If you have been around marketing and analytics for a while, you know that getting a solid reading of your analytics and optimization is a journey, not a destination. You understand that data is not clean, and 100% accuracy is not attainable. So I think the most we can ask for is to establish processes and educate people on how to keep things under control and still have faith in their data.
This post addresses practical analytics processes to maintain and improve the quality of your data when upgrading or redesigning a site, or migrating to a site/new content management system. While the examples in this post are Google Analytics specific, the approach is applicable to other analytics solutions.
The old adage of Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance is so very true here. Those 5 P’s can make a world of difference before a site migration or upgrade.
You definitely don’t want to end up with this scenario (no data)
If you have done your analytics implementation right, you should have maintained different documents; a reporting/metrics doc (marketers) and a solution design or an analytics technical specs doc. In such documents you define what code to add, what custom tracking you are doing, where customization have been implemented, etc. When you plan to migrate or upgrade your site, it’s time to clean the dust off these documents and put them to work for you again!
1- Site Migration/Upgrade Analytics Planning – Marketing
First of all, review your site goals, and ask questions such as:
- What micro conversion am I tracking now and do you want to track on the new site?
- Video/multimedia user actions (play, forward, stop, etc.)
- Have a new blog and I want to measure comment submissions
- I really want to get an understanding of social interactions on my site
- Are my macro conversions changing?
- I didn’t have e-commerce, now I do
- The site didn’t accept paypal/google checkout, but now we need to track it
- I am using a marketing automation platform with tens of landing pages and lead capture forms. How do I want to see lead conversions in my reports?
- Any custom segments that you track closely?
- Your reports might include members vs. non-members segments, member classification, user segments, time-stamped user actions, content groups, etc. this type of data is typically available in your reports based on GA customization and need to be discussed with your technical team
- Make a note of this type of data and ensure this customization is carried over to the new site
- Third-party System Integration
- Identify parameters you are passing to third party systems or integrations you’ve done CRM solutions (e.g. SalesForce.com), or other rich data integration work you’ve done (and rightfully got recognize for!)
- Social: this post would be not as popular if it doesn’t have the word “social” :). Look for how your are measuring your socially active users. You might be using GA’s social tracker natively or you might have integrated with AddThis or ShareThis
- Mobile: if you, like many, are launching a mobile site, add your measurement plan for your mobile site to the to-do list. And don’t forget about any niche mobile analytics tools that you have previously implemented (and actively using)
- In addition to your web analytics solution, review the long list of tags/pixels you currently have on your conversion pages such as AdWords conversion tracker and other pay-per-click tags, doubleclick, affiliate, or maybe a niche heatmap tag, or a phone tracking tag, or the testing code such as the Google Website Optimizer (and the list goes on and on, I know)
- If you are using a Tag Management System (TMS), you’ll have less issues with migrating your tags, but then add an item on your to-do list to engage your TMS vendor and seek their support during the planning and implementation of your new site
Have your new or updated goals list ready and then reach out to your friendly webmaster/analyst/consultant to help you implement.
2- Site Migration/Upgrade Analytics Planning – Technical
Sit down with your developer and go over:
- Your standard GATC
- In most cases, you’ll use the same GA account (same UA number). I have seen situations where clients prefer to start a new GA account altogether (with a new UA number) especially if the historic data is a bit messy and they want to have a fresh start
- Any code customizations you have done
- If your current site has sub-domains or you have cross-domain tracking, assess how the new site will be structured and if the domain/sub-domain structure will be intact or is changing
- If you are using events or firing virtual pageviews, look for code updates necessary to maintain the same data collection method
- If your URL structure and page naming convention is changing, document impact on:
- Filters, Goals, E-commerce variables, Custom variables, Advanced segments (that your users are actively reporting on), Custom Alerts, Custom reports with filters, Dashboards with filters
- URL Redirects: redirects are very useful and commonly used on websites. However, they are real culprits if not properly set up and cause all sort of issues such as breaking sessions, dropping parameters or linking to older posts. And while you’re at it, review your URL query parameters and decide what you want to exclude in your GA/Profile Settings.
- Site Search (or Internal Search): if your internal site search has changed along with the site upgrade, then update the search query parameter in your Admin/Profile Settings
3- Post-Launch Analytics Validation – Technical
Webmasters & Developers
- Ensure your GATC is on all your pages and then run your favorite site scan software
- Ensure you are collecting data only from your production web properties. Look for development and staging environment domains. Review your hostname reports and filter out what doesn’t belong there.
- Pay extra attention to key pages
- Landing page/static pages that are not part of your site template
- Conversion pages (thank you pages, form completion pages, e-commerce purchase complete pages, etc.)
- Site Speed Report (under Content) will be your best friend after site launch. Look for Average Load Time, Page download time and other related metrics and spot any spikes and investigate root causes, with pages, server or redirection time
Don’t forget to plan your configuration changes across all your profiles and not just the main profile.
4- Post-Launch Analytics Validation – Marketing
One quick way to see the before and after is to set up a date range comparison (equal number of days, and days of week before and after launch), then monitor the following:
- Run a quick report on traffic/key metrics/conversion by browser. Also, review your mobile traffic and behavior on various devices. If you see significant variances in any of your key metrics pre/post launch, let your designer and webmaster know immediately. The new site might be experiencing browser/device compatibility issues.
- Traffic Sources
- Look for new traffic sources that didn’t exist before (new self referring sources?)
- Look for a sudden spike/drop in direct or referring traffic
- Review your Pages report, is the reported page names what you would expect to see?
- Setup a report on your 404 page and have it emailed to you/your webmaster on a daily basis
- Review your reports on any internal (on-site) campaigns
- Goals, e-commerce numbers look ok?
- In our Analytics Reporting Framework, step #6 was about “automation” and automation comes very handy here
- Set up Auto Alerts (intelligence) on all vital metrics
- Look for abnormalities in your default alerts
- Do take a minute to add an annotation when the site goes live and include a meaningful description of major changes (page names, goals, etc.). Trust me, the person who comes after your will love you for helping them making sense of all these changes (when they come back few months down the road and no one is around to tell him what happened that day)
- It’s not uncommon that site migrations have an impact on ranking and organic traffic. The idea here is to be aware of the changes and communicate findings with your SEO team so they can monitor and update as needed. Look for the Organic Traffic Report and drill down when you see issues.
So there you have it. Preparing yourself before updating your website will lead to less headache in the long run. By following these suggestions, your site will not only have that fresh new look you develop, but also have the functionality for ease-of-use for visitors and the ability to track the necessary data for you.
PS. Proper planning for a site migration includes SEO considerations and PPC considerations, content and many technical aspects but that’s something I’ll leave for another time (and probably to someone else)!