Simple analytics mistakes can interfere with your SEO reporting. Learn how to avoid the most common Google Analytics mistakes here.
Don’t feel bad if you’re making mistakes in Google Analytics. Even experienced SEO professionals do. The good news is that you can learn to spot and solve them.
Duplicate tags, for example, can lead to overreporting.
If you have set up the wrong event or goal tracking, you may not be tracking conversions or clicks accurately.
And if you don’t identify individual traffic categories, you just might be missing out on which types of traffic are successfully being driven to your website.
In this column, you’ll learn 15 of the most common Google Analytics mistakes — and how to find and fix them.
Having more than one instance of Google Analytics tracking code can cause you to over-report your data.
This over-reporting can result in inaccurate assessments of your site’s actual Google Analytics performance.
Considering that you use this data to make decisions, having the wrong information can lead your entire strategy astray.
If you’re not tracking the correct event clicks, you aren’t getting accurate performance data.
Say, for example, that your users click on a call button B which is further down the page than call button A. However, you’re actually including tracking code on call button C.
Here, you’re missing the mark on both call buttons A and B, and missing out on a number of conversions as a result.
You just started work on a client’s site and their traffic continues to increase. Does this mean you’re doing a great job of SEO?
Hold on a second. Look deeper into Google Analytics and investigate your company’s IP address. If you find traffic coming from your own IP address, you need to block it from Google Analytics.
Reporting inflated visits from your own IP means more inaccurate data.
Certain types of advertising campaigns, such as those on external platforms like Facebook and Twitter, lend themselves well to tracking with UTM tags.
You can also use UTM tags with billboards and TV advertising (it may be less effective but can be done).
If you don’t ensure the correct UTM tags are installed on your ads, how can you ensure the accuracy of your traffic reporting?
Read UTM Parameters Explained: A Complete Guide for Tracking Your URLs & Traffic to learn more.
Parameter URLs are all well and good until they’re hit by a ton of traffic and become a nuisance. This inundation of traffic can result in reports hundreds of pages long.
If you know that certain parameter URLs should not be tracked, filter them out of your Google Analytics reports.
By filtering out parameter URLs where they make sense, you improve the accuracy of your tracking and create better attribution models for your search traffic.
For more guidance here, check out An SEO Guide to URL Parameter Handling.
When you ignore individual sources of traffic, you are tuning out a valuable chunk of decision-making data.
For example, if you only look at the surface-level reports (in all versions of GA under version 4.0) under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, you’re reporting on all of the channels that Google Analytics reports on.
But if you drill down further (for example, into organic search as opposed to direct or social) you can see performance as it relates to organic search traffic.
This is a great way to see exactly how your site is performing and whether your SEO professional is on the same page as you.
When you create a new site design and don’t update your tracking code to new ones (especially if you have transferred to using Google Tag Manager over Google Analytics) you run the risk of it being outdated.
As a safety measure to protect against these types of mistakes, always make sure you’re using the most up-to-date version of your tracking code.
The traffic will normally show inflated numbers but you won’t know where, exactly, the duplicated traffic is coming from unless you do some deeper digging.
Even then it’s difficult to identify. That’s why we need to use a Google Chrome extension to find it.
Use the Google Chrome extension called Google Tag Assistant to make sure you’re not using any duplicate tracking codes.
This will show up as a red tag within the extension when you have more than one instance of the same tracking code installed.
Scraping is one possible reason for inflated data in your GA account. If your site has been scraped and the Google Analytics tracking code left intact, you may be seeing the duplicate site’s traffic in your GA.
If you notice a lot of traffic in Google Analytics data from one of these sites, investigate and inspect these domains for scraped content.
This should jump out at you right off the bat. If you see a significant quantity of your own content showing up, you may want to double-check and ensure that your own tracking code was not also transferred over to the new site.
If you perform a website migration, you will need to ensure that your admin panel is also switched from http:// to https://.
This is important to get right if you want to ensure the accurate tracking of your traffic data.
