What is a Google Analytics Audit? (And what do marketers often get wrong about it?)

What is a Google Analytics Audit? (And what do marketers often get wrong about it?)
Google Analytics audit is the process of reviewing your GA configuration against a list of checks designed to spot any accuracy issues, organisation concerns, and missed opportunities. This post outlines what to expect from a quality audit and how to make the most of it to support your business growth.
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More and more marketing teams mistrust their data. In fact, 34% of CMOs don’t fully trust their marketing data. The problem? Marketing departments need to increasingly show the impact and ROI of their campaigns. Yet, having unreliable data makes strategic decision-making extremely difficult.

The first step to solving this issue and rebuilding trust in your analytics is to perform an audit. An audit should check your analytics for everything from configuration to data accuracy. The outcome you’re looking for is that your sales and marketing team’s trust in your web analytics is restored. They can then use it to build on existing sales momentum or try new tactics to instigate growth.

However, if you’ve never commissioned a Google Analytics audit before then it can be tricky to know what to expect. That’s where I want to help you with this article. This is not another checklist article on how to do an audit (although I do recommend some good resources on that later on!). Instead, this is aimed towards marketing managers and business leaders to better understand what to expect from an audit – whether it’s commissioned in-house or from an agency.

I set up Business Ahead to help well-established brands make their web analytics useful so they can make data-driven sales and marketing decisions. We follow our tried and tested framework for auditing Google Analytics. We then support organisations by implementing Google Analytics governance to increase overall confidence in data, leading to higher productivity and increased online profitability.. 

So without further ado, let’s find out what a Google Analytics audit is and what you can expect.

On the 16th of March 2022, Google announced that it would stop processing data in Universal Analytics from July 1st 2023 and Universal Analytics 360 from October 1st 2023.

If you need help transitioning from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, then please get in touch.

In this post…

What is a Google Analytics audit?

A Google Analytics audit is a process of reviewing a website’s Google Analytics setup and configuration. An audit checks the data accuracy, relevance, and organisation of web analytics. 

Auditing a company’s Google Analytics account should ideally be conducted by a specialist. One mistake I’ve often seen is managers giving the task to a junior employee or a web developer. This is a symptom of a wider issue of web analytics being treated as an afterthought. Don’t underestimate the role a solid data strategy has in making Google Analytics actually usable by marketing teams.

If you’re a smaller business with fewer resources and fewer data inputs, then having an audit completed internally might work. If this describes you, then I’ve compiled some useful resources for you below. 

Recommended Google Analytics Audit Resources:

  • The Definitive Guide to Google Analytics 4
    Learn how to set up Google Analytics 4 from scratch from this comprehensive guide by CXL. 
  • A Manager’s Guide to Google Analytics 4
    This article focuses on answering the questions many managers face about the new Google Analytics 4 and the transition to the new platform, rather than going into the detailed technicalities of the tool.
  • The Ultimate Google Analytics Audit Checklist (Universal Analytics)
    An exhaustive list of items you should check to make sure your Google Analytics data is trustworthy. Note that you’ll need to know how to check each item and what to do about fixing any issues. Also, be aware that this checklist is for Universal Analytics – the version that is Google is discontinuing in 2023, although many items are relevant for both versions.
  • Google Analytics Audit Checklist: A DIY Health Check (Universal Analytics)
    If you’d like a list with more guidance and explanations as to what exactly to look out for with each check, this checklist is for you. Like the one above, this health check focuses on Universal Analytics.

Google Analytics audit vs. brand new Google Analytics 4 installation

You may be wondering what your course of action should be with regards to auditing your account after Google announced that it will discontinue Universal Analytics after July 2023. 

If you’re setting up a brand new Google Analytics 4 account from scratch, you may not need to audit your Universal Analytics account. Because it’s a completely new data measurement system, it makes sense to rethink how you collect and organise your web analytics data.

The right course of action will vary on a case-by-case basis and will mostly depend on your current web analytics maturity. Below are some scenarios to consider.

People working at a company office

For companies that already use web analytics but want to review the accuracy of the data, you can audit your existing data and export it to CSV or BigQuery to use as a backup. This post will help you make sure all important considerations are covered. You can use Data Studio to visualise the data and make it more user friendly. Then, set up Google Analytics 4 separately and start using it going forward. Your Google Analytics 4 can build on some of the tracking points you already have set up in Universal Analytics but be sure to adjust it to fit with the new measurement system. With your Universal Analytics data backed up, you get continuity of your measurement.

