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8 Stupid Things Webmasters Do To Mess Up Their Analytics

By Linda Bustos

Are those really your conversion rates?

Do customers actually find your site using that keyword?

Are you sure that Digg story sent you all that traffic?

Google Analytics may be lying to you, even though it tells the truth — simply because you’re not telling it how to track your site effectively. Are you guilty of any of the following?

Heads Up: All inks open up in new windows, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Tracking Too Much

1. Tracking Your Own IPs

Google Analytics allows you to set up filters for any IP that you don’t want to track. You should consider adding a filter for any user who doesn’t represent your target audience – including company employees’ home computers, the office IP block, SEOs and other web consultants and, if you can identify them, competitors! There are a number of problems tracking unnecessary IPs causes:

  • Overstates your type in traffic (when visitors type in your domain it’s an indicator of brand awareness or preference) and dilutes your referral source stats. Your organic and paid search programs may be driving a lot more traffic than you think.
  • Understates your conversion rates. Your direct type-ins could be your highest converting traffic source, but you’d never know it if you’re tracking every visit from employees, stakeholders and consultants. Your referring site and keyword conversions could also be affected if your own folks are using search engines and external links frequently to access content.
  • Overstates average time on page. Do you spend hours poring over your site, deciding what to tweak to improve conversion rates? How about when you keep your pages open in multiple tabs while you’re working on other things? This is not your typical customer behavior and is not a good indication of your content’s engagement.
  • Creates misleading keyword referrals. As a blogger, I often use Google to locate content I’ve written in the past. I find it more user friendly than WordPress’ internal site search. I don’t want to see a bunch of keyword referrals from myself, mistaking them for long-tail traffic.
  • Messes up your Content stats. Your “Top Content,” “Landing Pages” and “Exit Pages” will all be skewed by tracking irrelevant IPs. You don’t need to see CMS pages like http://www.url.com/category/page/pageID/edit cluttering up your reports, it wastes your precious time.

Send out a memo and collect IPs from all users you don’t want to track asking for their work and home IP addresses and create filters for each. You can save some time by adding a filter for a range of IPs. Or you can use an advanced, cookies-based filter in your office which will compensate for dynamic IPs.

Then go into your Analytics Settings, and in the bottom right corner you’ll see a link to the Filter Manager

filter manager

Then proceed to add each filter, and make sure to name the filters intuitively so it’s easy to make edits in the future.

filter IP addresses

2. Tracking Irrelevant Referring Sites

Do you have an intranet, project management system, wiki or internal company blog that sends you hundreds or thousands of hits each month? Is your award-winning web design showcased in a plethora of CSS galleries? Are you getting traffic from affiliate networks when affiliates check out your site? Did you post your site in a forum asking the community to critique your design? There are many more scenarios where you may be getting a wave of non-converting traffic that can mess up your data.

referral source

Use your Traffic Sources / Referring Sites data to note which sites to filter. (Tip: set your date range to cover at least a year, your reports usually only show one month’s data by default.)

irrelevant referrals

Setting up a domain filter works just like the IP filter. Just select “Exclude All Traffic From A Domain” instead of from an IP address.

filter domains

3. Tracking Visitors Outside Your Target Market’s Geography

Maybe you’re getting a lot of natural search traffic from visitors who simply can’t buy from you because you don’t ship to their state or country. Sure you can tell Google which country you’re targeting through Google Webmaster Tools, but believe it or not, Google is not the only search engine in the world! Why dilute your real conversion rate? Set up custom filters to exclude certain countries, and use your Map Overlay on your Dashboard to determine which countries to filter.

map overlay

filter countries

You’ll need to set up a “Custom Filter” like so:

custom filter by country

4. Tracking Too Many Query Parameters

Dynamic URLs and session IDs can cause Google Analytics to attribute unique page views to content that is essentially the same which makes it difficult to accurately gauge how well certain pages are performing.

