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Repeat after us: Google Analytics is your friend

Making Google Analytics work for you, and its sometimes-sticky role in a sustainable governance model.

Do I really need Google Analytics?

The data collected by Google Analytics is, in a word, invaluable. It can be viewed through a variety of lenses and then used to make smart decisions about your company, such as:

  • What browsers your site should support
  • What pages you should keep or delete
  • Where to hold events or where to focus your offline marketing
  • How you should go about a responsive design strategy for your site

And that’s only a partial list; the possibilities are endless, pardon the cliché.

All of that is more than enough reason to start using GA, but here’s the real bottom line: at some point, someone high up in your company will want this data and it will be your responsibility to give it to them. GA cannot collect data retroactively; it starts the day that you install it on your site. The sooner you start using it, the more information you’ll have available when your supervisor comes knocking.

As you’re probably aware, just a few weeks or months of data isn’t going to tell you much. You’ll want a year, or 18 months, or two years of it before you can start to see trends. You need to provide data for your site over a prolonged period of time, and the best way to do that is to start using Google Analytics. Yesterday. The sooner you do, the better prepared you’ll be.

But, before you rush into implementing anything, you need to think about the issue of governance. How should you structure your analytics so that stakeholders at every level can get the data they need to make decisions? Analytics is only viable if data is collected properly, and then put to use by the people who need it. Often this is easier said than done, especially when there’s no initial plan.

So, start by deciding on an overall analytics structure. Specifically, you need to decide whether to follow one of two strategies:

  • Using a single Google Analytics account and property to track your entire site, or
  • Using multiple accounts simultaneously – one to track the entire site and others to track its individual pieces.

One Account

By tracking under a single account and property, all the data collected goes into one account, and you can see the information for the entire site in one set of reports. However, Google only allows you 50 ways to view the information collected, so the data may not be broken down quite as much as you’d like. For example, you may not be able to have a separate view for every single department or office.

Additionally, the one account solution allows certain settings to only be set at a site-wide level, and some departments may want more control over their information and how it’s collected. In other words, some tracking decisions will have to be made by a central person or team.

Multiple Accounts

Say you have a sprawling website, maybe with separate domains or subdomains for each department. You can take a different approach to GA by having separate accounts for each department and one account for the entire site. This way, each group collects its own data in whatever way it chooses, while the higher-ups can still get a global view of the website’s performance.

Of course, there are issues that go along with this strategy as well. Implementing the multiple accounts strategy means putting two tracking codes on many, if not all, of the pages of the various domains and subdomains.

So, what’s better?

Well, neither. As with any online strategy, your plan of action boils down to client needs. What kind of website do you have, what kind do you want to have, and what information can help you get there?

Here are two approaches NewCity took with two recent clients.

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio falls under the “sprawling” category mentioned earlier, so using the multiple account strategy made perfect sense. We created one “global” account for tracking all of University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s domains and subdomains in the same reports. This global account helps the centralized web team answer high-level questions about their overall web presence. We also allowed individual departments to keep or create their own individual accounts. This allows departments to track their own websites however they want. All in all, the client gets both a global and granular view of the site without having to compromise data quality.

University of West Florida

For UWF, NewCity decided to implement the single-account strategy. The UWF site is much smaller than the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s, with not nearly as many subdomains, and the school also has a more centralized web team, so using one account and one tracking code made more sense. Although individual departments are not able to change certain high-level settings, they do have a view for their particular section of the site, allowing them to easily see reports on the data that’s relevant to them.

Takeaways

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to set up GA. The important thing is to think about the questions you want to answer in advance and then structure your analytics setup in a way that best enables you to get those answers. People up and down your organization want actionable data about your website, and the way you structure your analytics setup will go a long way toward determining whether or not they can get it.

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