your inbound Google traffic change to reflect that. Optimizing for a particular keyword? Targeting a particular country? The trending in views from Google for those keywords (for example, changes in your long tail of keywords) or segments will be one way to measure the success of your actions.

There’s also a role for this metric in identifying the low hanging, and often rotten, fruit which decorates our websites:

  • When I work with web editors I often take a look at the amount of search traffic as a quick, and dirty, assessment of page success. We create our pages to be findable, and low numbers of Google traffic is often a big red flag that something is going wrong somewhere. University sites are rich in news and education descriptions which often don’t receive much in the way of search traffic – understanding these trends will contribute to a good web strategy.
  • Segementing out, from your Google traffic, the % of Google visits that bounce from your site will give a good handle on performance
  • Looking at content in respect to views from Google, rather than most visited pages, will give you an overview of how your visitors experience your site
  • How do we make this traffic work for us? How do we use it to measure performance, and to drive improvement?:

  • We need to look at the search traffic in the context of specific goals on our site. For example, how much of the search traffic converts by filling out a form or downloading a brochure? How much search traffic lands on the targeted landing pages we have created? We can also use this metric, relative to goals, to benchmark the success of other marketing activities like PPC advertising.

What do you think?

Regular Expressions For Selecting Out Content In Google Analytics

Just a quick little piece of regular expression goodness which made my life easier with Google Analytics. There may well be a better way to do this, but this worked for me.

I wanted to use the visualisation report to show the difference in volumes of traffic between some of our pages – but I could not see a clear way of filtering for the content I wanted.

I therefore used this regular expression

/Vill-studera/$|^/$|^/english$|^/ar-student/$|^/bibliotek/$|^/hs$|^/forskning/$

to only show the pages I was interested in, called up the content report and then used the visualisation report. Result.