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Get Started with Google Analytics: Best Practices for Everyone

Published: February 23, 2016

Author: Caitlin Halpert

Starting your site tracking off on the right foot is key. If you’re using a tool like Google Analytics (GA), once data is processed in the platform, you can’t change it. Here are a few recommendations that almost every GA implementation should use out of the gate.

  1. Use a tag manager to implement GA code

Starting out with a tag manager like Google’s free Google Tag Manager (GTM) will make all future code placement a breeze and keeps all tagging in a clean, central location. GTM is also closely integrated with other Google products like AdWords, so any conversion or remarketing tracking setup will be streamlined.

  1. Make sure GA code or GTM code is applied to EVERY page on your site

If you see Referrals in GA from your own site, you don’t have GA code on every page. Make sure GA (or the GTM code that houses it) is placed sitewide. If you include the code in your template file, all new pages should have the code from the start.

  1. Add utm parameters to all links from external sources & be consistent with naming conventions.

GA reports are only as useful as the data you put in. The best way to have clean data is to add proper tagging to every single external link to your site that you have control over. Every email blast, display banner, and social post should have the proper utm tags applied to allow you to evaluate the performance of each of those campaigns. You can use Google’s URL Builder, but you should also keep a central repository so each team member is clear on your naming conventions. Things that seem minor like inconsistent capitalization matter because “cpc” is recognized a different source from “CPC.” Remember, once data is in GA, it cannot be re-processed to ease data-analysis, so tag everything consistently.

  1. Create one unfiltered view

By maintaining one unfiltered, unaltered view in your GA profile, you will always have a comparison to judge data integrity in the views you are filtering and using for daily review or reporting. While you shouldn’t implement any view filters, you should still add the same goals that you have in your primary views and have all the same platform integrations.

  1. Use annotations

Even if you’re the only person managing the GA account, you can’t remember every little anomaly that occurred under your management. Keep track of new content releases, tracking changes, campaign launches, and data integrity issues using the annotation tool. Annotations are shown in every report so you’ll have a reminder of the cause of any weird numbers throughout the UI. This is a huge time-saver since you won’t be digging through old notes or emails to repeatedly investigate the same issue.

  1. Enable Advertising Reporting Features, Remarketing, and Demographic and Interest Reports

If your privacy policy allows, I always recommend turning on these features. You’ll have far greater insight into your customers through the demographic and interest information. You’ll also then be able to set up more robust remarketing lists than are available via the AdWords remarketing pixel.

  1. Link the account to AdWords

Linking GA to AdWords is mission-critical if you’re running any paid search. There’s a huge amount of data that’s only available if these accounts are linked. (Here are some of my favorite PPC reports in GA.) Connecting these two accounts will also allow you to use GA goals as your conversion points in AdWords and to leverage GA Remarketing Lists in AdWords. For more information, check out by blog post on setting up GA for paid search.

  1. Link the account to Google Search Console to bring in organic query data

Another important setup item: link in Google Search Console. If you don’t already have GSC, be sure to claim it. There are limited sources of granular organic search data, so you should leverage every tool in your tool belt.

  1. Set up goals and conversion funnel tracking

Defining goals in each view will help you determine if your website is successful and users are taking the actions you want them to. “Goals” are essentially your site conversion actions. Goals can be anything from a key page visit, to time on site, to initiating a video view. There’s plenty of flexibility to allow for any tracking that may be relevant to your site. If there’s a specific path users take to complete a Goal (e.g. Add to Cart > Checkout > Shipping Information > Payment > Confirmation), be sure to add each step so you can evaluate where and why users may be dropping off.

  1. Measurement Protocol allows you to track EVERYTHING

Google Analytics is an extremely flexible tool. If there are any off-site activities that you want to track centrally in GA, I recommend looking into Measurement Protocol. This allows you to send data to GA that’s not occurring directly on the site.

Hopefully these setup guidelines can help you get started or tweak your current account. If you’re just getting started with GA and aren’t sure where to find additional resources, I highly recommend viewing the videos Google provides in the Google Analytics IQ training. Happy analyzing!

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