Google Analytics is one of the best tools available for the modern digital marketer--and it helps that it's absolutely free to set up and use. Google's analytics platform has already done wonders to help business owners better understand their position on the web and how to improve their inbound traffic over time.

Still, setting up an Analytics account and embedding a tracking script into your website isn't enough to realize the full benefits of the platform. There are several all-too-common mistakes that prevent business owners from collecting data accurately, interpreting data correctly, and implementing effective changes as a response to that interpretation.

Mistake 1: Not Using (or Checking Google Analytics)

The biggest mistake you can make with Google Analytics is not taking advantage of it. Even if you have the tracking code installed on your website, if you aren't logging in regularly to scope out fluctuations in your data, you might as well not be using the platform at all.

It's not necessary to log in on a daily basis, especially since you'll want to observe broad trends instead of short-term data fluctuations (see mistake 6 below), but you should log in at least once a week to see what has changed and what has remained consistent, especially if you're in the middle of a major campaign.

Think of Analytics as an ever-changing illustration of the current scope of your online presence. Not checking that illustration regularly is like driving a car with a blindfold on. Unless you have a good idea about what's going on around you, you could be wasting time heading down the wrong direction or worse, setting yourself up for a crash.

Mistake 2: Only Looking at One Report

Of course, it's also a mistake to log in and constantly check only one section of the platform. Many inexperienced users rely on one familiar metric in order to chart their running progress; this isn't necessarily a bad strategy to start out with, since you'll be comparing apples to apples in a way that you can easily understand. But if you're relying on this strategy six months in to your inbound marketing campaign, you'll only be getting a fraction of the total picture.

For example, let's say you've been focusing on an acquisition report, and you've been noticing that your organic visits have been growing steadily, month over month, for the past six months. This is generally a sign of good progress for your SEO campaign; after all, you're getting a greater volume of visitors on a consistent basis. However, your behavior reports might indicate that all your inbound traffic suffers from a high bounce rate, and your conversion rates are painfully low. If this is the case, your increased traffic numbers don't really matter, since none of your visitors are sticking around long enough to prove valuable to your business. It pays to study the full scope of your online presence.

Mistake 3: Not Filtering Your Internal IP Addresses

By default, Google Analytics reports on all traffic coming to your site, which could include your own internal team. If you have a team of developers, web testers, and salespeople regularly visiting your site through various channels, you could be reporting overinflated numbers based on those visits.

In order to screen out these internal visits, you have to set up filters to block them. To do this, head to the Admin tab of your chosen profile, and click on "Filters," which you can find in the right-hand column. From there, click the red "New Filter" button, and name your filter. Use a predefined filter to "Exclude" "traffic from the IP addresses", and then add the IP address, IP addresses, or root IP address in question. Once added, the filter can be modified or removed, so if you make any errors, they can be corrected.

You can also set up filters for other data sources you don't wish to be included in your metrics. This can be invaluable in ensuring that your data is as accurate as possible.

Mistake 4: Comparing Incompatible Pieces of Data

Comparing apples to apples is essential to measure an objective change. As a crude example, you can't compare total site visits from one month to the bounce rate from another month and use those numbers to project a gain or loss in overall visibility. They are two different metrics that have no direct bearing on one another.

Few webmasters would make the mistake of comparing two radically different pieces of data, but the dangers of false comparisons lurk in more subtle places. For example, an e-commerce site might compare total conversions in January to total conversions in December and notice a substantial drop. Under ordinary conditions, a drop in conversions could be the result of a shift in demographics, a drop in traffic, or a lack of compelling sales copy, but since there is a spike in online purchases in December due to the holiday shopping season, December cannot be directly compared to January in such a way. In this case, it would be better to compare December 2014 to December 2013.

Be sure to temper your expectation in data comparisons, and account for any invisible factors that could render the comparison unproductive or irrational.

Mistake 5: Not Taking Advantage of Goals

The goal system is one of the most useful features of the Analytics platform, and if you aren't taking advantage of it, you're missing one of the most pivotal pieces of information about the success of your online presence: your return on investment (ROI). Through the goal system, you'll be able to measure each conversion that occurs on your website and assign a dollar value to each type of conversion (for example, the purchase of a $30 product would be $30, but someone filling out an information form could only be $3). Then, within the Goals section, you'll be able to determine a quantifiable amount of revenue your online efforts are bringing in, and compare that against the amount of money you're spending to increase that traffic.

You can set up goals in the Admin tab, under "Goals" in the right-hand column.

Mistake 6: Focusing on Fluctuations Instead of Trends

Your Analytics data is going to be somewhat unpredictable. There will be spikes in web visitor volume based on days of the week, the weather, recent events, and a myriad of other possible interfering factors. As a result, you can't look at any individual data spikes (positive or negative) as an indication of your success or failure. Google Analytics data must be viewed in terms of overall trends--we're talking months' worth of data measured against each other--if you're going to form any worthwhile conclusions.

These common mistakes can damage your attempts to improve your overall web presence, and compromise the very integrity of your Google Analytics profile. While Analytics is a relatively simple platform to get started on, it can take a long time to master, so don't be discouraged if you encounter a few speed bumps along the way.

Once you've ironed out a healthy Analytics setup and a regular routine for using it, you'll be much better positioned to increase your web traffic and objectively measure the results.

Published on: Dec 31, 2014