by Marcin Koter and The Rectangles data analytics team
It’s 2021. A properly working Google Analytics (or in short: GA) is what every conscious business owner should aim at. Full stop.
For most of today’s online businesses, a Google Analytics audit is the best way to make sure that they can trust their data.
⭐ From this article you’ll learn:
Why digital analytics is so important today
How to do a Google Analytics audit
What’s the most updated complete Google Analytics audit checklist
Where to start to check your GA Digital Analytics Performance Score
Proper data gathering and analysis are one of the best methods to transform average online products into awesome ones.
Full control requires capitalizing on information about users. In other words: having your data figured out. Asked to name a major game changer in our clients’ businesses, we’d say: a well built, set and maintained GA. Being able to gather data is a gift. How to use Google Analytics and make sure it is working for you?
We have come up with this Google Analytics audit checklist (some people call it Google Analytics health check) to help you understand the best practices to examine, fix and learn the basics of your GA setup. You can think of this tutorial as a guide to do your Google Analytics health check.
Additionally, unlike many other guides available, our Google Analytics site audit tutorial was created in 2020 (and has been updated regularly since) and is the most up-to-date (last update: 17th of July 2021).
Note on auditing the Google Analytics 4: This checklist was created for the most popular version of Google Analytics, which is Universal Analytics (it’s the official name of the Google Analytics you most likely use now). In October 2020, Google announced the release of the future version of GA, Google Analytics 4. The Google Analytics 4 audit is currently not possible. However, it’s highly likely that sooner or later the GA4 will let its users to customize its setup and if that happens, we will also publish our Google Analytics 4 audit checklist.
Who is this guide for?
This Google Analytics audit checklist was created for business owners, managers and one-man-armies who:
are new to Google Analytics and need help to start using it
already have a built Google Analytics structure and would like to be sure that it is rock-solid
already trust their Google Analytics setup and want to draw even more valuable insights
Why good data collection is so important?
With a correctly configured Google Analytics, you are always one step ahead of your competitors.
Without it, making minor and major mistakes is almost as certain as you are about the fact that disorientation mixed with business equals big trouble. Badly targeted decisions, erroneous insights, missing out on essential factors, losing money... nobody wants to chase their own tail.
If you want to nail your data insights - keep reading.
What do you need to perform a Google Analytics site audit?
To perform a Google Analytics review, you need:
A digital product (so a website or a web app). It can be either yours or anyone else’s - as long as you have the admin access to inspect and modify all the key measurements. More about the Accesses in the last bullet of this section.
Traffic. In other words, you need users who generate movement on the site by going through the funnel. Traffic is your source of information.
A Google Analytics account with a Tracking Code (also called Analytics Tag or The global site tag) placed on the website.
Admin access to the Google Analytics account. If you’re the owner of the product that you want to fix or check – perfect. If somebody else created the Google Analytics account of your product, you can regain your admin access. It’s easy. All you have to do is to prove that you’re the owner. If the product belongs to another person, just ask them to grant you the admin access.
Make sure that you and your team don’t make any changes to the website while a data health check is being performed. It’s best to let it digest.
Got those? We’re all set to start then.
You might wonder how long before the results of a GA audit can be verified. The answer is, it depends on your traffic. The more people visit your website, the faster you’ll be able to see the results of the optimization.
Why is our Google Analytics audit checklist different than others?
Because it gives you the perfect balance between efficiency and comprehensiveness.
It’s powerful enough to improve the quality of both your data and your business decisions, yet simple enough to perform it yourself.
Think of completing this guide as of laying a cornerstone of your data structure: it’s a definite set of do’s and don’ts for an essential health check.
Throughout the years, our UX design agency has witnessed many SaaS and ecommerce companies being heavily misled by data.
Our clients struggle with data literally all the time. We build a proper data foundation so that they can finally come back from this wild-goose chase. Once again – erroneous data conclusions really mess with your business decisions.
At some point, we figured out that people come to us with the same problems, one time after another. This guide was created based on our observation that in almost every case we’ve seen, the useless chase could have been easily avoided.
