Q&A with a digital strategist: Common website tracking issues
If you can’t measure how your website is performing, you’re flying blind (and that’s not an approach we recommend when setting your content marketing strategy). So we sat down with one of our inhouse digital strategists, Chas Lang, to ask about common website tracking issues that he encounters, how he deals with them, and to get some of his top digital strategy tips.
Common website tracking issues covered in this post:
- Google Analytics tag not working & how to reinstall.
- Why is my bounce rate so low? Dealing with duplicate Google Analytics code.
- Filtering your own employees out of Analytics results.
- Cross domain tracking problems.
- The importance of tracking form submissions.
- Installing remarketing tags.
Problem 1: Google Analytics just isn’t working
I know this is a bit of a catch all issue, but it’s surprisingly common. To work, Google Analytics needs a snippet of code called a tag added to each page on a site, but there are so many different reasons a code may not be working that often it’s easier to remove it and just start again!
How to check for this problem: The Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension will let you know of any errors, so that’s a good place to start. Going on to Google Analytics and checking the data is also important. Don’t just install the code and assume it’s working!
For example checking the “real-time” report in Google Analytics is a useful way to see if it’s picking up your session/movements (just make sure you don’t have IP filters on for that, otherwise your session will be filtered out and it may look like it’s not picking you up!)
How Analytics works: In simple terms, there are a variety of tags in HTML that your browser interprets in order to load a page properly. So, for example, an <img> tag will have a reference to an image, so that a browser knows to display that image.
Google’s guidelines say that the Analytics code should be put into the opening and closing <head> tag of each page on your site. This <head> section is just the start of a given website; it has all the information needed to “start” a page. This stuff isn’t usually displayed in your browser, but it’s the introduction a browser needs to know what’s going on (the stuff you may see would be page title, favicon, meta description, but there’s lots you don’t see, including the GA tag).
How to reinstall the tag: A lot of sites will have a universal header document, which is basically a template for the <head> section of an entire site (so every page on the site receives this template, plus any other information unique to that page, like the page title). So – here’s the easy bit! – all a developer does is copy and paste the GA code between the opening and closing <head> tag of a site. This can be done by editing the header document directly or via an editing tool with your CMS – for example, WordPress has an area where you can edit the header document (with the right permissions). Other developers may use a plugin (like Yoast for example).
Problem 2: Low bounce rate/duplicate code
If you have a very low or unusual bounce rate – something like 5 per cent, say – then you probably have an issue with duplicate Google Analytics tracking codes.
Again, this is surprisingly common. As we talked about above, the Google Analytics code works by sitting on every page of the site. When it’s loaded, it sends a signal to Analytics saying “a user has just looked at this page.”
But if the code appears twice on a page, it sends that signal twice, so instead of Google Analytics recording a single page view for that user, it records two. This also means that Google Analytics can’t tell if a user bounces from a site, and it gets confused about how long a user is on a page. It really messes up the data!
How does this happen? With smaller business and websites it often just comes down to inexperience. There are a lot of plugins for common CMSs that allow you to put in the Google Analytics code, so what can happen is a user sees a field to put the code in and figures they should. So they wind up with a duplicate code.
With larger business and sites, it can be due to overlapping roles and responsibilities. Once again, as there are a variety of ways to implement the code, two employees with overlapping responsibilities may put the code in different places and not realise.
How to fix this problem: The fix here is similar to the approach above: Get the Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension. That will tell you if you have duplicates, and you can then manually remove them, or ask a developer to do this for you if you’re not confident.
Problem 3: Your own employees appear in your Analytics results
We encourage clients to set up filters in Google Analytics to disregard our IP addresses as well as their own. This way any time a Castleford employee or an employee of a client visits their own site, it’s not recorded in Google Analytics.
We want this so that any testing or research we’re doing isn’t in the data. There may be circumstances when you want to track your employees on your site, but for a lot of people, there’s no reason to.
How to fix this problem: The step-by-step guide from Google on how to create filters is here, or you can watch this video, which explains how to filter by IP address specifically.
Problem 4: Cross domain tracking issues
This is a little technical, but it’s something that usually comes up when a client is using a subdomain. For example, they may have their core site client.com, and put their blog on a subdomain blog.client.com. The problem with that is if a user moved from the blog to the main site (or vice versa), it starts a new site session – so the data on time on site, total page views, etc. reset – and we can’t accurately see how that user got on to the site.
For instance if someone finds a blog article via a search engine, then clicks a CTA to get in touch with the client, we can’t see it was someone who came to the blog organically and then converted. We just know they went to the blog somehow…
How to fix this problem: With proper cross domain tracking set up, Google Analytics understands to track the user as a single session, so we get better vision. The easiest way to do this is to set up cross domain tracking in Google Tag Manager (GTM), which is much easier and simpler than hard coding it with the Google Analytics code.
Wait, what is GTM and what does it do? Websites these days have a lot of different tracking codes on them – Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel, LinkedIn Insights tag, some people have a Hubspot Tag, other remarketing tags, etc. Each of these tags needs to be placed on the website which either means you need to know how to do this or you need to get a developer to help you with a five minute job.
GTM, however, is one tag that goes on your site. You can then interact with the GTM software to add, remove, and modify tags as needed. No coding required.
Here’s a great video on setting up cross domain tracking using Google Tag Manager:
Problem 5: You don’t track form submissions
This is another one I always check when kicking off a new client. If you aren’t able to track whether people are filling out important forms on your site – for example gated downloads, or “contact us” forms – then you aren’t able to measure what are likely to be some of the most important behaviours on your site. This is always important to check before doing a big campaign. Nobody wants to go to all that effort and not know whether all that money spent on Google Ads was worthwhile!
How to fix this problem: The two easiest ways to track form submissions are
- Via a “Thank you” page: So after a user submits a contact form, they’re directed to a URL along the lines of client.com/contact/thank-you. This way we can see how many page views of that page happened, which means we know how many people submitted the form (and what they may have done before doing so).
- The other way is to set up an event (usually through Google Tag Manager) that tells Google Analytics when a form is submitted, so that we’re capturing that data.
Bonus tip: Install social remarketing tags
Finally, I generally encourage clients to install the remarketing tags for whatever social sites they’re using, even if they’re not planning on doing any social media advertising. The more data you gather the better, so if these tags are already set up they’re ready to go should plans change. And the tags are easy to install and don’t cost anything, so why not?
At a minimum you should probably add the Facebook Pixel and LinkedIn Insights tag. There’s also a Twitter Pixel that you may as well install if you use Twitter.