Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful platform, widely used to evaluate marketing channels and support budgeting decisions across organizations. In fact, many of Metric Theory’s advertisers use GA data as their source of truth. As the head of our internal Google Analytics team, I’ve seen first hand how inaccurate or ineffective goal tracking can hinder marketers’ abilities to leverage and trust their data. Follow these tips and tricks, and you’ll be on the right track to make the most of your analytics.

Channel Data Accuracy

Whenever we start auditing a Google Analytics property, we also start with evaluating channel data accuracy. In order for advertisers to feel confident in drawing conclusions from their marketing performance, we want to ensure that channels are properly tracked. Here are two simple steps that will catch 85% of the channel tracking issues we see:

  1. Tighten Up Referral Traffic: In your Channels reporting (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels), click into your ‘Referral’ line item. Review your ‘sources’ for anything other than true referral sites (e.g. self-referrals/your own domain, payment platforms like PayPal, internal traffic). Self-referrals and payment platforms often appear in your Referral report when Universal Analytics code isn’t present. See this post for help fixing self-referrals and other cross-domain tracking.
  2. Ensure Click + Session Matching: For digital marketing channels such as Paid Search, Paid Social, or Programmatic Display, confirm that the sessions reporting for your channels are greater than or equal to your click traffic. If your sessions are more than 10% lower than click volume, Google Analytics may not properly tracking your paid media efforts. If GA isn’t associating all the traffic being sent to the appropriate channel, it’s a leading indicator that conversion goals will also not be properly attributed to those channels. GA makes it easy to troubleshoot this for Google paid search, if you have linked your GA and Google Ads accounts. Go to the Acquisition > Google Ads > Campaigns report. Here you can review campaign level clicks and sessions to look for any discrepancies. If you are seeing a discrepancy, I recommend checking for URL redirects, which is the most common culprit for this variance. Most SEO software can help you check a list of URLs for redirects in bulk, but here is a free tool that should cover most use cases.

Before even touching conversion goals, ensuring that your channel data is accurate is crucial to being able to trust goal data down the line. All buttoned up here? Let’s move onto the fun stuff!

Primary Conversion Goal Set Up

The first goal that you set up in Google Analytics should align with your primary business objective. For ecommerce brands or resellers, this is most likely transactions and revenue. GA’s ecommerce tracking requires additional website coding, but investing in this upfront will pay in dividends when you can track online behavior to sales and revenue down the line. For directions on how to set this up, see Google’s help article here.

For lead generation companies, this is most likely tracking a demo, trial, or sales contact form. If each form fill is of equal value, consider grouping those together in a single goal. If their value is unique (e.g. a sales contact is more valuable than a trial or demo), set up unique goals to track separately. Form fill goal tracking in GA is simpler than eCommerce Tracking. All you need is the Universal Analytics pixel placed on your site, and the confirmation pages for your conversion actions.

Start tracking your goals under Admin > View > Goals, and start with a ‘Custom’ goal set up. Name your Goal, and select ‘Destination’. The last step is to enter your goal details, which is where that confirmation page comes into play. I recommend using a ‘regular expression’ (REGEX) here, which operates similarly to a ‘contains’ rule. Just make sure the piece of the URL you capture is broad enough to capture all relevant conversions for the goal, but specific enough that it avoids URL visits that aren’t.

Determine Micro Conversions for Supporting Analytics

Once you’ve successfully set up your primary conversions, consider tracking additional events that indicate intent to purchase your product or service. Think about your own purchasing behavior – what do you do on a website before converting? For eCommerce, you might sign up for a newsletter, add items to your cart, or find a location to purchase in store. For lead generation, you might browse and even download content for research.

Most of these ‘micro conversions’ can be tracked in a similar manner to your primary lead generation goals. Identify the destination URL that indicates the action has been completed (e.g. /cart, /find-a-location, /resource-library), and set up your goals accordingly.

Accurate Analytics Makes for Happier Marketers

Now that you’re confident in the accuracy of your data, you’re cleared to start drawing conclusions and optimizing your marketing programs. Your referrals are cleared up, the clicks from your paid media campaigns match sessions in GA, you’ve successfully implemented eCommerce tracking, and you set up goals for ‘add to cart’ and visits to the ‘find a location’ page. With all of this information, you’re reading to start driving growth.

Have concerns about the accuracy of your Google Analytics data and looking for support with your paid media programs? Let’s chat!