And that’s exactly what we give away here – the core of our framework that we use to pull people out of the dark wells that are created by bad data collection. We dive into those wells and rearrange them heavily for our clients.
And so underground wells become observation towers.
This GA audit checklist covers the most fundamental points of our framework – we wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone can become a data-ninja overnight. Analysts like us would be out of business.
If by the end of the read you feel that you need help or a bigger customization – we’re ready to assist so don’t hesitate to contact us.
So... let’s go!
Below you can find the 21-step Google Analytics audit checklist (with videos).
What are the parts of a Google Analytics audit?
Tracking Code implementation check – start gathering data or make sure that it is being collected properly
Configure the Admin section – adjust or check the key settings, debug issues and avoid data fragmentation
Analyze Google Analytics Reports – learn how to analyze your data and detect loopholes
How to do a Google Analytics audit?
Here’s a complete 21-step checklist to ensure your Google Analytics is properly configured.
Check your Tracking Code implementation.
Change your Property Name.
Set the default URL.
Turn on Enable Demographic and Interest Reports.
Choose Referral Exclusion List.
Select All Products.
Create your "Raw" View.
Create your "Test" View.
Create your "Master" View.
Set your Website’s URL.
Make sure that Timezone and currency are set correctly.
Would you like a free pre-audit Google Analytics review?
Perhaps you’d like to know if your current GA setup is A-OK or not. Would you?
No problem! We’ll be happy to help. We’ve seen hundreds of Google Analytics accounts and setups and we know exactly which areas to look at to assess the current state of each implementation. Now you can make use of our experience too!
Just let us know and one of our data engineers will review and grade your current Google Analytics setup in the following areas:
Configuration: health-check of Analytics tracking codes implementation
Accuracy: clearness of the data being gathered (super important!)
This is a proprietary Digital Analytics Performance Score (a.k.a. DAPS) framework.
It’s a very handy Google Chrome extension (developed by Google) that allows you to check if your Google Analytics is gathering data.
When Tag Assistant is already added to your browser, you need to manually enable it and refresh the website to see the results.
Now, sit back and watch what happens. You will witness one of the below scenarios:
A blue or green icon.
Both are saying: you’re fine (don’t ask why – both colors mean you’re OK). Data is being collected correctly. Hooray!
A yellow icon.
It’s a warning: data is being sent to your GA, but there’s still some sort of interruption on the way.
What is the interruption exactly?
Well, there’s a really wide range of those. The most popular one is a duplicated Tracking Code. When there are two (or more) Tracking Codes on the page, you are gathering that many times as much data as needed.
So make sure you have one tracking code and simply delete the other ones.
To learn about other possible reasons behind the yellow icon, simply click on it and read the "Where To Optimize" section.
Google Analytics does not appear at all.
Oops. You don’t have a Google Analytics Tracking Code. No data flow detected.
That’s a problem, really. But hey, it’s easily manageable: just add the missing Tracking Code to your website and run Tag Assistant again until you see the green or the blue icon.
Don’t know how (and where exactly) to add a Tracking Code? As a rule of thumb, right after the <head> section of each page you want to track. Still not sure? Google’s support articles are always a good place to look for solutions within Google Analytics. Check out their explanation on Placing Tracking Codes (also called Analytics Tags). You may want to ask your developer for help with it. Why? Though it can be a relatively simple task for one page, you have to make sure you’ve included the Tracking code on all pages you want to measure.
So, Tag Assistant’s blue or green icon status achieved? Great, it means the GA tracking health check is done!
Now, that was easy. But remember: a domain does not end at the homepage. So after you’ve checked the home or /index page, do use Tag Assistant on less popular sites of your domain as well (subpages, for example /contact, /blog or /about). This way, you’ll be sure that your product is entirely covered in Tracking Codes and you have all the data you need.
By the way, you can also take a look at another handy Google Analytics audit tool, which is also a Chrome extension: Google Analytics debugger.
Now let’s see how to assess the quality of your data. Off to the Admin section!
