Google Analytics is a powerful tool. But like all powerful tools, it needs to used in the most appropriate manner. To get the most useful and accurate data possible from Google Analytics, every account must have these three profiles, at a minimum:
Why do you need three profiles? Because of how Google Analytics filters work. Google Analytics does not store raw data about your website traffic, unlike old-fashioned log file analyzers. By the time data is displayed in your Google Analytics account, it has gone through a multi-step process:
- The Google Analytics tracking code captures visitor data and sends it to Google Analytics’ Servers.
- Google Analytics’ servers compile the visitor data from your site.
- About every three hours, Google Analytics processes your data using your settings. Site search keywords are captured, filters applied, conversions counted, and so on.
- Once the data is processed, it’s stored so you can access it through your Google Analytics account.
As soon as you apply filter to a profile, that filter immediately changes what data is shown in your Google Analytics profiles – data that you can never get back. Thus, filters must be TESTED thoroughly before applying them to your Reporting profile.
To avoid such potential issues with a new filter, there are three primary profiles that you’ll need when using Google Analytics.
This profile does exactly what you think it would, it houses all of the data for your website with no filtering. There’s no goals, no filters, no custom reports, nothing – except maybe site search is turned on. The purpose of this profile is to provide a fail safe in case any of your other profiles become corrupted. If you lose all your other data, you’ll still be able to pull reports from this profile. In some cases, you might regularly pull reports from this to view data that’s filtered from the other profiles.
Simply set up a profile, name it All Data, and never add filters or change any settings.
With Filters: Test
This is the profile where you’ll test all settings changes, new filters, and new goals to ensure that data won’t become lost or corrupted.
Before applying goals, filters, or anything else to your other profiles, test them here first. You can watch the data for several days and see how your reports are impacted. If you’re in a hurry, use the Real-Time tab in Google Analytics to see your changes in action immediately. Once you’re sure that everything is working as it should, apply the same setting to the With Filters: Production profile.
With Filters: Reporting
This is the official profile – data from here should be considered the most accurate and should the basis for business insights and decisions. This is where all tested filters are applied, goals and custom reports are set up, and site search is enabled.
Once you have the Reporting profile set up, you’ll generally want to leave it alone unless there’s a compelling reason to add/change any filters or settings. If you’re going to apply new settings or filters, or tweak existing ones, always run them on the Test Profile first.