It’s important that you distinguish which parameters are necessary to track (they make a page unique or tell you something about a visitor’s actions) from those that don’t. It can be dangerous for a non-techie to just start hacking out parameters under the premise they’re all problematic – product types and colors, for example. Once you exclude a URL query parameter, any matching URL will not show up in your reports, so make sure IT is involved in the decision process if you’re not sure. You can isolate parameters by viewing Content / Top Content and entering \? into your Find field (make sure it’s a backslash or it won’t work).

find parameters

To set up your filter, go to Settings / Edit / and click the Edit link for Main Website Profile Information (it can be easy to miss the edit link):

edit profile settings

Add your parameters separated with commas, no spaces:

edit variables

While you’re at it, you can set your default page to index.html, index.php or home if direct type in traffic redirects to such a URL. This will prevent your home page’s page view count to be split between two URLs. Be sure to omit the “/” in the box.

Not Tracking Enough

5. Forgetting to Tag ALL Your Pages

Unless you have a CMS that will automatically tag all your content with appropriate code as you create it, you could have holes in your tracking due to human error which screws up your entrance and exit page data. A high number of mysterious referrals from your own domain may tip you off that there’s a tag or two or ten missing. You can use free tools like SiteScan or WASP to identify errors, or a paid tool like Web Link Validator.

6. Sloppy Goal Configuration

Hey, we’re human. It’s easy mistake to make is a typo or incorrect URL in your goal funnel. Double and triple check your goal setup.

zero conversions

There are other issues you may have:

Then verify you have set up your goals correctly.

7. Setting Short Cookie Durations

If your first party cookies expire too soon, some of your campaign conversions will never be counted. Your average sales cycle may exceed 30 days, but if your cookie’s gone, you may be overstating your direct type in conversions and understating your paid search, email or affiliate campaigns. This is a decision you have to make based on your business, but it’s something to think about.

8. Not Tracking Full Site Referral URLs

What if your site gets Dugg more than once or linked to from many pages of a single domain? By default, your content reports will show these referrals from just the domain, not the pages unless you click through to see more detail from the individual domain. But there is a hack (courtesy of Rueben Yau) that will help you show full referral URLs in your main analytics reports. This boosts the efficiency of your analysis, especially if you’re playing in the social media marketing sandbox.

referring URL hack

(Screenshot via Rueben Yau).

This is WAO: Web Analytics Optimization — and there’s a huge need for it that many don’t realize. Why not become a WAO ninja and offer it alongside your SEO, SEM and SMO services?

This is an entry to Marketing Pilgrim’s 3rd Annual SEM Scholarship contest.

  • http://doteduguru.com Kyle James

    Great post here! Web Analytics are very valuable but it’s so easy for them to become useless if your not tracking what you want. Maybe your a small company and you get all excited that you have 100 visits in a day, but realistically does that mean much if 98 of those were yourself?

    Thanks for putting this together!

    Kyle James’s last blog post..Marketing Lessons Learned from Indy 500

  • http://www.ddmweb.com Kevin Johnson

    Excellent article. Please set up a Pay Pal account so I can pay you for the pain and suffering you save me!

  • http://www.britopian.com Michael Brito

    Hi Linda – great post. Tracking our own IPs is something I learned about when I first starting using GA a long time ago.

    Michael Brito’s last blog post..The Social Media POST: Extra Extra, Read all about it!

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Thanks for the comments, guys!
    LOL on the paypal account :-)

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..404 Not Found Pages: The Good, The Bad & The Funny

  • http://www.projectswole.com Project Swole

    Nice post! I knew some of these things already, but it’s posts like this that help me remember to implement them. Now I will go back and exclude some IPs and domains. Thanks!

    Project Swole’s last blog post..Poll Results: Squatting to Parallel vs. Squatting to the Floor

  • http://www.hybrid6.com/webgeek/ WebGeek

    Linda, this is an excellent article! Those are some great points. I agree, I see those mistakes a lot as well with various client sites we’re hired to fix. :)

    WebGeek’s last blog post..E-Commerce SEO: How to Handle Deleted Products

  • http://www.seodiva.net SEO Diva

    Excellent post, Linda! There’s some new info here I will definitely use for client accounts.

    SEO Diva’s last blog post..Evolution of a Blog

  • http://www.semscholar.com David Temple

    Excellent informative article Linda, best wishes in the contest!

    David Temple’s last blog post..SEM Scholarship contest, step it up!

