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.


Trending Upward, analytics blog for higher education

Check out Trending Upward, an analytics blog for higher education whose latest post definitely falls into the category ‘I wish I’d written that’.  I have not taken a look through the older posts, but the latest one emphasises that it’s not enough just to install Google Analytics, you actually need to do something with it. I like the baseline data KPIs which the post describes and, particularly, the % who use the course catalogue. For example, I’ve used Google Analytics to measure the success of our latest Masters Brochure PDF which, particularly when I used the new advanced segmentation features, gave a really good picture of who is using it and provides an excellent benchmark for future activities.

Advanced Google Analytics Functions Work With Old Legacy Tracking Code

The upgrades to Google Analytics work if you are still running the old tracking code (urchin.js rather than ga.js). I just got the upgrade about an hour ago and, after taking a look at some of the advanced segmentation tools, it seems like it works fine. I looked, and failed, to find an answer to this question about the old tracking code at the Google Analytics blog so I thought it worth posting about this now. I’ll post more about the new functions as I experiment with them.

PDFs and Google Analytics – Obtaining segmented visitor data

Out of the can, Google Analytics is a powerful analytics tool with the potential to do about 80% of what a commercial tool can do. However, outbound links are not captured by Google which has two effects; first, you miss out on data has to how useful those outbound links are to your users and, secondly, it creates a bounce rate value which is probably incorrect.

This includes PDFs as well. We recently launched a new list of our master’s programmes as a PDF. I have seen, from our log files, that earlier versions of this previously had a ton of downloads. But, the log file data is pretty dumb, and does not allow me to find the answers to any business questions. Like, for example, did marketing activity in a particular country lead to any increased traffic to our website?

Furthermore, the logfile data is a mixture of both human and robot traffic, so it’s hard to really assess the pdf’s impact.

By adding an additional attribute to the html of the link,Google Analytics can record the views of the pdf. You fool GA into thinking the pdf is a ‘virtual’ page. Assuming you’ve got the GA tracking code installed on your page, you’ll be able to gather data about the pdf. The attribute is a simple piece of code, the only ‘watch fors’ are make sure you use the right code (appropriate to the version of urchin tracker you are using) and label the pdf in a sensible way.

The very cool thing now is we can segment the data as we like in GA. Of course, it needs good business questions to get any sense from the data and, as always, you have to be wary of the wierd results which GA sometimes gives; but it moves a step away from the act of faith that publishing brochures usually is.

Google Analytics Tracking Code – Making our pdfs work better

I’ve been experimenting with adding tracking code to links in pdfs, with the aim of learning more about how they are being used. Simply put – we get a better return on the money we invest in them.

Before I began working at the university I was anti Pdf for the usual reasons (it’s dull, hard to read and is usually print content, rather than scannable text. Here’s Nielsen’s thoughts on the subject) but, after interviewing students and checking out our web metrics I’ve changed my mind. When it comes to brochures and course descriptions, for example, the students are okay with pdf.

Our Master’s Brochure was viewed over 25 000 times in the last 7 months. This makes it one of the most popular documents on our website. I was stunned when I saw this, particularly as our online marketing of this has been relatively passive.

So I got to thinking (which can be dangerous). We print something like 10 000 brochures, at significant expense, but it’s an act of faith as to whether they work or not. We’ve shown them to student reference groups – who liked them – but once they are out there they drop off our radar. We don’t know how many students try to learn more about the programmes the brochure describes, how many visit the website as a result or how many begin the application process. We don’t know if the money we spend is worth the result!

With some clever tagging on the links in the pdf we can find out more about how the pdf is used. We can see how many people come back to our website and which programmes receive the most interest. We get segmentation data as we can drill down through the data to a country level. This kind of data means we not only can test how well the pdf works in encouraging people to come to our website but it also generates valuable data, about potential students, in an easy and cheap way.

Correction: 7th July 2008. Okay, I admit it. I got a bit ahead of myself. Tracking the pdf itself is one thing – and can be done – but tracking the links within the downloaded pdf is another thing entirely. One way to do it would be to give a vanity URL in the document, one which does not exist anywhere else, and track the visitors that come from that link. Here’s some stuff about tracking offline campaigns at Conversion University.

I’ll post more on this when I’ve researched it more – if you’ve any good ideas please feel free to leave a comment.

Here’s some more from GA help on tagging

Here’s the URL builder