For companies that have not been using Google Analytics to a great extent, focusing purely on configuring Google Analytics 4 makes more sense. The sections of this article will help you make sure you consider all the areas you should pay attention to.

If you already have Google Analytics 4 set up but want to make sure your data is accurate and complete, following the steps in this post will highlight which areas to consider in the process.

When to do a Google Analytics audit?

There are several occasions where an inspection of your web analytics could be useful. These include:

  • Before launching a new website. Avoid the mistake of launching first and figuring out how to measure metrics afterwards. An audit can ensure you have the right measurement plan in place for your strategic business goals when you launch your new website.
  • After making changes to your website. Auditing your website after there’s been updates and changes can ensure your data collection remains intact and uninterrupted. You’ve updated one of your key landing pages by adding a video and changing button designs? Make sure you’re able to see how these changes impact your ROI.
  • When you’re planning to increase your marketing budget.  Avoid scaling your marketing based on gut instinct or incorrect data. Audit your data first to make sure your investment decisions are sound.
  • When discrepancies are identified between analytics and sales tools. You should be able to conclusively explain any discrepancies over 5%. One mistake I see marketers make when discrepancies arise is to keep introducing new web analytics tools without having one properly set up. This doesn’t resolve the underlying issue and makes everyone’s work more tiresome: now they have more tools to monitor and maintain. I always advocate having as few tools as possible to perform the tasks you need to do.
  • Regularly. Whilst the above points are when something has happened or is about to happen, I also recommend regularly auditing your Google Analytics at least every year. Don’t make the mistake of setting up web analytics measurements and not checking them regularly. Repeated audits can be shorter and are part of a maintenance plan, outlined in the Google Analytics governance document. One idea might be to have weekly, monthly and quarterly checks to ensure your data is working. I like to share a governance plan with my clients so they know exactly what to check and how often. 

How will a Google Analytics audit help your business?

Having regular inspections can have various benefits for organisations. These include:

  • Aligned KPIs. Regularly auditing your analytics ensures you’re tracking metrics that are aligned with your overall business goals.
  • Increased trust in data. Verifying that data sources are reliable ensures that sales and marketing teams can trust the data from Google Analytics.
  • Identifying new opportunities for insight. An audit provides the opportunity to take a step back and take a look at your processes from a new perspective. This often leads to finding new opportunities.
  • Improved efficiency.  An audit highlights areas in your data that need fixing or optimising. Once you fix issues, analysis may become quicker and more straightforward. It could also become easier to onboard new staff.
  • Promoting a data-driven mindset. Regularly auditing your analytics fosters a process-driven way of thinking within your marketing team. This in turn inspires a new way of data-driven thinking and problem-solving.

How to ensure your Google Analytics audit highlights business threats and opportunities?

If you want to get the most out of your Google Analytics audit then don’t start an audit without understanding the business context. If you’re not clear on what KPIs or objectives your data are trying to measure then you won’t be able to evaluate the tool effectively.

To make sure your audit has the maximum impact, consider exactly what you’re trying to measure and achieve. Go into detail as to which metrics will be your primary KPIs and which ones will support overall measurement. In the discovery, review the existing and desired user journeys and how enhanced data could improve your performance.

Auditors reviewing analytics data

The specific measurement KPIs and metrics should be logged in a measurement plan at the beginning of the audit.

Once the person performing the audit is clear on these objectives, it’s possible to outline the plan of action for using Google Analytics to measure website value and to spot optimisation opportunities.

What are the key components of an effective Google Analytics audit? 

A Google Analytics checklist is something that every web analytics implementation specialist has in their arsenal. It usually evolves as they work with more and more clients to make sure all is checked. Naturally, more experienced analysts will have a more refined list of checks.

After performing dozens of audits for UK and international businesses, here are the sections I always include to make sure data is relevant, complete and organised. My focus is not only on technical configuration but also on helping my clients become data-driven. I feel that dividing recommendations this way makes them more business-focused and actionable. It’s easier for business stakeholders to connect tracking actions to potential business outcomes.

