Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 2:07 PM
Just as having the right web analytics data is critical to making smart marketing decisions, having the right set of tools is equally imperative when it comes to testing & tuning your Google Analytics implementation. Read on to discover the tools used by one Analytics Pro in troubleshooting and solving Google Analytics problems every day.
Why you need tools and what you can use them for
Implementing Google Analytics can be easy - just copy and paste the script produced during the account or profile creation process, right? Yes, and no. For more complex websites, it's a good idea to take some extra steps yourself, or hire someone, to validate your installation and make sure everything's working as it should.
When problems arise they are usually easy to spot within Google Analytics reports. Odd data such as a high degree of "self-referrals" (visits being reported as "referred" from your own domain name), a strangely high rate of conversions for an unexpected traffic source or medium, or an amazingly low bounce rate (3.8% bounce rate isn't really good, it's broken) are signs something may be wrong.
Enter the toolbox! In it you'll find an array resources for quickly identifying the root causes of Google Analytics anomalies - those most commonly being
- cookie problems, or
- client-side page load time issues (not to be confused with slow connections... this is different).
Tools every Google Analytics professional should have
1) The Browser to Start with: FirefoxThe Firefox browser is probably the most important tool for technical debugging work with Google Analytics. The browser itself isn't what matters so much as the myriads of add-ons that are available for it. To get started on building your toolbox, get Firefox if you don't have it already (and don't worry, there are some tools for Internet Explorer too!).
3) Working with Cookies: Web Developer Toolbar in FirefoxThe Web Developer Toolbar is most useful for Cookie analysis and diagnosis when working with Google Analytics. It is much faster to use when needing to view just what cookies have are currently set for a given page you are viewing. You can easily see key information for each cookie, find the "utm" cookies, and view details such as the domain the cookies were written for and what the values are.
Bonus configuration option for Live Headers: under the "config" tab enter ".*__utm\.gif.*" (without the quotes) into the "Filter URLs with regexp" field, and make sure the field is checked. This will limit the Live Headers window to only show utm.gif hits, otherwise finding one or two utm.gif hits amidst all the other requests that will fly by may feel like the proverbial search for a needle in the haystack
Tools for Internet ExplorerWhile many will argue that Firefox or Chrome is a "better browser," we must face the reality that, for now at least, Internet Explorer sill leads the global market in browser use. Thus, if you do all your debugging in Firefox or Chrome, you may easily miss problems that would arise for Internet Explorer users. Or perhaps you're already aware of such problems and need to diagnose them further. Here are a few tools that are available for IE.
7) Live Data Stream Analysis in Internet Explorer: Fiddler2Fiddler is like Live HTTP Headers, except that it is a standalone application that can detect HTTP traffic between any application your computer and outside web servers. This makes it more accurate than Live Headers in Firefox. It can be used with Internet Explorer, but also other browsers, including Firefox. The tools for analyzing captured requests, utm.gif hits included, are superior to Live HTTP Headers in many ways.
8) Cookies in Internet Explorer: IE Cookies ViewerThis small but powerful tool lets you easily find, view, and even modify cookies for Internet Explorer. It is indispensable for Google Analytics diagnostic and troubleshooting work when encountering cookie domain issues.
In ConclusionSo, there you have it: a plethora of tools that are tried and true means to the trouble-free Google Analytics end you're seeking. Here's a recap shortlist of the tools:
- Firefox browser
- Internet Explorer
- DebugBar: web developer toolbar for Internet Explorer
- Fiddler2 for request header analysis
- IE Cookies Viewer