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Discussion – 


Discussion – 



Your Analytics Are Wrong (And That’s OK), Part III

Google Analytics Problems

As we said to start Part I: we love Google Analytics (GA), we continue to recommend it, and we hope a bunch of y’all are using it. But Google Analytics ain’t perfect (for natural reasons) and neither are its competitors, so its flaws are here to stay.

We explained those (blameless) fundamental flaws in Part I, then gave three examples of GA problems beyond your control in Part II. Today, we’re wrapping up the series with three GA problems that ARE fixable (if broken for you) and some pointers for addressing them.

Broadly speaking, GA’s imperfections are (yet) another situation where it’s sanest and most practical to focus on the details you CAN control. Even if that’s cliché these days, it does underscore the reason that all of these “fixable problems” have to do with GA installation: you can’t control other people’s behavior, only your own (no less true for being a truism).

We’ll phrase these problems as questions, in rough order of their complexity:

#1 — Is Google Analytics installed on all pages?

As we mentioned in Part II, GA needs JavaScript to collect visitor data; to be more specific, GA can only collect data on a webpage if the page’s code contains a JavaScript “tag” (little piece of code). This means that any pages without GA’s tag have no way of collecting or sending visitor data, and thus, your GA dashboard won’t have any data for those pages.

The likeliest cause of this issue is pretty normal: websites change. If you’ve added pages or made substantial edits since installing GA—and especially if you’ve overhauled your whole website—there’s a good chance the tag needs to be (re-)installed on certain pages. A quick acid test: if your traffic is struggling in a way that looks like this, then you might have just pinpointed your problem.

#2 — Is Google Analytics double-installed on any pages?

Call this the opposite problem: traffic data won’t be accurate if there are multiple tags in the page code. In simple terms, web browsers (like all programs) follow the instructions given to them (by code) in order, and the GA tag’s code basically says to the browser “when you get to me, tell GA to tally another visitor.” But once the browser has done that, it moves to the next command—and if there’s another tag, the browser will continue following instructions and ping GA a second time for the same visitor.

As you might expect, this can only inflate traffic figures—but because it’s a page-by-page issue and not usually a sitewide issue, the artificial surge in traffic isn’t always substantial. In fact, if the issue is isolated to pages with minimal traffic, it’d probably be hard to notice.

#3 — Is Google Analytics installed properly?

This last one is pretty broad, but to re-use what we said above, programs follow the instructions given—and those instructions presume (necessarily but often incorrectly) that the user has provided the program with complete and perfect information. Google Analytics, like any software, can’t give perfectly accurate results if you’re not giving it enough to work with (or if the information you’ve provided is just plain wrong).

As a gift in parting (and to offer broad answers to broad questions), we’ll share three useful resources for checking and fixing your GA issues. First: GA has its own Debugger Chrome extension. Second: if the OEM solution doesn’t interest you, a lot of places recommend a website called GA Checker. Third: for a deeper dive into GA issues, check out this guide from CrazyEgg.

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