Tools and helper applications I have come across as a practitioner come in two flavours: those that help you with your administration of Google Analytics – install, setup and configuration, and those that help you use or interpret reports – visualisation aides, third-party integration, segmentation help, and so forth.

Often these two scenarios overlap, and marketers frequently find themselves using the same toolset as webmasters and web developers. This post is a compendium of useful tools I have used for GA administration. Regardless of your job role, all the tools listed here are straightforward to use.

[ This page is an edited version of Appendix B, taken from the second edition of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. The new book is due March 2010 ]

Tools to Audit Your GATC Deployment

The key to being able to improve your website is having good, solid, accurate data that you can rely on. A fundamental step of implementing any web analytics tool is getting the data in – there simply is no point investing in analysis if the data is flawed. After all, garbage in equals garbage out. Maintaining data integrity is key. Adding page tags, the GATC, is therefore not a one-time, “set it and forget it” process. It requires careful deployment planning and regular maintenance checks to ensure data holes do not appear.

[ For background reading, see “What is the Xth thing to do when considering a web analytics implementation?” ]

The following is a list of site scan and site audit tools that can verify the completeness of your GATC:

  • 1. SiteScan by EpikOne free and paid software as a service (saas) vendor. Performs a text search and regular expression match for the GATC: www.sitescanga.com
  • 2. WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler) is a Firefox plug-in that detects the setting of the GATC cookies plus 100 other vendor tools. Works on a page-by-page (free) and site-scanning (paid) basis: www.webanalyticssolutionprofiler.com
  • 3. Statistics Detector is a free Greasemonkey script for Firefox. Performs a text search and regular expression match for the GATC plus 34 other vendor tools. Works on a page-by-page basis only: http://yoast.com/tools/seo/greasemonkey/statistics-detector/
  • 4. ObservePoint is a paid software as a service (saas) vendor. Detects the setting of the GATC cookies plus omniture’s. Works as a site-scanning and monitoring/alert tool: www.observepoint.com
  • 5. Accenture Digital Diagnostics (formerly Maxamine) Paid software as a service (saas) vendor. High-end site diagnostic tool: www.accenture.com

As an example, a typical report from the above listed tools would show the following (in addition to the individual URIs):

Pages scanned = 548 (100%)
Pages with correctly functioning GATC = 522 (95.3%)
Number of incorrect GATC = 14 (2.6%)
Number of pages not found (error 404) = 12 (2.1%)

How Often Should I Audit My GATC Implementation?

The main factor to consider here is how often your content changes. If 10 percent of your website content changes each month, then by halfway through the year the majority of your website will have changed. The greater the change, the higher the possibility of errors. Even non-humans such as CMS, CRM systems, and web servers can, and do, make errors. And because page tags are a hidden piece of code, errors are not visible by simply visiting the page in your browser. The result is that page tag errors easily go unnoticed and build up rapidly on your website.

In the early stages of a GATC deployment (or redeployment) I recommend you scan your pages weekly. Assuming there are no holes in your data collection, or they have been fixed, move to a monthly scan after eight weeks. Again, assuming data holes and anomalies have been ironed out, you should be able to move to quarterly scanning frequency by Q3. Maintain quarterly scans until your next major site redesign or a replacement CMS comes online, and then increase the frequency again.

Firefox Add-ons

Add-ons are installable enhancements to the firefox browser. Developed by third- parties, add-ons are capable of customizing firefox by providing additional func- tionality and, best of all, the vast majority of add-ons are free to use. Because of this flexibility, I recommend firefox when viewing Google Analytics reports. More infor- mation on firefox add-ons is available at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

The following are add-ons that can help with your implementation and usage of Google Analytics. I use all of them:

  • Better Google Analytics This is the mother of all Google Analytics helper add-ons. It enhances Google Analytics with a compilation of Greasemonkey user scripts produced by various authors. At the last count, it incorporated 19 add-ons, including:
    • Automatic access to your Google Analytics account
    • Automatic navigation expansion
    • full-screen view: Removes the side menu
    • Content search direct from the side menu
    • Table sort: sort only what you see, not the entire report data set.
    • Integrated social media metrics: Includes sphinn, Technorati, Digg, stumbleUpon metrics, and several others.
    • Integrated Google Insights search: Perform Google Insights searches on keywords in your reports
    • Advanced date selection: Compare year-on-year data with one click
    • Google Docs export: Adds Google spreadsheets as an export option.
    • Plus it offers a few helper scripts to ease your way around the conversionuniversity.com content. Better Google Analytics is maintained at: www.vkistudios.com/tools/firefox/betterga/
  • Goal Copy allows you to copy one set of configured goals over to another profile, and even a profile in another Google Analytics account. Useful when creating multiple carbon copies of profiles, for example, a profile for U.S. visitors separate from U.K. visitors: www.lunametrics.com/blog/2008/01/21/copying-goals-in-google-analytics-a-firefox-extension/
  • Web Developer Toolkit is Firefox add-on adds a menu bar to your browser with a whole range of useful features for anyone who has an interest in creating web pages. It has an excellent browser error console and DOM inspector, as well as quick lookup tools for cookies, source code, and so forth: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/60
  • Firebug This free firefox add-on adds debug capabilities for Javascript, Css, and HTMl live in your browser. Currently with over 20 million downloads, it is one of the most popular firefox add-ons: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1843
  • Live HTTP Headers is an add-on that allows you to view HTTP headers of a page while you are browsing. All the communication requests sent and received by your browser can be viewed. These can be quite numerous and difficult to follow. Therefore, to follow only Google Analytics requests, set the configuration of this add-on to filter URls With Regexp set to /__utm.gif.*. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3829

Google Chrome is a new browser (released in September 2008) that I find myself using often. Though support for Mac computers is currently limited, Chrome uses extensions in the same way Firefox uses Add-ons. That is, allowing third-party developers to extend its capabilities. For example, the Analytics Helper extension displays a notification if a Google Analytics account code (UA number) is detected in a web page. See: https://chrome. google.com/extensions/search?q=analytics+helper.

Desktop Helper Applications

  • WebBug is a Windows application that allows you to enter a URl and see exactly what is sent to the web server and what response is sent back. This is the information that your browser takes care of when rendering a page. I use this mainly to check a web server’s status code response. It is very useful for tracking redirection issues—a common problem that can result in the loss of campaign variables from your landing page URls. WebBug is free to use, Windows only, and is available for download from: www.cyberspyder.com/webbug.html
  • Regex Coach is a regular expression validator. Regular expressions (regex) are snippets of pseudo code that match patterns within text. In Google Analytics, regular expressions are used for filtering – both within a report (table filter) and for creating separate profile reports (profile filters), for defining advanced segments, and for configuring goal conversions and funnel steps. In other words, regular expressions are important.Going beyond the basics, things can rapidly appear complex because regular expression often appear like algebra. Therefore, before implementing your regular expression, validate it through the excellent Regex Coach application (Windows only). Regex Coach is free to use and can be downloaded from: http://weitz.de/regex-coach/.

Have I missed any others? If you are using (or have developed) a useful admin tool for Google Analytics please let me know with a comment.