Google Analytics is a powerful platform that can unlock an incredible amount of insights regarding your online presence. But just like any other complex platform, if you don’t handle the setup properly, it might be difficult for you or your organization to get the best results out of the reports. Here, I’d like to talk about a few basic, but crucial, concepts that can get you started the right way.

There are 5 important topics you should keep in mind when you are first setting up Google Analytics. Understanding these will enable you to get a more accurate view of your reports. Furthermore, they will help you ask the right questions to your stakeholders and identify the right reports to delve into. Google Analytics offers so many metrics and dimensions that it can get cumbersome if you don’t know what you should be looking for.

So, what are some simple yet extremely effective things you can do when you first start using Google Analytics?

1. Create a Test view

A view in Google Analytics is where you can access all reports. You can create multiple views for each Property that you have. At a minimum you should have three views (Main View, Test View, Raw View). Main View would be where you access your reporting to make your decisions. Raw View would be where you implement no changes whatsoever so if you lost certain data in other views, you will always have a back-up! And finally, you should create a test view alongside these two. Keep in mind that any change you apply to your data will affect your reports forever. In other words, if you do something you didn’t intend to, you can’t change data retroactively! Having a test view, just like the name suggests, would allow you to test certain changes without affecting other views. So, before you do anything else, set up a test view to avoid potential issues. If your test yields the results you wanted, you can then apply your changes to the view(s) where you keep your reporting data.

2. Exclude internal traffic

This is another essential point that often gets overlooked. For testing purposes, you will have your internal data in the Raw View, as explained above. But for a much more accurate analysis, make sure your main reporting view excludes your organization’s internal traffic. If you are getting the data of your organization, all your results will be inflated and you won’t get a clear picture of how your audience is interacting with your content.

An easy way to remedy this situation is to make a quick adjustment under the Admin settings. You would just need to select the view to which you want to apply the changes, and add a filter that excludes the IP addresses of your organization. Be sure to test this in your test view first!

3. Build a measurement plan

Before you start gathering and analyzing data, there is one crucial step you should always take. A measurement plan is a document where you outline what your main objective is. Why do you have this website or mobile app in the first place? What do you want your audience to do when they get to your site? These may seem like easy questions; but once you start digging deeper, you’ll find out that it’s a lot trickier than it looks.

Once you know what your objectives are, you will be able to what strategy would best fit your organization’s needs and then come up with your set of key performance indicators. If you skip this step and go straight ahead to Google Analytics reports, you may end up spending a lot of time in reports that may not necessarily be relevant to you.

I should also add that while your initial measurement plan will help you significantly, you should always treat is as a living document and update it as your organization shifts strategies.

4. Devise a tracking strategy

After your measurement plan is done and you have a better idea about what metrics are going to be important to you, you’ll need to think of a tracking strategy. The first question you need to answer is whether you can track everything you now know you’ll need. In today’s web analytics, the answer will likely be yes. But how you will track those metrics is an entirely different question.

The JavaScript code that you implement to start tracking in the first place will give you a lot of data to go through. So, depending on what your goals are, you may be all set just with that! But this isn’t likely to be the case as each business and organization has different goals. You will likely need to do some customization – whether it’s creating new segments, events, goals or conversions. Or perhaps, you’d like to gather your e-commerce data if you are selling products online. All these will require you to go one step beyond the initial tracking code and, in certain cases, you’ll need to implement extra tags.

Once you go through all this customization, I’d also highly encourage you to test them to make sure all tags are firing properly and you’re collecting accurate data. Don’t assume your tags (or other forms of customized reports) are working properly without the necessary testing.

5. Monitor campaigns closely
A campaign is any event where you put a certain effort to generate certain results. Regardless of what kind of campaign you’re running (paid or organic), always monitor the results closely. You might be spending your budget on areas that don’t generate the desired outcomes. Or perhaps you’re losing out on opportunities that you otherwise would have caught.

At all steps of campaigns, you should monitor them closely. Now that you know what your success metrics are, always keep an eye on whether you are achieving the desired results or not. If you are, find out why this may be, so you can invest more in those success areas. If you are not, then try to identify the root causes so you can either adjust your current campaign, or you can create a different campaign in the future. If you don’t monitor your data frequently enough, it might be too late to make certain changes and you may lose valuable opportunities.

Of course, there’s a lot more to Google Analytics than these 5 areas and we will try to help you in this blog with more tips in the future. But starting with these will improve the accuracy of your data, give you a better understanding of your priorities, and open the necessary communication with your key stakeholders.

Have you done any of these steps for your organization? Share with us your experiences in the comments below!