Another important element of a Google Analytics audit report to me is providing specific actions to resolve issues. Too many audits merely check if a tracking point is implemented. These reports don’t offer advice on the best way to improve configuration. But this is exactly what makes a Google Analytics audit report truly actionable.

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So now, let’s jump into the specific sections you should expect your audit to have.

Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 transition recommendations

As mentioned before, Google announced it will discontinue Universal Analytics from July 2023. Therefore, businesses will need to make the switch to the new Google Analytics 4 if they wish to continue using Google’s data platform. 

If the audit is conducted on Universal Analytics, it should provide actionable recommendations to help your business transition. Here are some things the audit should include:

  • Ensuring account structure is correct
  • Google Analytics 4 set up using Google Tag Manager
  • Replicating and building on Universal Analytics goals in Google Analytics 4
  • Creating event and parameter structures in Google Analytics 4
  • Migration of eCommerce data collection (if applicable) 

Google Analytics 4 has a steep learning curve. Therefore, a business must think about the internal skill level and resources for implementation. If internal resources are not sufficient, then a company may consider using external consultants to help make the transition smoother.

Data reliability

Data reliability covers various aspects of Google Analytics set up for your business to assess the trustworthiness of your top-level data. This relates to checking that all traffic is tracked on all pages – so you can trust metrics such as Users and Page Views in your Google Analytics reports. These are the key metrics that allow you to measure overall website performance in terms of traffic.

Checks within this section will spot issues like:

  • Spam traffic
  • Missing pages
  • Traffic duplication issues

Security & privacy

The Security & Privacy section tests how well you perform against keeping your data secure from third parties and how well you exclude any Personally Identifiable Information that could result in customer data breaches and fines. Please note that if you’re looking for specific legal advice on any of these matters, then please refer to a legal advisor. 

The checks performed in this section should include: 

  • Checking if there is any PII data stored in your GA, 
  • Checking cookie management, 
  • Checking how well you manage access to your web analytics data, 
  • Checking your adherence to Google’s privacy settings and government privacy laws.

User journey tracking

The user journey section of an audit should focus on how well you’re tracking user interactions on your website. Using this tracked data will help you be able to map out how your users navigate your website and complete important actions.

You need a consistent naming structure and a plan around user interactions, like page views, clicks, scrolls and form submissions so that you can visualise funnels and find out which pages contributed the most to achieving your goals. An audit should identify how to name your website elements and what additional code to include. Then, it should outline how to modify any data coming into Google Analytics so that reports are meaningful, clear and not fragmented.

Good user journey tracking is crucial for driving insight about where your users are experiencing friction in your website and where there could be opportunities for increasing conversions. 

Ecommerce tracking

This part of a Google Analytics audit is relevant for companies with an eCommerce feature on their website. 

eCommerce tracking is not only about optimising the checkout experience but also the entire user journey: from when a user lands on your website, to what content they consume, to whether they complete their purchase. You can measure how well different website sections contribute to sales, e.g. different types of lists or promotional banners. It also covers how accurate and complete your tracking is and what steps you need to take to improve it.

Two women browsing through an online store

Audience & attribution

The audience attribution section should cover how well you’re capturing user information relating to their demographics and even psychographics – as new ways can be identified to categorise your users based on how they interact with your content. Once implemented, this information can become the basis for how you segment your audiences. With this knowledge, you know what content to invest in and it can help you take the first steps towards personalising the website experience.

This section should also evaluate how well you’re able to track your traffic back to specific campaigns and marketing activities. This is important for making budget decisions so that you invest in your top-performing channels.

With correct attribution tracking, you can also see which audiences are responding to your different marketing campaigns the most – and you can confirm your market fit. In addition, this information is very valuable when it comes to retargeting campaigns, email campaigns or personalising and optimising your website.

The checks in this section should include:

  • Campaign tracking evaluation
  • CRM integration opportunities
  • User data collection opportunities

Ease of analysis

The ease of analysis area should focus on how well your Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager accounts are configured to make the job of a web analyst easier. This has a number of benefits:

  • It saves time as information is easier to access and quicker to spot, 
  • More of your team can dig into the data with less training because the information is presented in a more meaningful way, with little need for external referencing, 
  • It’s easier and less time-consuming for you to onboard new analysts, agencies and employees that need the data, 
  • Data is easier and quicker to maintain.

