This is an excerpt of a masterclass presented by Fred Pike, Managing Director and GA/GTM Practice Lead at Northwoods Software. Connect with Fred on LinkedIn and Twitter.
When solving problems with Google Analytics or Tag Manager for your clients, there are a number of tools available that can make your life easier. Some of these tools are already available to you and others can be installed for free right into your Chrome browser.
We spoke to Fred and asked him to share some of his favorite tools and best practices for debugging GA and GTM. With his extensive experience and expertise trailing and testing these tools, you have a number of options that you can install or configure today – saving yourself the effort of researching the almost unlimited options, and allowing you to streamline your processes and upgrade your service to clients.
The developer console can be accessed without using any extensions and gives you access to a lot of raw data that will help you with Analytics debugging. The console can be a little daunting to begin with, but setting up the view and configuration initially will help you to analyze the data.
1. First, open the dev tools by clicking the three dots on the right of the Chrome browser, clicking More Tools and then selecting Developer Tools.
2. Next, Undock the console so that you can have it on a different page to the one you are working on.
3. Make sure that you have Preserve log upon navigation checked in the console settings.
4. In the Info only dropdown, you may want to deselect Errors and Warnings so that the console doesn’t get cluttered. If you have undocked the console and have it on a separate monitor, you’ll probably want to display everything.
5. Use the icon at the top right to clear information from the console. Then, just refresh the webpage to populate the console with data coming in from Google Analytics
6. The network tab will give you the information in the rawest form. If you want to filter down to just data coming in from GA4, enter “collect?v=2” into the search field, or “collect?v=1” for GA3.
While the console gives you access to a lot of useful data, it is very raw and can be difficult to sort through in order to get meaningful insights. These next tools we are going to look at make interpreting some of this data a little easier.
The Copy/Paste feature in GTM is not for debugging as such, but it is one of those tools that will make your life easier when working in GTM, whether you are debugging or otherwise.
1. First, select the item you want to copy and then click Authorize GTM Copy/Paste from the dropdown.
2. Next, you’ll need to specify the account you are using and then click Add to Copy/Paste. You will see the count of items added next to the browser icon. Click on the icon to see what has been copied; you can copy tags, triggers and variables.
3. Finally, go to the container where you want to paste the item and click to Paste.
If the visitor count is static for too long, it’s a signal that you broke something in GTM.
Best Chrome Extensions for GA/GTM Debugging
Although using tools and techniques already at your disposal is the place to start, there are tons of custom-built solutions to help you either improve on your current processes or add new insights and analysis.
There are hundreds of Chrome browser extensions designed for Google Analytics and Tag Manager but Fred has chosen the 6 that he uses most frequently and which can provide the most significant improvements to your debugging processes.
Tag Assistant (by Google)
Google Tag Assistant is a must-have extension for your browser and offers tools that will help you with many aspects of your debugging process.
After you have installed the Tag Assistant on your browser, you will need to enable it. Click the icon in your browser then click Enable. Refresh the page before you start your analysis.
Click to see what tags you have running on your site:
- A red tag shows that there is a problem.
- A green tag shows that it is working OK.
- A blue tag indicates a non-standard implementation. For instance, if you are installing GA through GTM\.
Note that Tag Assistant still doesn’t recognise measurement IDs for GA4.
The Record feature allows you to record all firing tags either on the tab you are working on or across tabs. Just click the Record button at the bottom of the Tag Analysis window to start recording.
Make sure to check the box to Follow recording links across tabs if you want to use this option.
You’ll be able to see that the recording function is active by a little red dot on the extension icon.
When you are done with your session, click the red Stop Recording button and you will see an overview report. Click the blue Show Full Report button to see a detailed report.
The detailed report is split into two different sections; the Tag Assistant Report and the Google Analytics Report.
