There's a tool all of us use and just about no one knows exactly what it does. I'm talking about Google Analytics. I've been using it for almost a decade now and I'm still discovering new features. And by “new” I mean features it's always had but I didn't know about.
So to help anyone else out who might be in my shoes I've made a list of useful metrics you can track in Google Analytics.
If you’ve had your site for a while you’ll likely have experienced spam in your analytics. I know I have.
Google Analytics Language Spam
One of the most effective ways to block spam is also one of the most complex. You can setup a filter to only record data that uses a valid host name. Now a hostname is the name of the website you're visiting (aka your website domain) so you should be able to list them on your fingers.
Crawler spam is what happens when a bot crawls through your site and leave fake data. They might leave a fake referral just to get you to check out the referring website.
Wowzors I must be improving my writing. Look at these spikes on social media!
In fact I've had this exact thing happen. I was looking at my analytics and thought someone mentioned one of my articles on Reddit because over a few day period I got several hundred visits. I wasted my time digging through analytics to try to find the exact post.
If you've been digging through your analytics you may have noticed some unusual data. If I go to my reporting page and scroll down I'll see a list of languages used on my site. And some of them are definitely spam.
Google Analytics language spam
In fact over the last month I've had over 1,000 spam visits. Those visits are enough to skew my data tarnishing any decisions based off of that data. Ex.
Wow this post is doing great – we should write more like it!
With just a bit of filtering we can remove this language spam which will make it easier to navigate our reports and it will give us much better data.
Data is only good as the methods you use to collect it. With Google Analytics you track everything including search bots which isn’t helpful. Search bots crawl every page of your site and could mess up your data. This is especially true if you have low traffic. Luckily, within Google Analytics there's a setting you can check to filter out known search bots.
Most site owners have one view for their site in Google Analytics. This is fine as long as you don't mess anything up. But if you accidentally filter some data out it's lost forever. There is no undo button. That's why whenever I work on anyone's analytics I always start by creating a backup view.
Creating this backup view only takes a few minutes and should you ever have to use that data it's right there at your fingertips. If you wait until after you make a mistake you will have already missed the chance to collect that data.
Create a Backup View
Master is my primary view in GA. Yours could be named anything.
From the home page click on your main view (mine is Master in the image above). And then click Admin.
You’ll see a page to administer your account property, and views.
Click Create new view
Click on your view and you’ll see a drop down. Click Create new view.
Type in the name. I recommend Unfiltered, set your timezone, and click Create View at the bottom of the page.
Create a new view
And we're done. It took less than 10 clicks and we have a brand new view without any filters so it will collect everything.
Creating a Test View
If you plan on doing a lot of filtering with Google Analytics you might also want a test view. That way you can test things out for a few weeks to make sure those changes are working and then apply them to your master view.
We’re going to do the same thing as above except we’ll actually copy over a few settings from our master view.
If we go back to our Master view and then click Admin we’ll be taken to the Administration page.
Click on View Settings.
Click View Settings
And then click Copy view in the top right.
The view settings page
Rename the view and click Copy view.
Copy the view
Pros & Cons of Copying Views
So why do we copy for the test view and not the unfiltered view? Because when we copy a view if there are any existing filters they will be copied over. And we don't want that. We want it to be completely unfiltered.
Think of filters as a convenience. They prevent certain types of data from being added to Google Analytics which is very useful. But you can achieve the same thing with other tools like segments. It just takes a lot longer to apply the same rules to each of your segments rather than filtering the data as it comes in.