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December 2 2010

Check, Verify, and Test your Destination URLs for Google Analytics!

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It’s always a good idea to check the destination URLs in your marketing efforts before launch to ensure that your Google Analytics account is collecting all of the great, wonderful, segmentable data that you live and die by.

Actually, it’s better than a “good” idea. It’s an excellent idea.

We routinely see many problems that can be avoided and even repaired, so that your Google Analytics account is able to do its job and show you important information about your marketing initiatives.

If appending query parameters at the end of your destination URLs is part of what you do, then you’ll most definitely want to read the following laundry list of items to check for before, during, and after your marketing campaigns launch.

– If you’re marketing with Google AdWords, you’ll want to ensure that your AdWords account is synced to your Google Analytics account – AND – an option called “Destination URL Auto-Tagging” is enabled in your AdWords account. Syncing the accounts and enabling Destination URL Auto-Tagging will allow AdWords to append a string of query parameters at the end of your destination URLs, which will allow Google Analytics to collect, process, and display AdWords data within your Google Analytics account.

Further Reading: Learn how to sync Google AdWords and Google Analytics together!

– If you’re marketing online using Microsoft AdCenter, ASK Sponsored Listings, or another pay-per-click (cost-per-click) platform, you’re going to need to manually tag your destination URLs with some Google Analytics query parameters. It’s a bit of work, but if you don’t do so, Google Analytics will count all of your Microsoft AdCenter and other cost-per-click traffic as either “organic” (if that referring website is also a search engine, like bing.com), or as “referral” (if you’re running on another cost-per-click platform, like, Facebook Advertising or LinkedIn Direct Ads).

More Information: Yes, Google Analytics can track that, too!
Even More Information: Should I care about my direct traffic?

– Speaking of Facebook and LinkedIn, if you’ve ever wondered why you’re not seeing any traffic for your social media efforts in your Google Analytics account, it’s probably because you did not “daisy-chain” your destination URLs with Google Analytics query parameters before you ran them through your link-shortening tool of choice. Link shorteners, like bit.ly and goo.gl, are essentially redirects, so you must tag your URLs for Google Analytics before you insert them into your next Tweet or Facebook post.

Recommended Reading: Tracking bit.ly (and other short URLs) in Google Analytics

– Redirects. One of the most evil words you can possibly say to a web analyst or online marketer. They can completely destroy your marketing tracking and strip out your URL query parameters, leaving you with buckets of data that you can’t use to evaluate your marketing efforts. Check that the destination URLs you’re using don’t redirect a user to another page (perform some test clicks on your tagged URLs before launching).

More Bad News: The Three Evils of Analytics Tracking: Images, JavaScript, and Cookies

– Another thing that you can check for is ensuring that your website’s host server accepts query parameters. Do this: type in the URL of your website, and add a query parameter to the end of your site’s URL (example: http://www.morevisibility.com/?12345abcdef). If the URL still works, and doesn’t result in an error page, then your server accepts query parameters. If it does generate an error, you’ll need to contact your IT person / department and work with them on a solution. No query parameters = no referral data in your visitor’s cookies.

Somewhat related article: From __utma to __utmz (Google Analytics Cookies).

– Finally, all of the destination URL tagging in the world won’t help you if your landing pages don’t have the Google Analytics Tracking Code! Please check with your in-house web analytics expert or your consultant(s) that your Google Analytics Tracking Code is present on all of your website pages, and is working properly.

A bit about the Google Analytics Tracking Code: Verify your website with the new “async” tracking code!

There you have it – much more work for you to do before your launch your marketing campaigns! But, trust me, it’s all completely worth it if you want to avoid the usual post-launch headaches and drama.

November 17 2010

Intelligence has recently become much more intelligent

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Two weeks ago, Google Analytics made an announcement at Ad Tech NYC that kind of fell under the radar and didn’t make for big headlines in the industry.

On our Analytics & Site Intelligence blog here at MoreVisibility, we’ve blogged in the past about the Intelligence report section in Google Analytics, and we’re big proponents of using the Intelligence data to understand the really important events that are happening on our website and our client’s websites. So, when Google announced the new Major Contributors feature, as well as SMS and Email alerts for the Intelligence report section, we were thrilled!

Previously, if any custom alert that you created “fired off” and displayed in your Intelligence report, all you would see is the name of your custom alert, the day, week, or month in which it occurred, and the comparison data to its right. Now, for any custom alert, you aren’t just shown the alert itself. You’re now shown the reasons why the alert was “fired off” and displayed in your report. These reasons are called Major Contributors, and you will see up to five reasons (or, contributing factors) as to why a custom alert is appearing in your Intelligence report.