Part 2: Configure the Google Analytics Admin section
A full admin access enables you to see and edit all the Google Analytics settings.
Here’s how to check if your setup ensures an uninterrupted data flow.
There are three columns here: Account, Property and Views.
The Account column does not contain any data-related settings so we go straight away to the second column, called Property.
In short, a Property reflects one product (e.g. website, support page, blog, web app) that has a unique Tracking Code assigned to it. You can have up to 50 Properties on your Google Analytics account, but we suggest keeping that number to the necessary minimum.
Select Property Settings and follow the instructions:
Google Analytics audit: Step 2/21
Change your Property Name. It should equal your URL address (for example "https://yourwebsite.com.au" or "https://app.yourproduct.co.uk" or simply "http://some-example.com"). Believe it or not, but any other names, such as "My Property" or "My Website" are very likely to become confusing as your business grows and more members of your team (or external business consultants) look at your data. You want to keep things as simple as possible.
Google Analytics audit: Step 3/21
Set the default URL. It should be the exact home address of your website (be careful and mind the difference between "http://" and "https://")! If you think it’s obvious, you’d be surprised.
💡 Pro tip: If you want to know for sure if your current website is using http or https (SSL in other words) correctly, open a blank new tab in your browser and type in the address in the URL bar (main Search / URL bar) without http:// or https:// (e.g. yourwebsite.co.uk) and once the site finishes loading, double click the URL bar and see if there’s a http or https in the address (it should be either http://yourwebsite.co.uk or https://yourwebsite.co.uk).
There’s an image in the next step showing how the entire Property Settings section looks.
Google Analytics audit: Step 4/21
Turn on Enable Demographic and Interest Reports. It allows gathering data about age and gender of your users (but make sure that your Cookie and Privacy policies allow it!).
Now you can save the changes at the bottom of the page.
Tracking Info. A dropdown selection list appears. You’ll see many options here, but in our guide, we only focus on the lower ones. All the other settings are OK (in the vast majority of cases) if you leave them in default state.
Google Analytics audit: Step 5/21
Choose Referral Exclusion List. Here, you need to make sure that your website’s domain is included in the table. It’s an absolute must as it eliminates the problem of self-referrals (referral traffic originating from your own domain) which artificially inflate the number of sessions on your website. You definitely don’t want that. If your address is not there – add it. If there are any processes on your website that require a redirect to any third-party websites, and then send the user back to your page (e.g. a payment via PayPal), you should include those domains here as well.
Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to do it:
Now take a look at the settings in the Product Linking category:
Google Analytics audit: Step 6/21
Select All Products – here, you can check if all of the Google products that you have on your website (like Google Ads, Search Console etc.) are linked to Analytics. If there’s a green „tick” next to a product name, you’re fine. If a product that you have is not linked - click on „Link” and follow the instructions.
Congratulations! You have successfully updated all the key points in the Property column.
Now, go back to the previous view and take a look at the third and last column that you saw in the Admin section, called the View column.
A View in Google Analytics is a subset of a Property.
Views can be customized by many filters and settings. They are the best way to sieve out the data that you want to analyze (e.g. you can create a View that will show exclusively users from the US). Before any customization is made, you need a basic set of Views for each one of your Properties. We strongly recommend starting off with three: Raw, Test and Master.
Below a quick overview of the three.
Google Analytics audit: Step 7/21
Create your "Raw" View
GA’s default View is called All Website Data – we recommend renaming it as Raw.
Raw is a View without any settings. No filters, no exclusions, no nothing. All data falls into here.
Whenever in doubt about your other filtered Views, you can always refer to Raw.
If anything has been changed in that View, you should try to bring it back to the default state. You shouldn’t change anything to its setup.
Put a "Do not touch" label on it.
Google Analytics audit: Step 8/21
Create your "Test" View
Test is made for trying things out. If you need a new filter, just implement it on Test first. Once you make sure that the filter is correct, only then can it be safely implemented on the main View (Master).
We recommend creating Test before Master. Once all the settings below are implemented onto Test, just copy it and rename to Master.
The label to put on Test: "Playground".