If you don’t, you could potentially neglect to include all of your reporting data in your Google Analytics tracking.
Spam and bot traffic is also something you don’t want to ignore. If you ignore the potential impacts of spam and bot traffic, you could be negatively influencing the accuracy of your Google Analytics tracking.
When it comes to spam and bot traffic, this can lead to over-inflation of traffic performance, and thus inaccuracies in your data reporting.
This happens because spam and bot traffic are not considered to be the most accurate sources of traffic.
If you think your search traffic is actually increasing, but your decision is based on spam and bot traffic, you could be in for a world of disappointment in that decision.
This is why it’s so important to ensure that any SEO strategy decisions are all based on real users and traffic, rather than spam or bots.
If your Google Analytics account is relying on sampled traffic, this could be an error in your data tracking decision-making.
What is sampled traffic?
Google Analytics can run in two different modes: unsampled and sampled. Unsampled means that Google Analytics is tracking all possible traffic from Google, and they are not using sampled data processing.
According to Google Analytics support, they have the following sampling thresholds:
Default reports are not subject to sampling.
Ad-hoc queries of your data are subject to the following general thresholds for sampling:
When you create a default report in Google Analytics, however, this data is not subject to the sampling listed above.
Make sure that you are not relying on sampled data when you’re reporting. And, if you are relying on this data, you understand what the implications of this sampled data actually are.
By default, Google Analytics does not include the hostname in the URL. This can be a challenge when working with multiple subdomains because you cannot be entirely sure where traffic is coming from.
Always make sure that you know 100% where the traffic is coming from.
At least you will know 100% at all times what’s going on with the hostname in your URLs.
When you first set up Google Analytics, you have one profile you can use. Over time, however, you can use more than one profile depending on the purpose of said profiles.
Say you want to have one default profile for basic analytics. Then, a bit later, you decide you want to create two or three profiles to measure certain things.
Perhaps something happened during a site migration that caused you to doubt your data’s integrity. Or, you just want to start anew.
Both are possible with the advent of multiple Google Analytics profiles.
But be careful! Don’t just assume you have the right profile.
If you don’t know what profile you are using, make sure you ask your webmaster/developer. This will help you assess whether or not the GA profile you’re using is the correct one.
You don’t want to be in a situation where you find out three months into the project that you have not been reporting data from the correct Google Analytics profile.
Ignoring URL rewriting can result in unintended consequences.
For example, say that your data includes many parameters all coming from different URLs on your site. They could be reporting inaccurate traffic data because there are multiple URLs per page based on the excessive query parameters.
When this occurs and you ignore it, you run the risk of reporting on inaccurate data.
Always do a mini-audit of your URL parameters in Google Analytics when reporting to ensure that you haven’t had anything strange occur over the last month or two that affects the integrity of your data.
This is a highly “it depends” scenario because it depends on what you’re tracking when it comes to your Google Analytics data.
If you’re tracking many different subdomains, you may be in for a world of surprises in Google Analytics if you don’t track them within Google Analytics.
This builds on the hostname issue we discussed earlier. If you don’t know these subdomains are sending traffic to your properties, how will you accurately track this data? It’s almost impossible.
This is why you must make sure that you’re tracking all properties sending traffic within your Google Analytics profiles.
This means: always be tracking! And the rule discussed here is why many mistakes are seemingly overlooked or ignored.
While most SEO professionals are obsessed with their data tracking, some are not obsessed enough. When you’re not obsessed enough to care about little things like the mistakes discussed above, you may be relying on erroneous data tracking.
This is why data accuracy is an important part of any Google Analytics reporting. Seemingly innocuous moves can actually have a significant impact on your data monitoring.
By following your ABTs, you may have a greater chance of success and can avoid many of these amateur mistakes.
When in doubt, double and triple-check your Google Analytics set up. In the end, your clients will thank you.
Featured image created by author, April 2021
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Brian has been doing SEO since before it was called SEO, back in the days of 1998. Back then, SEO … [Read full bio]
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