Take a look at this example from our own Google Analytics account. We have a custom alert that lets us know when our AdWords conversion rate increases by a significant amount. With Major Contributors, I can now see the top five reasons why the alert is being displayed for this particular day, and also, their contribution to the increase in conversion rate:

major-contributors

You may have noticed that I have written the phrase “custom alert” several times now. Major Contributors are only available for custom alerts at this time – they’re not available for the standard, default alerts that you see everywhere in your Intelligence report.

Now, if you’re like me and you just can’t get enough alerts in your life, you can now have Google Analytics email you when a custom alert is triggered. Do you need to know about your custom alerts even faster than that? You can now also enter in your mobile phone number, and Google Analytics will send you a text message (U.S. only).

Finally, you can spread the love and set your custom alert up to email multiple recipients at the same time. If there are others in your company who will appreciate being alerted about an important event without even needing to log-in to Google Analytics, you can make their day by simply entering their Email addresses in when creating or editing your custom alert.

November 4 2010

How to Avoid the Common Pitfalls in Web Analytics

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Did you ever play the game “Pitfall” on your Atari 2600 back in the 80’s? I sure did! I remember borrowing it from a neighbor when I was about 6 years old, and I remember not wanting to give it back. I would split my video-game time between that and “Asteroids”, and for the record, I did score more than 20,000 points on “Pitfall” once (true 80’s geeks will know exactly what I’m talking about).

pitfall

“Pitfall” for Atari 2600 was all about avoiding traps, holes, alligators, rolling logs, and basically anything that you could possibly think of while you desperately tried to collect gold bars, jewelry, and bags of money in under twenty minutes. Fast-forward 25 years into the future, I find myself trying to avoid traps and pitfalls in web analytics to help clients make more money and become more profitable – all of which in seemingly much less than the twenty minutes allotted in the popular 1980’s video game.

Pitfalls in web analytics come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and it’s very difficult to dodge them all without bumping into one from time to time. The three most common pitfalls that I encounter in web analytics are listed below in the form of statements and questions that could easily lead to your demise.

Pitfall #1: “How many hits did we get?”
Why it’s a pitfall: If you’ve ever been asked this question and have answered it without even critically analyzing the question itself, then you fell into the mother of all pitfalls that the web analytics industry faces today. In 2010 – and as we move into the thick of the next decade – it’s just not going to cut it to report on “Hits”, “Visits”, “Uniques”, or whatever statistic needs to be reported on.
How to avoid it: You have to give your data some context, you have to segment and compare your data over time, and you absolutely have to be able to retrieve some sort of meaningful, insightful information from your data. If you – or the person requesting it – has their heart set on getting the total number of uniques, try wrapping some data around that figure to give it some background and shine it in a different light.

Pitfall #2: “Everyone is leaving my website from the home page!!”
Why it’s a pitfall: People have to leave your website at some point. Visitors can’t possibly stay on your site forever, so there will be a time that your site’s visitors will need to get back to work, go to lunch, or go to sleep. Since your home page is most likely responsible for the largest share of page views, it’s not farfetched to assume that your home page will also account for the highest percentage of website exists. It doesn’t mean that your home page is bad, ugly, or broken – it simply is what it is.
How to avoid it: Instead of focusing on the number of exits from your home page or any page on your site, focus on the number of bounces and the bounce rate. A bounce is a visitor who views only one page on your web site, and leaves your site without visiting another page. Bounce rate is not a perfect measure of a page’s appeal or performance, but it’s a thousand miles ahead of measuring exits. With bounces and bounce rate alone, you can at least point yourself in the right direction and know which page(s) need your attention. After all, you do want visitors to view more than one page on your site, right? Start by picking out a couple of important pages with higher-than-average bounce rates and determine ways to optimize that page to lower that percentage.

Pitfall #3: “My conversion rate should be 2.50%!”
Why it’s a pitfall: This pitfall is two-fold. On one side of the coin, a bar has been set for a statistic which may never be reached (there are many reasons why). On the other side of the coin, this train of thought usually leads down the primrose path of boxing oneself in to only caring about those 2.5% of visitors who do convert. What about the other 97.5% of your web site’s traffic – will you be ignoring this massive majority because they don’t fill out the inquiry form or buy something from your online store?
How to avoid it: The truth of the matter is this: people visit your website for many different reasons (emphasis on the word “many”). One of those reasons is to shop online or fill out your inquiry form. Other reasons could include researching your company, reading your articles, subscribing to your blog, following you on Twitter, downloading your annual share-holder report, upgrading to browser version 3.5.12, writing a review for your product, finding out how to get their money back…you get the idea (hopefully not the last reason, but you get the point). You can’t just measure one desired outcome on your website to know if you’re succeeding or failing online – you must set up multiple Goals / Outcomes / Conversions to understand how the visitors to your website are engaging and interacting with everything you have to offer. There is a great hidden value in learning what else people are doing on your website, and it goes far beyond the ultimate purpose of your website.

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