Google Analytics audit: Step 9/21
Create your "Master" View
Master is the main GA reporting View with the most reliable filters and settings.
Use it to analyze traffic and gain insights.
Always be careful when changing anything to its setup.
The label to stick on this one: "Fragile Content".
How to create or copy a View in Google Analytics? Here are two videos explaining the two procedures:
Creating a new view:
Copying a view:
Now, let’s get started with the View Column. The below settings should be implemented on both your Master and Test Views. Click on View Settings and adjust the below points as follows:
Google Analytics audit: Step 10/21
Set your Website’s URL to match the exact domain that you want to track with this particular View (again, mind the "http://" or "https://"). For example, in the URL https://yourwebsite.com.au/contact/index.html, the domain name is yourwebsite.com.au, so what you must add should look like this: https:// [selected from the dropdown menu] and yourwebsite.com.au/ in the input next to it. If you want to track a website using a subdomain, you should also add it here (for example: https:// [dropdown] and blog.yourwebsite.com.au/)
Google Analytics audit: Step 11/21
Make sure that Timezone and currency are set correctly. Otherwise, there’s a risk that the number of conversions per day will be distorted or not in line with other data sources. Both these parameters should match your business location (e.g. United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany or Poland), or particular country this view refers to.
Google Analytics audit: Step 12/21
Enable Bot Filtering. Analyzing bot traffic must be avoided because bots inflate the Bounce Rate and send erroneous data of virtually zero time spent on your website. It just messes up your statistics pretty bad. This cool filter stops this kind of traffic from being measured. The filter should be disabled only in the Raw View.
Here is a quick video on where to find it, and how to enable it:
Google Analytics audit: Step 13/21
Enable Site Search Tracking. It should be enabled if you have a search bar on your website. Query parameter(s) should be placed here in order for this function to work. With that in place, you will be able to get insights from Site search reports in Google Analytics. If you can’t find the query parameters, Google support comes to aid with a setting up Site Search article.
Google Analytics audit: Step 14/21
Set your Goals. Goals vary depending on the type of website you are running. Each business can have its unique set of goals. It’s quite difficult to speak about them in a general manner because only you have the necessary knowledge about your business’ needs. We know every business is different. But believe it – setting goals is an absolute must in Google Analytics. You should have at least three goals (suited to your business) to be able to measure the most important data and evaluate if you’re going in the right direction. If you’re not sure, you can learn more about goals straight from Google.
Google Analytics audit: Step 16/21
Set your Filters. There are at least two filters that you need to set on both Master and Test Views.
The first one is excluding your IP address (as well as the IP addresses of your remote team members and contractors) to avoid self-generated traffic. Bear in mind that it only works for static IP addresses. If any of the above IP addresses are dynamic, the best solution (and the one used by us) is a Chrome extension called Block Yourself From Analytics. If there are already some IP-blocking filters enabled, make sure that they are up-to-date.
The second compulsory filter is forcing URL to lowercase. This will help you avoid duplicating the same addresses typed in different cases (/contact vs /CONTACT).
Here’s a quick video on how to implement an IP filter (a.k.a. Google Analytics self-IP removal):
And a URL Lowercase filter:
Google Analytics audit: Step 16/21
Check your Ecommerce settings:
If you have an an ecommerce tracking implemented on your website, the Enable Ecommerce switch should be on. Similarly, if you have a more advanced enhanced ecommerce installed on your site, be sure that you turn on Enable Enhanced Ecommerce Reporting.
💡 Pro tip: If you have an ecommerce site and don’t have ecommerce tracking, you may be missing out on transactional data. Implement the tracking (or have it implemented by an experienced developer) by placing additional Tracking Code snippets in your website’s code in order to gather in-depth information about transactions.
Now, you’re all set in Admin. Your most fundamental data flow is enabled and patched. You’re ready to start the analyzing part in Reports.
Part 3: Analyze Google Analytics Reports
That’s where all of your analytics data goes – the Reports section. From here, you can analyze data, segment it and – above all – draw conclusions.
What are the types of Reports in Google Analytics?
