The ROI Revolution Blog

6 Tools You Can Use to Troubleshoot Google Analytics Yourself

April 17, 2009

It’s nice to be able to find the tools you need when you need them. It’s true for farmers and it’s true for web analysts. Even if you aren’t a web analyst, you have access to a lot of great tools on the web that can help you figure out if Google Analytics is working properly on your site. While my last article focused on tools you can use to get the most out of the reports in Google Analytics, this article is more for those of you that want to make sure that the data is right before it even gets there.

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Bury your Google Analytics problems.

Read on for a list of 6 tools that you can use to find out for yourself what’s going on with Google Analytics.

#1. Firefox

First and foremost, I need to mention Firefox. While it is important to test your Google Analytics implementation across multiple browsers, Firefox offers the most flexibility when it comes to viewing source code and using helpful add-ons. Since some of the other tools I’ll talk about are Firefox add-ons, I thought I should mention it first. For basic debugging, you can’t beat it.

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A fox on fire.

To give you a quick example, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the source code viewer for both Firefox and IE7. Keep in mind that the search feature (or Find) is much better for Firefox as well:

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Left: Firefox – Right:The Big Ugly (IE).

So even just finding the Google Analytics code is easier in Firefox. I’d say that’s a major plus.

Of course, the majority of Internet users still use Internet Explorer and there is a sizable Mac community, so I’ll be sure to mention if there are alternatives to the below tools that you can use in IE and other browsers.

#2. Firebug (and Firebug Lite)

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A bug on fire.

Firebug is a great all-around tool that you can use to do many things, from viewing and changing source code to seeing the cookies for any given site (see #3). With it, you can:

  • Easily see all scripts that the page is loading (like ga.js or urchin.js).
  • View all links, forms, and downloads that contain custom pageviews or event tracking.
  • Test the Google Analytics linking functions by changing the source code on the page.
  • View the DOM and all objects that you can use to your advantage when installing Google Analytics.
  • View Cookies with the help of Firecookie (#3), and use the Net tab to get a feel for page load times.

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Firebug appears as a little bug icon in your status bar. You can see the various tabs that you can use to debug websites on the fly.

I’m sure I’m missing a few things here, but Firebug is really, really useful – here’s a look at some of the functionality it gives you:

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See how Google Analytics cookies change.

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Check event and onclick code and change it on the fly.

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Check out existing stylesheets and change them in real time

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Make sure the right scripts are loading, and there aren’t any JS errors.

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Check the DOM to make sure your customizations are working properly.

You can even use the Net tab to see how any Google Analytics code you have on the page is affecting your load times.

For those of you who need to use the same functionality in Internet Explorer or another browser, don’t fret! There’s always Firebug Lite, a bookmarklet that lets you use Firebug in other browsers (although it’s a little slower).

#3. Firecookie (and Cookie Viewers in general)

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Continuing the tradition of tools that are on fire, Firecookie comes in as the next entry on our list, although really you could substitute it with any decent cookie viewer. Firecookie (and its cousins) allow you to view, add, delete, and change all cookies (specifically Google Analytics and Google Website Optimizer cookies) for the domain of the page you are viewing.

The Google Analytics cookies are named: __utma, __utmb, __utmc, __utmz, __utmv
The Google Website Optimizer cookies are named: __utmx, __utmxx

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Firecookie in action on the ROI Revolution home page.

Again, any reasonable cookie viewer will do the job, and there are plenty available for other browsers.

#4/5. Live HTTP Headers (HTTP Watch Basic for IE)

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This tool may seem a little less obvious to you if you haven’t done a lot of work with troubleshooting Google Analytics, but really it’s the most important tool out there for making sure ecommerce, event tracking, custom pageviews, and even the basic Google Analytics code are working properly. Simply set up the tool to look for requests to the _utm.gif, and you’re well on your way to seeing all of the data that’s being sent off to Google Analytics.

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Step 1: Configure the tool to look for Google Analytics ‘hits’.

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An example ‘hit’ the the Google Analytics servers. This means the page is being tracked.

Just like Firecookie, there are lots of substitutes available for both Firefox and other browsers, but one I would like to mention is for Internet Explorer, and is called HTTP Watch Basic. This tool does a very good job of showing you how information is being sent to Google Analytics:

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An example ‘hit’ to the Google Analytics servers in HTTP Watch Basic.

#6. WASP (Web Analytics Solution Profiler)

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I never thought I’d need to make so many things look like they’re on fire in Photoshop.

WASP is a handy little took that allows you to get information about not just Google Analytics, but a host of other analytics solutions that may be running on a given site. You can use it to troubleshoot your own installation, or to see what kind of tools your competitors are using to measure their traffic. A free version is available, and it is all you’ll need in most situations. If you do need a more powerful version, there are plenty of paid packages you can buy. It’s a great tool if you’re troubleshooting analytics installations often:

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The WASP sidebar in action.

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The WASP statusbar.

I’m sure I’ve left some other great tools off this list, so if you know of some that I’ve forgotten, please let us know about them by leaving a comment!

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