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  • http://findresolution.com jeff campbell

    Excellent post. Here are a few more ideas on using filters & profiles that readers should find helpful:
    http://www.findresolution.com/2008/05/google-analytics-limitations-and.html

  • http://www.nbrii.com Shawn Devlin

    Great stuff. I think I’m doing 7 of these wrong things.

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  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Hi Jeff,
    That profile tip is golden. It’s a great workaround for sites that need to configure multiple goals, or want more flexibility in their goals.

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..8 Google Analytics Sins: Are You Guilty?

  • http://www.highrankings.com Jesse

    Nicely written and detailed post Linda. Good find with the cookies based filter for dynamic IP’s, that one slipped past me!

    I would like to just point out something quickly on tip #4 to the people reading. You say that when excluding query parameters in your profile settings you need to “Add your parameters separated with commas, no spaces. I did a test of this just recently and in actuality I believe that the query parameters need spaces between them.

    I used two profiles, one was spaced out like this: tx, id.

    and the other was not, like this: tx,id.

    The profile that was using the spacing worked but the one not using the spacing did not and I was still seeing all of the different URL’s for the same page. Just wanted to point that out to an otherwise perfect article!

  • http://www.johnjoubert.om John Joubert

    Awesome article! Very insightful and well written. Most importantly, it was useful and practicle! Well done.

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  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Hi Jesse, thanks for that catch. That was my bad :(

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..8 Google Analytics Sins: Are You Guilty?

  • http://www.extravagantmedia.com Russell Rockefeller

    Very well written and accurate article Linda.
    I am actually searching for an analytics package that can track multiple sites from one login. A pre-requisite is that the tracking software is cookie driven rather than log based. There isn’t much out there from what I’ve seen and I certainly don’t want Google Analytics or any other evil Google tool (aside from Googlebot) near my SEO work.

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Come on, Russ, I’m sure you could build one from scratch over a weekend :)

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..8 Google Analytics Sins: Are You Guilty?

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  • http://www.johnjoubert.com John Joubert

    @ Russel: Let me know if you do, I may be interested in it :)

    John Joubert’s last blog post..Google analytics tweaks – must read for any site owner!

  • http://www.ydeveloper.com Rajith

    This post is well written and had explain great point about the analytics…

    http://www.ydeveloper.com – Yahoo store Design & Development

  • http://linkedin.com/in/metrics Thomas Bosilevac

    Wonderful article. Thanks for the detail and explanatory screenshots. While your examples are on GA this applies to almost all tools! Good luck!

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  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    @ Thomas,
    Thanks! If I win, I’ll make sure to do a CrazyEgg version :-D

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..8 Google Analytics Sins: Are You Guilty?

  • http://www.szulencki.com/eng Pawel Szulencki

    Great post. A lot of valuable informations. Thanks for sharing :)

  • http://www.clicksharpmarketing.com Paul Burani, Clicksharp Marketing

    I can vouch for the TrackPageview tactic mentioned above — most of my clients’ sites are not e-commerce sites, making the whole game of defining and researching conversions really slippery. But adding this little snippet of code to every outbound link makes a lot of sense. CAUTION–even though Google recommends you drop the GA code way down at the bottom of the page, for TrackPageview to work, it’s going to have to be near the top… or at least north of any mention of TrackPageview.

    Now if only Google would allow us to set more than four goals for each site, then we’d be in great shape.

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Hi Paul,

    There is a workaround for the 4 goals, you can create extra website profiles to configure more goals. Jeff Campbell, comment #11 shared this link which shows you how:
    http://www.findresolution.com/2008/05/google-analytics-limitations-and .html

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..Improving Product Descriptions Using Competitor Customer Reviews

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    I now have a follow up comment to my post:

    2 Stupid Typos I Missed When Proofreading This Blog Post

    1. “…commas, no spaces” instead of “commas, not spaces” (thank you Jesse for the heads up)

    2. “…make sure it’s a backslash or it won’t work” should be “forward slash” – I’ve been known to mix up “turn left” and “turn right” as anyone who’s had me as a passenger-seat GPS system will affirm.

    My apologies, thanks for all the comments, sphinns and del.icio.us love despite the foibles :)

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..Improving Product Descriptions Using Competitor Customer Reviews

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  • http://www.highrankings.com Jesse

    Hey Linda, no problem at all :). Setting up Google Analytics accurately can be quite a process and posts like this are very helpful for people in doing that.