Google Tag Manager audit

Your Google Tag Manager account is a crucial component to ensure you’re collecting and manipulating data efficiently before it hits Google Analytics. This section should list checks and actions to:

  • Check that existing tags work as expected
  • Recommend additional elements where relevant
  • Use tag libraries where possible
  • Consolidate tags
  • Use meaningful naming conventions

Performance monitoring dashboard plan

This is a nice to have element, but not an essential part of an audit. Planning out a performance monitoring dashboard makes sure that the specialist performing the audit identifies the key metrics and how they translate to what is important to that business. 

A dashboard is a great tool to make data available to a range of stakeholders at any point in time. It allows you to monitor performance over time so that you know if you’re moving towards achieving your goals.

I usually recommend building a dashboard in Data Studio that uses Google Analytics data together with other data sources. These can include additional sales data, advertising spend and social media stats.  The dashboard should help answer the questions like: 

  • What are the traffic trends over time? 
  • What are the sales and/or lead generation trends over time? What is its real or estimated value to the business? 
  • What is the overall impact of different marketing channels and campaigns? 
  • Which pages and user interactions are contributing to sales the most?
  • What is the regional breakdown of sales and/or lead generation?

The specific questions and elements of the dashboard should depend on your business and planning the dashboard when designing the measurement plan helps to make sure your Google Analytics consultant keeps the wider business and individual stakeholder interests in mind during the process.

A Google Analytics specialist will also be able to advise on the best way to connect your various data sources into Data Studio. Big Query could be the right option for you as a way to store data before it is visualised.

Plan of action

This final component is unfortunately omitted far too often, but it’s an essential part of making the audit actionable. 

The idea is that all action points from the report are prioritised and estimated according to the effort and resources involved. From that, your consultant should build a timeline of actions to achieve the most optimal results.

With the highest priority actions resolved first, you’ll know that you will be in the best position to achieve your results and help your team become more data-driven.

Additional considerations that will make your Google Analytics audit more actionable

The whole point of a Google Analytics audit is for it to be an actionable document that a specialist can go through and implement changes. However, as I mentioned before, it’s important that the document also ties in with your business strategy as a whole.

Two men discussing about an analytics audit

This is where the Google Analytics audit that I have outlined above may differ from others. At Business Ahead we consider the audit in the context of looking at the wider business strategy from the start. Our audit always takes the business’s perspective of why we’re auditing and checking what we are. This makes it as actionable as possible.

Here are some of the elements we take into account:

  • How do customers currently interact with the website and other touchpoints? How do we expect them to do it in the future?
  • What do the naming conventions look like?
  • What processes are going to be built beyond the initial implementation?
  • How is it going to scale? 
  • What are the long term plans for the website?
  • How will data be analysed and by who? 

How to implement your Google Analytics audit effectively?

The biggest mistake I often see is once an audit is finished, the company doesn’t implement the actions.

Often the reason for this is because of how the information is presented. Convincing stakeholders of the changes needed and investing to make those changes can be tricky. This is why it’s crucial to focus on the business benefits an audit will bring.

A great way of visualising how and when changes from the audit will be implemented is to have a clear roadmap which should be a part of your finished audit document.

How to ensure a Google Analytics audit helps your team become more data-driven?

Beyond taking actions outlined in the audit roadmap, I also see a lot of benefits in the effective onboarding of your marketing team into your new measurement system as you start to implement the actions from the audit.

That’s why when I work with clients, I complement the audit with a set of additional activities. The following activities create a great foundation for your team to get started with data analysis and finding insights that help you make the right decisions to support your business goals:

  • Performing a Google Analytics audit,
  • Logging all the existing and desired configuration in a Google Analytics governance document,
  • Fixing any critical data accuracy issues,
  • Ensuring KPIs are tracked,
  • Creating a performance monitoring dashboard,
  • Configuring the GA4 layout and setting up the most vital explorations,
  • Doing a workshop for the marketing team to teach them GA4 terminology and how to navigate the tool alongside the Google Analytics governance document,
  • Planning out ongoing and regular processes and ownership related to maintaining and using the data.

The goal is to not only fix and improve the data, but also to show your team how to use it to generate insight and increase your online profitability.

An audit should be the start of a wider journey towards becoming data-driven. To help you on your way, sign up for our weekly newsletter and learn more about the web analytics tips and strategies for improving how you use Google Analytics in your organisation. Click the button below to start your data-driven journey.

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