There are five main kinds of Reports in Google Analytics:
Please remember to expand the time range every time you consult a Report – the default range of last 7 days is not enough.
We recommend setting it to last 30 days.
Let’s take it from the beginning.
Google Analytics audit: Step 17/21
Understand Realtime Reports
Realtime shows you the current situation on your website - how many users are visiting your pages right now. The numbers here are constantly changing along with the traffic, so there is no possibility to draw too many quality-related conclusions from them. Still, there is one particular aim of this section – it’s a perfect place to check if the Tracking Code on your website is working correctly. This report is also a great place to check if your freshly created and published events or campaigns are working and people are using them. But let’s focus on the Tracking Code.
Now that you have gone through all of the above instructions we’re sure that your data-flow is working properly. But it’s good to bear in mind that the Tracking Code could stop sending data while you make changes to the website’s code (e.g. when you add a new feature or change the order of sections). Therefore it’s good to know that Realtime is always two clicks away to assure that you’re still on the same page with your Google Analytics settings.
First, make sure that you are checking this section separately through every view. Take a close look at the number of users that are currently visiting your site – if it’s other than 0, you’re fine (for Raw, it means that the Tracking Code on your site is working, for Master and Test, it means that your settings are not cutting any traffic).
If the value that you see is 0, try generating traffic yourself (if you already implemented the IP excluding filter on Master and Test, use Raw or ask someone out of the team to enter the website). The number should change. If it stays at 0, it means that the Tracking Code is not implemented correctly.
Google Analytics audit: Step 18/21
Configure Audience Reports
This section contains information about your users: their gender (only if the Demographic and Interest Reports setting is turned on), their location and the devices or browsers that they use to navigate on your website.
Audience → Technology → Network
Click on Primary dimension: Hostname
Here, you may see your domains and staging domains (e.g. staging.yourwebsite.com.au).
Make sure that all the domains (and subdomains) in this section are yours and you have control over them. If you don’t, it’s probably traffic that shouldn’t be gathered here. You should put some filter on it. Here’s a clip showing how to create a filter that eliminates traffic from a given hostname:
Audience → Mobile → Overview
Here, you can check how your traffic is distributed between Desktop and Mobile devices. You can also see how both of these types of traffics perform. Take a quick look and check if there are any significant differences here. For example, does one type of device have traffic with a significantly higher bounce rate or session duration? If so, you should definitely investigate it and check code implementation and loading speed of your page for each device.
Google Analytics audit: Step 19/21
Configure Acquisition Reports
Here, you can learn about the sources of your traffic. So in other words, where your users come (clicked) from.
What are the main Traffic Channels in Google Analytics?
Google divides traffic and puts it into one of the below Channels:
Acquisition → All traffic → Channels
Ironically, we start off with the last channel listed – (Other). It’s because if there’s too much traffic coming from that channel – it’s where you should begin.
Ideally, you shouldn’t be able to see this channel because unassigned traffic (meaning not recognized by any of the built-in GA channel filters) should equal 0 (yes, it can be done). Still, even if the “Other” channel is listed, it should contain less than 2% of the traffic. Usually, it shows wrongly tagged campaigns (e.g. ad campaigns) – if you have a lot of them, learn how to tag URLs.
Acquisition → All traffic → Referrals
Search for wrongly classified sources
Check if the Referral channel does not contain sources that should not be classified as referrals, such as email sources (e.g. mail.google.com) or organic search sources (e.g. yahoo.com).
These two can be fixed by creating custom Channel Grouping (if you want to learn more, Google has a neat article on channel grouping). In short, it means changing the rules according to which Analytics assigns traffic to channels.
Search for Self-referrals
To check if there are any problems with subdomain or cross-domain tracking, search for your main domain in the search box. If you can see any results, you might be having problems with tracking between those domains/subdomains (cross-domain tracking). Google support’s article on cross-domains presents a basic way of dealing with it.
