Google Analytics: How to Tell When Something is Wrong

I’ve written about some of the most common Google Analytics configuration mistakes. But how do you know if you’ve made one of these mistakes? What can you do to insure that a profile is set up correctly after it’s collecting data? Here are a few things you can check to make sure everything is running smoothly:

1. Compare your GA data to another source

Comparing the data in Google Analytics to the data in another application is helpful. I prefer to compare GA data to data from other types of applications BUT not other web analytics applications. A transactions system, a CRM system or any other system that collects data can be used. If the data is off by more than 10% to 15% then there is probably a problem.

Today I was working with a client that had a large discrepancy between the number of goals in GA and the number of ‘goals’ in their internal order system (60% delta). After looking at the profile we identified an issue with their configuration which was causing the problem.

I don’t like comparing GA data to that of another web analytics application. Why? Primarily because each application tracks data in a different way. This makes it very difficult to identify if there is a problems with Google Analytics or if the discrepancy is due to the differences in the applications.

2. Look for ‘(other)’ in your reports

If you see a line item for ‘(other)’ in some of your GA reports (like the Top Content report) then there is something wrong with your profile.

Each Google Analytics account has a data storage limit. That means that your account will only hold so much information. Once you reach that limit Google Analytics will continue to collect data BUT it will be recorded in a nondescript record named ‘(other)’.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that GA limits you to 10,000 records in each database table*. One of those tables records unique pages. Your website is huge, it has 200,000 unique pages. Obviously something has to give. You can’t fit 200,000 records into a 10,000 row table.

What happens is GA tracks the first 9,999 unique page views correctly. When GA tries to record the 10,000th page view it stops because it knows that it’s about to record the 10,00th record and that will be the last record in the database table. Rather than record the data, GA creates a ‘bucket’ to catch all subsequent data. This bucket is called ‘(other)’. So, for every unique page greater than 10,000, the counter for ‘(other)’ is incremented by one. GA is still tracking the total number of unique pages, it’s just not identifying them uniquely.

This means that perfectly valid page views will be missing from your reports. It also means that any features, like goals or funnels, that depend on these page views will also malfunction.

If you see ‘(other)’ in your reports check your profile configuration. You’re probably filling your database with bad data. You may need to exclude some query string parameters. Read Google Analytics Configuration Mistake #2: Query String Variables or the official Google Analytics help docs.

* DISCALIMER: I have no idea how much data a GA account can hold. I picked the number 10,000 randomly.

3. All your e-commerce referrals come from your domain

If you have an e-commerce website, and all your transaction referrals are from your own domain, then there is a problem. Or, if you have e-commerce data but no values for $Index then you may have a problem. These are two symptoms of the same problem.

I usually see this problem when people have not followed the configuration instructions for a third-party shopping cart. The GA tracking cookies are not transferred correctly between the two sites causing the report data to be incorrect.

You can read the official Google Analytics support instructions or read my post about third party domains.

One more thought about Google Analytics data…

Don’t freak if there are huge chunks of data missing from your Google Analytics reports. From time to time the Google Analytics team updates the GA system. This can cause your reports to loose data. Be assured that your data is still there. The system is probably just slow in processing the data.

If Google is NOT updating they system then you should worry :)

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    Comments

    1. says

      Hi Justin,
      I installed GA on both my sites in Aug 08. Sometime in Sept (I think) I found I could no longer access my account… it seemed to have just disappeared. In attempting to regain access I ended up creating another account. I have not used the new account or installed that new code on any pages. My question is, how can I get back to the original account… gain access to the data?

      Thanks for any help you can provide.

      Regards,
      Kim

    2. says

      Kim,

      GA is tied to your Google Account. If you no longer have your original GA account tied to your Google Account then it may be that your GA account was deleted. I would contact GA support directly for this one.

      Sorry I couldn’t help more.

      Justin

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