5 ways to check if Google Analytics is working

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Google Analytics is a lifeline for marketers understanding performance and making decisions based on website or application usage data.

In my over a decade of working with clients, about half of the new clients I work with do not have GA (Google Analytics) configured properly.

Typical issues stem from duplicate tag implementation, tag manager setup, cross-domain tracking, and much more.

Whether you’re launching a new website, redesigning an old one, or merging multiple websites, here are five ways to check if Google Analytics is working.

1. Perform a Google Analytics tracking audit

One of the first steps in this process is to prepare clear documentation on:

  • What accounts, properties, and views are required by Google Analytics run into
  • Which GA tracking tags should be used on all pages? Do certain parts of the site (ie blog, microsite, internal knowledgebase) need to use specific GA tags?
  • How are tags distributed across the site? By manual insertion within global CMS modules or through a third party tag manager?
  • What events (ie button clicks or form submissions) are tracked on the site that need accurate tracking?

By going through this exercise, we can identify pages that trigger the Google Analytics tracking code versus pages that don’t at all.

Screaming frog and other crawling tools allow us to identify these problems at scale.

Here are the steps you need to take in Screaming Frog to run this type of content search to determine which pages of your site may be missing Google Analytics tracking code:

Step 1: Click on Configuration > Custom made > Search.

Screenshot from Screaming Frog, July 2022

Step 2: Depending on whether you are running Google Analytics tracking via the tag manager or via direct script injection, you will add a unique identifier from the system in question (eg GTM-######, UA-####### ### -#, G-##########) here so that Screaming Frog will scan all the subdomains on the site and see where in the source code it can’t find this identifier.

Screaming Frog Step 2Screenshot from Screaming Frog, July 2022

Step 3: Enter your domain and click the beginning.

This will search for subdomains on your site that are linked to your root URL.

If you have microsites that aren’t linked from your main site, then Screaming Frog probably won’t crawl those pages.

Screaming Frog Step 3Screenshot from Screaming Frog, July 2022

The result of this content search will show you the percentage of pages on the site that do not have your tracking code.

Screaming Frog Step 4Screenshot from Screaming Frog, July 2022

2. Identify Duplicate Tracking Code with Chrome’s GTM/GA Debugger

One common mistake that marketers make is to accidentally install a tracking code multiple times throughout the site.

It often happens during CMS (content management system) migrations, domain consolidations, or redesigns due to lack of documentation of existing legacy analytics requirements.

Chrome’s GTM/GA Debug Tool provides a quick look at the GA and GTM tags that are triggered on the page as we move from page to page.

Here’s how you can use the GTM/GA debugger to see if there is duplicate tracking code.

GTM GA review toolScreenshot from GTM/GA testing tool, July 2022

When testing this on your site, make sure you only see one pageview from a single GA account that is triggered when you go to each page.

If you see multiple pageviews being triggered when you load a single page, you’ll know that you’re at least double-counting your analytics data and probably throwing out all the other metrics you’re tracking in GA.

3. Explore real-time Google Analytics reporting to see if page views are being triggered

With the real-time Google Analytics view, you can run tests on your site to see how many people are on it right this second.

If you’re not sure if your Google Analytics code is working properly, go to the main GA page.

Click on In real time in the left navigation pane and browse the location and content reports to test tracking on different parts of your site.

Given that tracking issues usually occur when you go to specific subdomains or cross domains, use GA’s real-time reporting feature to see if you can identify your individual user activity on the site.

Google Analytics in real timeScreenshot from Google Analytics, July 2022

4. Explore Google Tag Manager

Tag Managers allow marketers to manage the firing of all their tracking scripts from one place.

One of the biggest benefits of using a tag manager is that if your tag management code is placed on every page of your site, then you can easily insert tracking scripts without having to constantly involve IT or a developer.

Google Tag Manager is the most common solution and is a free tool for all webmasters.

Another problem marketers often run into is when they use a combination of a tag management system in addition to manually inserting scripts into individual pages or sections of a website.

This is common because tag management systems are often implemented after a site has spent some time manually deploying tags.

This creates redundancy in tracking scripts and requires a thorough overhaul to move everything into a single organized tag management system.

If you use Google Tag Manager, here are the steps to “preview” what scripts are being fired on your site.

Step 1: Login to Google Tag Manager and click on preview.

Google Tag Manager Preview Screenshot from Google Tag Manager, July 2022

Step 2: Enter the site page you want to test.

Submit a preview of Google Tag ManagerScreenshot from Google Tag Manager, July 2022

Step 3: See which tags do and don’t fire on a specific URL.

See which tags are and are not firing on that particular URLScreenshot from Google Tag Manager, July 2022

In this “preview” mode, Google can also track scrolling and clicks.

So if you want to use event tracking on button clicks, this will allow you to see if the clicks trigger event tracking scripts on the website.

5. Use Chrome Developer Tools to identify scripts that run in your browser

The Chrome Developer Tools allow us to collect information in a linear visualization about the various content that is loaded on the page.

To check if Google Analytics is being triggered on your site, go to any page on your site in the Chrome browser and right-click.

Click on Check it out.

Then go to Network tab.

Chrome Inspect ElementScreenshot of Chrome Inspect Element, July 2022

Click Refresh in the browser and watch the various content and scripts load on the page.

From here, type “collect” or “gtm” into the search bar to see if the Google Analytics code has been triggered.

Chrome Inspect ElementScreenshot of Chrome Inspect Element, July 2022

This also gives you a second chance to make sure that the Google Analytics tracking code only loads once (similar to #3).

Additional consideration regarding GDPR, privacy tracking and CMSs

In some CMS and tag management systems, there is an option to configure tracking based on local privacy laws such as GDPR (EU General Data Protection Regulation) or CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act).

If you’re having tracking issues, you’ll need to investigate how the opt-in/opt-out feature may affect your pageviews, events, and conversions tracking data.

There are several tools you can use to diagnose GA tracking issues on a website.

As a marketer, your biggest opportunity is to become familiar with Chrome’s developer tools, tag management systems, and crawling tools to ensure you can revise tracking codes based on your organization’s goals.

More resources:


Featured image: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock

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