    Good luck in the competition!

    Jesse’s last blog post..Will Linkbait Ruin the Internet?

  • http://www.webbrightconsulting.com Lamees

    Hi Linda, Thanks for sharing this information. In one of my more popular posts, I use a client site as an example for a page element. As a result, they’ve been getting good amount of traffic from the post, however, obviously it’s irrelevant to their site. Thanks to your post, I know now I can filter out this data and get more accurate traffic report. The one comment I have though, is it’s possible to over optimize Google Analytics and lose some useful information. For example, in your third tip “Tracking Visitors Outside Your Target Market’s Geography”, what if you filter out Europe, for example, because you currently don’t ship there, however, there is big interest from customers in that area? You might be losing on a good business opportunity.

    Good luck with your entry! Looks like it has a great chance.

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Hi Lamees,

    Actually, setting up filters in Analytics doesn’t affect a visitor’s ability to access your site or to convert.

    You can set up a separate profile if you want to keep tracking countries you’ve excluded from your main market. You could exclude your other markets from these additional profiles, so in essence you can get very targeted geographic analytics reports for each major region. This could be valuable if you’re testing campaigns for markets you’re thinking of expanding to, or only serve in a limited fashion (certain products you are willing to ship, etc).

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..Using Buzzillions to Brainstorm Personas

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  • http://www.weblike.de Werbeagentur München

    Well real good tips for getting out the unneccessary informations in the daily analytics time! :)

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  • http://marketinggossip.blogspot.com Asif Anwar

    Very nice article Linda.

    And one of the best article for this SEM Scholarship, which is a matter of envy ;-). Moreover, I have seen these information scattered throughout the blogosphere. But, this is the mostly comprehensive and compiled version with images.

    I have been stuck to analytics for more than 3 years and continuously monitoring & studying traffic 3-4 hours a day. Therefore, I am motivated to add more to your article:

    - You get overwhelming traffic when your developers are working on your site. So, you always need to filter out the IP before they start working.

    - In the same sense, you may also get traffic from copy-fraud, who are trying to steal your content to build a competitor site. We experienced this earlier and found 500 hits in a day.

    - Websites or Social Media making badmouth about your business can mean a lot of traffic. But they will not make any conversion, rather ruin your future conversion as well.

    - You didn’t mention the offline page load. If someone stores your webpage in their computer and they open it, then they will also not convert anything that time. Although, the analytics also dhow them as refered traffic from e.g. C:\Documents and Settings\Asif Anwar\Desktop

    Asif Anwar
    http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/05/13-prophecies-of-internet-marketing.html

    Asif Anwar’s last blog post..13 Prophecies of Internet Marketing – The Near & Far Future of Online Marketing

  • http://www.getelastic.com Linda Bustos

    Thanks, Asif! That’s what I love about blogs, the conversation continues after the article is posted.

    Offline page load is interesting, do you have an estimate of how common this is?

    A commenter on Get Elastic also offered up a number of advanced additions to the article:

    * Forgetting to tag links in email campaigns
    * Forgetting to separate navigational searches from search engine keyword, by using a custom filter for Direct Search or on page addIgnoredOrganic
    * Not changing keywords and url`s to lowercase (GA groups “KEYWORD” and “keyword” differently)
    * Allowing log spam by not adding an including only hostname: (www\.|)mydomain\.com
    * When using ppc – not recording actual search keyword by using a custom filter e.g $A3 in (\?|&)(q|p)=([^&]*) and
    * Forgetting to manually tag paid search landing pages in yahoo and msn.
    * Not segmenting visitors by type (e.g return visitors behave differently to new visitors, or Hunters behave differently to Browsers http://tinyurl.com/4×2k73 )

    When installing:
    * mixing urchin & ga.js
    * Forgetting to tracking mailto: clicks
    * Forgetting to tag links between 2 domains or links to/from an externally hosted shopping cart.

