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.

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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.

The best Facebook analytics report (that you’re probably not using…)

Let’s take a step back, for a minute, from the usual slightly spitty excited talk about measuring social media by ‘engagement’, ‘reach’ or ‘virality’. All good stuff, to be sure, but sometimes – as a website owner, you just want to know how many visits are coming to your site from the Facebook page you lovingly maintain. It’s your bread and butter metric – it makes sense, and you know where you are with it. Chances are, most of your conversions take place on your website, that’s a good enough reason to want insight into your traffic sources.

Facebook domain insights is a great tool – among the reports it gives you are insights into visits to your website, from any link out there on Facebook. Here’s an example from a website, showing visits coming its way from Facebook:

Graph showing links clicked on from Facebook, back to a website

The number of clicks sent to a website, from links appearing in the news feed, page or profile walls. (Click for a larger view)

If you’re running a web analytics tool, you’ll can also get a similar report from your referring sites report – but what you get from insights, which you don’t get from your own website, is a report showing how many times links about your site were shared, regardless of whether they were clicked or not:

Daily shares from a Facebook page

The number of times people included a link to the website in a status message or wall post (Click for a larger view)

Ok – so where’s the insight? What’s the action I could take?
The first time I looked at the graphs above, my immediate question was ‘what’s responsible for the spikes?’. Finding out that answer will give me insights, which I can use to adjust my content strategy. Insights for domains has a ton of other useful reports, for example, it will show the success of any ‘like’ or ‘send’ buttons you have on your website.

The next question is, are the trends in the data above suggesting that the strategy that I have for Facebook is working, or not? In this instance, I can say that the prioritized purpose of my employer’s activities on Facebook is not to acquire traffic to the website  but to provide a platform for conversation with students (though, obviously, it’s nice when content is shared). However, as we increase publication of content on Facebook – and start using it to reach a larger audience we’ll definitely be using these reports to see what impact it’s having – we’ll be looking for an upwards trend. Whether this traffic does anything valuable to us, or for them, on our website is another question….

Talk to your webmaster, give them buns and get the meta tag from Facebook added to your website – enjoy.

‘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 Government’s cookie opt-in banner has severe impact on their Google Analytics data collection

This is the data which Google Analytics collected, from the Swedish government’s website before, and after, they introduced a banner asking for visitors to accept cookies:

Impact on Google Analytics data of banner asking for opt-in - severe reduction in tracked visitors
With the introduction of the banner, at the end of June, 80-90% of their data disappears – just as we’ve seen in the UK, on the Information Commission’s website. Thanks to the Swedish authorities for sharing this data.

Why a banner?
Here’s what they say, on the banner:

Banner on Swedish government website Why does this matter?
The EU directive which this is based on is throwing the baby out with the bath water. In an attempt to protect our online privacy they have taken a crude approach to an issue which is more complicated than their directive recognizes. In this particular instance, the use of Google Analytics, there is not a privacy issue and the data is used to improve the website.

What’s the precedent for this?
In Sweden, right now, there is none. The PTS, the organisation responsible for making the directive a reality in Sweden, has nothing particularly specific (In Swedish); certainly nothing which directly requires a banner. Uppsala’s county website also sports a similar banner.

But there’s still some data being collected – all is not lost, right?
Wrong. One of the joys of the analytics data we can collect is that, from the start, we get a bucket of visitor data which represents everyone who has visited our site. Our job as analysts is to segment out different types of visitors and figure out how the site is performing for them. The opt in banner segments the data into people who accept cookies. I would hazard that the people who accept cookies are a rather unique demographic, who probably don’t represent most of your other visitors. In my humble opinion, your data is screwed from the start.

You could use this as an argument for the cookie directive. ‘See’ you can say, ‘no one wants cookies on their computer’. I would say that the lumping together of cookies as all universally bad has been lazy legislation; it does not reflect reality. Cookies which track visitor activity for improving the website are  a little different to those tracking your activity across the web. Without being able to gather data on what our visitors are doing on our site – which content works, which buttons get clicked, for example – we’re flying blind and the users’ experience will suffer.

I own a website  (in Sweden) – what should I do?
Check out the PTS regulations, they say  the following:

PTS guidance for website owners
In essence, ‘you don’t have to change your website right now’. Maybe while we wait, we’ll get a browser opt-in option which could be satisfactory for the EU, as  Peter Hustinex (European Data Protection Supervisor) hinted at in a recent presentation. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out from Google on this.

Here’s some additional reading:

E-Consultancy reflects on the ICO’s banner and the implications for future use of cookies.
Brian Clifton’s most recent post on the implications of the EU directive for Google Analytics
IAB (Sweden) – Recommendation on cookie use (In Swedish, but English translation available on their site).

Facebook Friends – Monthly review of university Facebook pages – Part 1.

Here’s the data for the first part of my monthly review of Facebook pages from the Swedish higher education sector. This is the comparison of the number of friends they have, and the growth they have shown over the last month.

Lund University’s English language Facebook page occupies the number one position, followed by the Swedish Facebook pages from Linköping, Umeå, and Linne Universities. Stockholm university’s English language page occupies the number Five position.

This is definitely the growth season! Compared to the last month, where many pages had little increase in the amount of friends, the last month has seen a dramatic rise for several pages.  Overall, the average growth in the number of friends was 17% this month; it was 4% in August; a reflection, no doubt, of the new term.

The clear winner is KTH – their page has seen an impressive 80% increase in Friends as they jumped from 1643 to 2953 Friends in the last month. Whatever it is you’re doing – don’t stop! After KTH, there’s about  9 pages showing 20-30% growth. There’s a bigger group of pages, about 22 of them, which show less than 20% growth.

Here’s a bubble visualization of the total number of friends for the university Facebook pages, click on it and you’ll come to a more interactive version which will let you see all the names and numbers.

Size of Facebook pages by friends - Swedish Universities Many Eyes

Lund University’s English language Facebook page occupies the number one position, followed by the Swedish Facebook pages from Linköping, Umeå, and Linne Universities. Stockholm university’s English language page occupies the number Five position.

Swedish university Facebook pages ranked by change from last month’s friends total looks like this:

Growth of Facebook page friends - Swedish Universities

What does this mean?
Total number of friends is hard to use, but growth is useful for benchmarking. I doubt it’s a fluke that KTH have seen such an increase in growth – there’s almost certainly some action behind that. Looking just at the last month also hides some other trends; Skövde and KTH have had the highest growth over the last 3-4 months.  I’ll be publishing the amount of comments these pages have received shortly, which is a more relevant measure of engagement (in my opinion).  If I’ve missed your page, made an ass of the data or said something which you want to question;  please leave a comment below – thanks!