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.

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.

The Cookie Law in Sweden – Self regulation committee started by the IAB

The Swedish arm of the European Trade Association of the Digital and Interactive Marketing Industry (IAB) has created a self regulating committee in response to the introduction of the new Swedish law ‘Better Rules for Electronic Communication.

This law is a response to the recent EU directive which places tough standards on the use of cookies and has serious implications for, for example, the effectiveness of  cookie based tools such as Google Analytics and the various forms of online advertising.

The self regulating committee has created a group with members including Adform, Eniro, Google, Microsoft, Specific Media, Trade Doubler, IAB – Sweden, Swedish Chamber of Commerce, RO, Sveriges Annonsörer, Sveriges Mediebyråer, TU, and Sveriges Marknadsförbund/Näringslivets delegation för Marknadsätt (NDM).

The project is lead by Henrik Nilsson, a lawyer, and I strongly recommend reading  through the presentation he made at the recent IAB conference in Stockholm a few weeks ago, made around the time the new Swedish law was voted in. It’s in Swedish – and gives a background to the cookie law and the self regulating project.

The objective of this project is to create a best practice for the use of cookies. The project aims to deliver a best practice guide in July this year. Hopefully we’ll be seeing updates on the IAB website, you can also follow their legal arm on twitter here.

I work in the Higher Education sector, which is in the not for profit category and is not so well represented in the IAB project- I hope this will change, and I’m happy to say they seem very receptive to getting in other opinions and input. My concern is that limiting the use of cookie based analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, will detrimentally effect the ability  for organisations, such as the university I work for, to effectively manage and optimise their digital marketing activities.

To get a quick overview of the fallout from the EU law (allbeit from a mostly UK perspective) use the search ‘EU cookie‘ in twitter. I recommend checking out Brian Clifton‘s post on the impact of this new directive on the use of Google Analytics and this post, by Paul Hatcher, for a good calm overview – though there is a plethora of posts on this subject out there now.

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.

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.

Website Analytics in Swedish Higher Education – Time to get our game on.

I don’t think there has been a better time to be a web editor of English content in Swedish higher education. The impending advent of fees means that your university’s digital real estate just went up in value and, as a result, so did yours. If you’re writing or creating English content then you’re responsible for the most powerful marketing tool your university has. Probably for the first time your management are talking about web marketing, search engine optimization and social media. They may even have given you some money to spend on these things – you lucky people. Chances are that you’re  also suddenly being invited to a lot more meetings and, sometime soon, you’ll be asked how well the website’s working and what –exactly-was the result of all those millions invested in it? If you’re unlucky, your management will ask – after all your SEO, usability, coding, staff training, research and editing work – why the website still ‘looks’ the same – you’ll need some killer answers: analytics can help.

Previously, Sweden’s unique offering of free, high quality, education meant that a website made of cheese would still be used to make an application. Things are a little different now. To convert website visitors into paying students our websites need to be functional and fit for purpose. As content managers it is our job to show what is working, and what is not.

In short, it’s time to become  – as Avinash Kaushik would say – an analytics ninja. The last time I checked in any detail, most universities in Sweden were using some kind of web analytics tool (with most using Google Analytics), so we’ve already got the tools to start showing our worth and what’s going on our websites. Try not to hit your forehead with your hand when you’re asked how many visitors the website received. Instead show them the awesome work you’ve been doing by hitting them up with some of this:

Goals – okay, so your website goals could be one, or a combination of several different metrics and, yes, this may include increasing the number of visitors. But how about segmenting out visitors from the countries you are specifically targeting rather than visits from everyone and their cat? If you’re dealing with admissions locally, and online, then applications made are an extremely powerful goal . Even if, as I suspect most of us are, you’re shunting people onto studera.nu to complete their application then exits to that site could be a goal. Got a bunch of friendly partner universities? Traffic, and conversions, from them could be worth focussing on. Downloads of brochures, registering for a newsletter, email enquiries, film clip views could also be among your measurable goals. Remember that Google Analytics, in contrast to how it was a while ago, allows us to report multiple goals.

Low Hanging Fruit – Use your analytics tool to identify where you need to do some work right away. This might include identifying the most important landing pages (it’s not all about your homepage), which content is failing (check out bounce rate for example) and which referrers are sending traffic (who is missing? Who should be sending you traffic, and who are the surprise donors?). Shelby Thayer has more about this in a great post at Trending Upward. Getting an idea of the trends within your data is also enlightening: our organisations are seasonal, with a flow of different visitors whose numbers ebb and rise throughout the year. Knowing which pages they look at and what content they want to consume can help us present the most important content at the right time. What percentage of your traffic comes from search? Is your main domain sending traffic to your faculty sub-domains or are your websites unconnected little islands?

Analytics Are Everywhere – That Facebook page you set up? Take a peek under the hood and check out the analytics. That blog the Rektor wanted? Check out the stats and find out how much love it’s getting. If you’ve installed a share function on your news or education pages there’s a rich source of analytics waiting to be looked at there. Conducted an email campaign? Take a look at the open rate and click through data which is lurking, somewhere, out there. Use bit.ly to shorten your URLs in twitter and then check out the lovely analytics interface to see what happens to your tweets. Look beyond views on your YouTube channel and check out the analytics there. See what’s happening on your organisation’s Wikipedia pages with wikistats.

Landing Pages – Unless you going down the complete redesign route (shudder) then you need to start your work somewhere. Use your favourite tool to identify your top landing pages (not the most visited) and see how these can be further improved. Take a cold hard look at them, when someone lands on them do they know where they are, and what they should do on the page? You’ll have a good idea what some of your most important pages are, but there’ll probably be a few surprises in there as well. Try segmenting the data. You’re already looking at your international visitors, but consider seeing which pages the international visitors look at when they make an application. Which pages don’t they look at? How many of them never look at the homepage? Do they ever read the news which you slavishly grind out? How many of your international visitors land on your Swedish homepage first?

Search Engine Optimisation/Marketing – If you are doing any SEO or paid for advertising then you really need to be checking out your analytics. Are your efforts working? Are those keywords paying off? Do those spikes of traffic have a nice fat conversion rate associated with them? Or (disaster) a  high bounce rate?

Finally – easier to say, but hardest to accomplish: Do something with the data. Reporting, by itself, will not achieve very much. Grow interest and identify mini projects where you demonstrate change, and improvement, by the application of analytics. For example, the results of SEO or simply moving, or changing, a link or other call to action on your site. Prepare simple reports and send them out to your organisation – it’s my experience that web editors usually find this stuff fascinating. Get evangelical – bring up analytics in your organisation whenever the web is discussed. Gather your web editors and show them what’s going on with their sites – don’t use it as a stick to beat them but as a way to show what’s working, and what can be improved. If people are starting from scratch you will need to run workshops, coach and encourage. Link the analytics to the real world, combine your reporting with other sources of data (market research, surveys, usability testing etc) to make the data less abstract and more focussed on the purpose of your site and organisation. Don’t ‘own’ the data – discuss it with your colleagues, get them to challenge your interpretation of it.

Get comfortable with the analytics, start showing some results and let’s earn our ninja stars.

New Report from Eduserv on UK Higher Education Website Management

Over on my future web blog I’ve just posted on a new report from the UK, on the management of websites in Higher Education.

I’ll probably be adding more of the web management stuff there in the future and, when I can find a suitable person, giving over this blog so it can function purely as an admissions blog.