I spend lots of time working with Google Analytics. Over the past year I’ve discovered a number of tools that are helpful when debugging GA issues. Here is my list of must-have tools for the GA developer. If you have a tool that you think I should add to the list please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it.
LiveHTTPHeaders is a FireFox plug-in that displays all of the headers sent between a web page and the various servers that contribute the content for said webpage. Using this plug-in you can validate that a request is made to the google-analytics server for both the urchin.js file and the utm.gif file.
If you’re working with web pages then you probably already use this. I like the Developer’s Toolbar because it give you quick access to the GA tracking cookies. Validating that the GA cookies are set, and are set correctly, is one of the first things you should do when debugging a GA problem.
This extension adds a tab to the Page Info dialog box, which shows the cookies of the current webpage. Thanks o Michael Harrison for the suggestion.
This is _the_ tool for testing your regular expressions. The Regex Coach is a graphical application for Windows and Linux/x86 (also usable on FreeBSD) which can be used to experiment with (Perl-compatible) regular expressions interactively. It has the following features:
- It shows whether a regular expression matches a particular target string.
- It can also show which parts of the target string correspond to captured register groups or to arbitrary parts of the regular expression.
If you have any questions about the validity of your regular expressions you should test them with the RegEx Coach.
The most challenging part of working with GA is waiting for your changes to take affect. Once you change a filter or profile setting you need to wait 3 + hours for the change to take affect. Debugging problems in GA takes time, so be patient. The more you can do to understand the implications of a change, prior to make the change, the better.
If you are an Urchin 5 owner then you can run GA and Urchin 5 in parallel. This is a fantastic option because you actually collect all the data that GA is using in your web server log files. You can really dig into the data when you have the actual logs. Plus, when you have the logs, you can process them with Urchin and take advantage of the Urchin functionality that doesn’t exist in GA (like importing cost data and reprocessing log files).