If you have access to the Google Analytics account that manages the tags for this page, then you can really benefit from the Google Analytics Report tab. On this tab, go to Select Views and choose the ones you’re most interested in. In this example, we’re looking at the Main (Filtered) view and the Raw view from the list.
Navigate to the Flow section by using the left-hand navigation menu Jump to. You will see results displayed under the Main and Raw Views that you selected above.
The Filtered View shows the effects of any filters you have set in your tags. You also get some information about the custom dimensions for that GA hit.
Changing Your Location
Another great thing about recordings is that you can see what happens when you change the location, meaning you can change the country, region, or IP address to see if your filters are still working.
For example, select your externally visible IP address and manually change the numbers. Now, when you go back to look at the views, you can see what happened to the hit in the filtered view.
You can also check specific IP addresses. In the Locations window, select the option Use a specific IP Address and then change the end digits so that you are not using a company specific IP. Run the views again and see if anything is being blocked.
Troubleshoot the issue by going to the filters in your Analytics account. See what you have set up that might be causing the blocks. You can remove any of the filters that you don't need.
The other thing you can do with location, is to enter a specific location to see if traffic is being blocked from specific countries or regions.
Set the country you want to check and go back to the filtered view to see if your hit has been dropped.
To find out some of the other uses of Tag Assistant, access the full webinar by signing up to our Insiders program.
Adswerve Datalayer Inspector+
Charles Farina is a big proponent of using Adswerve Datalayer to see what’s going on behind the scenes in your analytics without having to access your Analytics account.
Amongst other thing, the datalayer inspector is useful to check the following:
- If GA is set up with custom dimensions and outbound links
- If anything is being double-counted
- What they are tracking
- Whether they are tracking essential interactions
Checking the Custom Dimensions
Switch on the datalayer inspector in the Chrome browser and the console data will highlight all the GA information and give it to you in a format that is easier to understand. For example, you will see the UA ID.
Scroll down a little further and you will find the custom dimensions are listed.
To find out some of the other uses of the Adswerve Datalayer, including how to check for duplicates, how to check cross-domain tracking, and how to check marketing tags, see the full webinar.
This browser extension is a quick and simple way to remove the cookies you are tracking on your site. This is useful when you are debugging and setting up your cookie consent module, allowing you to clean out all the cookies and start from scratch.
Click the browser icon and you will see a list of all the cookies. Click Delete to remove them all and then refresh your page.
You can view and remove cookies directly from the console, but with the EditThisCookie plug-in you can find additional information about the cookie just by clicking it.
The other three tools recommended by Fred are the Google Analytics Debugger, GTM/GA Debug, and Link Redirect Trace. These tools will help you to find specific info by displaying the developer tools console information in a more helpful and visual way, help you find specific ecommerce info, and help you check redirects are working correctly.
To look at these tools in more detail, sign up to the Insiders program.
GTM Best Practices
Although these tools can help you to identify and fix issues with your tags, there are some best practices that can serve as an additional safeguard.
1. Custom Alert – It can be easy to accidentally block traffic to your site, for example, with a simple typo in one of your filters. Set a custom alert that will email you if this happens inadvertently.
Set the alert conditions so that you are alerted when traffic drops below a certain level for a particular day. The next day you’ll get an email to tell you this happened so that you can quickly go and fix it.
2. Include Version ID and GTM Container ID as custom dimensions – If something is working for a while and then stops working, you can debug through the custom dimensions site by going back through the versions to identify when something happened and which version it applies to.
Make sure you check the Container ID and the Container Version ID on the list so that they become available as options.
3. Check the real time view – When you have finished working in GTM and have published the container, go and see the real time overview in Analytics to see if the number of visitors is increasing.
Whichever tools or best practices you decide to use, you should get used to integrating them into your processes; not only for solving problems for your clients, but also for prospecting and generating leads from issues that you spot while navigating the web. Make a habit of auditing websites you visit regularly, and you will soon become expert at spotting and diagnosing GA and GTM issues almost without thinking.