    Most interesting to me is:

    * When using ppc – not recording actual search keyword by using a custom filter e.g $A3 in (\?|&)(q|p)=([^&]*)

    What this does is show you exact long tail keyword the searcher used, rather than the keyword in your AdGroup that the impression was attributed to. We hope to get a screencast tutorial on this at Get Elastic in the near future.

    The commenter is only identified as “Phil,” as he cannot openly identify himself for professional reasons. But he had some more really fantastic tips in the comments here: http://www.getelastic.com/8-google-analytics-sins-are-you-guilty/

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..How Do Ratings and Reviews Help Online Retailers?

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  • http://viget.com/engage Josh Chambers

    Thanks very much! Solid article. I’m continually shocked at how many people forget about internal traffic.

    Really good summation.

    Cheers.

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  • http://www.fiftystudio.com Fifty Studio

    I had no idea you could exclude countries in Google Analytics. I need to take another look at the options available.

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  • http://www.jexanalytics.com Judd Exley

    I’ve been on the edge of this kind of knowledge (and application) for a while now with my clients, but now I finally have a term for it! Thanks for that, and you rock. Most excellent advice on the topic and all things that, if done properly, would improve the numbers for just about anybody out there.

    Judd Exley’s last blog post..Keyword Research – Marketing Pilgrim’s SEM Contest

  • http://onlinemarketingupdates.blogspot.com Prashant Kumar Pracheta

    Hello my dear friend Linda…
    Congrats …… you really deserve it.

    Keep it up…………

    Prashant Kumar Pracheta’s last blog post..Google’s Lively.com – 3D virtual experience

  • http://www.360sell.com Sean Maguire

    Wow! What a great article Linda. I couldn’t think of a more deserving winner. Congratulations!

  • http://www.seoresults.co.za Web Marketing Man

    This is indeed a substantial posting. Followed a link from your victory parade here, and must say there is loads of substance behind your work. Good stuff, thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.direito2.com.br Ruben Zevallos Jr.

    Very good post… good info and deserved mention

  • http://websdesignindia.com nile

    Congratulation Body, Good Stuff

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  • http://www.flashdesigner.com.au the flash guy

    Well done Linda, good stuff, very useful for any web marketing campaign

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  • http://www.jakematthews.blogs.com Jake Matthews

    great post – thanks for sharing.

    Jake Matthews’s last blog post..User Generated Conent White Paper from IAB

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  • http://www.beingwell.nl Martijn

    Thank you Linda, hopefully I can filter my true traffic from now on!

  • http://www.beritaligainggris.com Bambang

    I knew that something wasn’t right with my GA report.. Sometimes I wonder how would I know that some or even most of the visits reported were actually coming from my PC.. Thanks, this post puts a light on my GA knowledge…

    Setup my filter. Done.

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  • http://www.mercadeoporinternet.com Rafael Montila

    Excelent Post, I have never used the filter but now i will.

    Thank you

    Rafael Montila’s last blog post..Estrategia de Link building

  • http://www.auyana.de Internetagentur München

    Even I am doing this for a long time – I could learn something here. Thanks. This is a very insightful description how to do webcontrolling in the right way!

  • http://www.yellowseo.com Yellow SEO – Search Engine Ranking

    Excellent Linda, top notch post on tweaking Google Analytics and in the end following this advise a webmaster would be able to improve conversions and bounce rate through the advice here.

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  • http://www.kineticswebpro.com John Flynn

    Excellent article on the basics of Analytics — some essential but often forgotten techniques to give your clients (or yourself) true Analytics results. If you’re a client of a web marketer, be sure they are filtering out your company’s and your home’s IP’s from their results, or you may be paying for “traffic” they’re not even generating for you!

    John Flynn’s last blog post..Who Are You? What Are You?

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  • http://www.patricealbertus.net/_blog Patrice Albertus

    Thanks for this nice guideline :-)
    Would be nice to add the brand query filter, to see the part of brand notoriety in search engine traffic.

    Patrice Albertus’s last blog post..Mise à jour vers WordPress 2.7 officielle

  • http://www.yeastinfection-treatment.info/ Yeast infection treatment

    i see those mistakes a lot…great post!

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  • http://www.getdiscountcoupon.com/ Kathy J. Lowrey

    Although Its an outdated article but its really great one. I had no idea you could exclude countries in GA. I need to take another look at the options available.