Acquisition → All traffic → Source/Medium
Here, check if (direct) / (none) traffic is bigger than 20%. If it is, it means that over 1/5th of your traffic comes from who-knows-where. This is a situation you definitely don’t want. Apart from the users that entered your site by clicking on a bookmark or typing the URL address directly, this traffic is also generated by clicks on the links that Google has no information about. You cannot control the first two actions, but you certainly can limit the latter. Start by checking if the links that you (or your marketing team) share with people are correctly tagged. Check out this link tagging tool and learn how to tag URLs correctly.
Google Analytics audit: Step 20/21
Configure Behavior Reports
This section gathers information about how users behave on particular pages of your site (e.g. the number of page views, time spent on page, bounce rate, what are the landing and exit pages).
Behavior → Site Content → All Pages
Search for URL parameters
Having a lot of parameters in your report (5% and more) means that data on some pages gets delaminated.
This way, you don’t have a clear insight into how a particular page is performing.
How to find parameters in a URL address?
It’s simple: the first parameter is always preceded by a question mark. All the next ones are preceded by ampersands
Example: in the page path "/product_page?fbclid=IwAR0&sent=true", there are two parameters: "fbclid" and "sent".
Search for URLs with query parameters by typing "?" into the search bar. If the results represent more than 5% of your sites, then you have to make a list of parameters and add them in "Exclude URL Query Parameters" window in View Settings.
Here is a video on how to do that:
The overall rule: the less parameters, the clearer your reports.
Search for email addresses in your site’s URLs
Google is very strict about their Terms of Service. Break any of them and your account may get blocked. One of the quick ways to check if you’re safe about that is checking whether your URL addresses in Google Analytics don’t contain any personally identifiable information, such as email addresses that appear in URLs often and most commonly, by accident (while filling contact forms or signing in).
To make sure, type ”/@” into the search bar. If there are no results – you’re safe and sound. But if there are any, make sure you remove them. Email addresses are most often passed through URL parameters, so all you have to do is eliminate those that carry any sensitive data by adding them to the list in view settings. Check the previous video for more information on how to do that.
Behavior → Site Content → Landing pages
Think of landing pages as your digital business cards – they make the first impression. A landing page is the very first page that a user enters when starting a new visit on your website (in other words, a new session). Check if there are no irregularities here in terms of bounce rate. Unnaturally high or low bounce rate is a reason for concern. Just to be clear – a bounce rate of 100% means that all of the users that landed on that particular page did not navigate any further. To put it more drastically, they saw your page and just left.
Check if your top Landing pages have a bounce rate higher than 95% or lower than 5%. In both cases, you should investigate and double-check the Tracking Code implementation on them. It can also mean that you have too many non-interaction events set up for those pages (low bounce rate) or too little of them (high bounce rate). Learn more about those events in this Google support article.
Google Analytics audit: Step 21/21
Configure Conversions Reports
Here, you can check your website’s performance based on the goals that you set and – if it applies – on the ecommerce module.
As already mentioned, goals in GA are essential and you should definitely have them defined by now. We already covered them in Part 2 of this article.
Conversions → Goals → Overview
Here, you can check if your goals are not too specific (i.e. they are met by almost every visitor) or not too general (i.e. hardly any users meet them). If you see that it might be your case, try reviewing your goals and try adding some more. Play more with macro (very important) and micro (also, but less important) conversion goals (e.g. instead of tracking transactions [macro], start tracking the number of entries on your product page [micro]).
Remember, your Goals should be well-balanced so that you can assess the condition of your business easily and right away.
Conversions → Ecommerce → Overview
If you have an online store, it’s good to compare transactions from Ecommerce with goals that you set in Google Analytics. These two don’t have to harmonize fully, but a good 95% correlation is what you should aim at least.
If the number is significantly lower than that, you should double-check the Ecommerce implementation, the Timezone in View Settings, or if there are not too many cancelled transactions (they appear in Ecommerce as transactions with 0).
And that’s that. Hooray! Your Google Analytics is working properly.
You learned (and, hopefully, implemented) all the essential points that you need in order to be sure that your data is being gathered as it should.
Still not 100% positive if you’ve done it correctly with the checker? We’d be thrilled to help.