First in a series of 3 posts on Google Analytics Setup Best Practices.

Google Analytics is something we sometimes take for granted, but in reality sometimes accounts with years of data have to be abandoned simply because they were not set up properly. Hopefully this series will help people understand some of the best practices for setting up Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is sometimes seen as a utility, in that it's always there, and everyone knows that they need it, or some kind of analytics, but few people know how it actually works.

It's generally OK not to know a lot about Google Analytics, since you don't necessarily need to know how to customize the code or set up complex filters to get helpful information. But if all you're doing is logging in, grabbing the code and throwing it on your site, you could be creating headaches for the future.

Here are some basic best practices for implementing Google Analytics on the account side that can help make sure your campaign is ready to collect data in the long run, and won't need to be abandoned and relaunched later to fix unintended problems.

Google Analytics Account Structure Setup

every website
have it's
own account
The first - and by far most important - account setup tip for Google Analytics is to use a "best practices" account structure.

Put simply, in general every website should have it's own account.

You should never be tracking your business and personal websites in the same account, or track your website in the same account as someone else's website. When setting up tracking for a new site, set up a new account, and not a new profile.

Maintaining Google Analytics account exclusivity is critical on the agency side, where many GA accounts may be accessed by one person or team. If one of those clients demands administrative access to their account so they can add or remove users and filters, then they will have access to every other site in the account, which could be a potential liability situation if they gain access to a competitors' data through you.

In addition, sometimes clients decide to move on or take their accounts in-house. When this happens, their Google Analytics account cannot go with them, since you own the account, and their profile cannot be "unhooked" from your account. This means they would have to abandon their profile and potentially lose years of data if they want to own their own account.

PPC ties cannot be ported easily from an account where each website is set up in a profile. If they decide to start a PPC campaign they will probably want to hook AdWords in with Google Analytics. This can be problematic on an account with multiple profiles for different websites.

Finally, some clients like to expand their knowledge over time, and may want to add different tracking tools that need new profiles. Maybe they need one profile to exclude staff, one profile for organic traffic only, one profile for PPC only, one profile for each key geographic area, and a few profiles for franchises. If you have a few clients like this, what are you going to tell them when your account reaches its profile limit and you can't add any more?

How To Set Up a Google Analytics Account

1. Always make sure that every website you set up on Google Analytics is set up as a new Account, and not a new Profile.

2. Create a Google Account (or use an existing one) to create the new Analytics account.

3. Set yourself, or whoever will be managing the account on your end, up as an Administrator on the account. This will allow you to access and administrate everything while maintaining account exclusivity for your clients. This will also allow the account to be "unhooked" later, allowing the client to leave without losing all their historical data.

So in the end, your account structure between yourself and your sites/clients should look something like this:

Google Analytics Client Account Setup

Read the whole series:
#1 How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later
#2 Google Analytics Profile Architecture for Dummies
#3 Google Analytics Filter Best Practices

Helen Overland

Vice President at Search Engine People, helping clients with Conversion Optimization, Analytics, and On-Page SEO. Online Marketer since June 2000, Internet geek since 1994. Follow me on twitter at @semlady to see what I'm reading now.

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14 Responses to “How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later”

  1. Eden says:

    So, it looks like I've set mine up incorrectly. I know how to set up a new account but how do I transfer "ownership"?

    Also, having all of the comments on twitter really decreases the utility of the blog…unless they're just reference links and not actually comments…

    • Helen Overland says:

      Hi Eden,

      If you set up multiple sites as profiles in one account, you can create new accounts and update the code on each website. Then, you give your Google account administrative access on all the accounts. You should then be able to log into GA and see all your accounts in the one login.

      The drawback to this is that the new accounts will not contain the historical data. However it can be easier to manage the sites over the long run when they are seperated, and you can also keep the old account to be able to log in for the historical data – it just won't be consolidated with the new account data.

      Ultimately, it's your call to make whether to move the accounts over, but this is definitely something to consider the next time you go to set up a new site on Google Analytics.

      For the comments on the blog – we'll look into it, thanks.

  2. Thanks for the reminders. That's pretty much what I've been doing.

  3. […] 1. How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later by Helen Overland — Having a Google Analytics account in the first place is a huge step in the right direction, but I love this overview of how to set up your account.  It will seriously help you make sure that you set your goals ahead of time and make sure you don't end up confused.  I really strongly recommend this article if you're considering using Google Analytics (and you should be) to measure campaigns or your work. […]

  4. […] How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later by Helen Overland — Having a Google Analytics account in the first place is a huge step in […]

  5. Paul says:

    How do you "unhook" a client account set up this way?

  6. […] the whole series: #1 How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later #2 Google Analytics Profile Architecture for […]

  7. […] the whole series: #1 How to Set Up Your Google Analytics Account Structure to Avoid Headaches Later #2 Google Analytics Profile Architecture for Dummies #3 Google Analytics Filter Best […]

  8. Kelvin Jones says:

    Quite frankly Google really messed this one up…. you should be able to add sites under one account then just let users/clients have administrator rights to their own sites and not let administrators see all sites. Even a mid teir would help something like 'power user' where they can set goals, filters and the likes. 'Admin' is for the webmaster, 'Power User' for the clients web team and 'User' for third-parties and general staff that need the data only.

  9. Tim Schneider says:

    Have to disagree with the idea here.

    In our experience, it is best to:

    1.) Have the client create a generic gmail account for the company. This way, there is nothing tied to personal accounts.

    2.) Consultant/Agency should also have a generic account

    3.) Provide the client with instructions on how to create a GA account and how to add admin access.

    This set up has a number of benefits:

    1.) Consultant will not run out of accounts in GA at 50 (happened to us) and can access set up and all admin features of clientA account

    2.) Each client now has 50 accounts plus all the profiles under each account to work with.

    3.) Client has control of GA access. Can stop consultant A from seeing data and add consultant B at any time.

    4.) With no GA accounts tied to personal accounts, risk of losing access to data when someone leaves (happened to us) is mitigated.

  10. Helen says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your comment- we're saying exactly the same thing… set up a new GA account for every new client, and you silo the accounts from one another. You don't need to make the new client account tied to your personal accounts – just give admin access to the person generating the analysis or reports for your clients.

    BTW – if you set up every new client as a new GA account, you won't get capped out at 50 new accounts, because you'll be creating them as separate accounts, and just tying them together with admin access in your one "reporting" account.

    Paul – to "unhook" an account, simply remove their GA access as a "User" or an "Administrator". Now only you can access their account, and they can't. Or if you are handing the account to someone else, they simply remove you as a user – now you can't access their accounts – the account is "unhooked" from you.

    • Tim Schneider says:

      I think I get where you're going – but the diagram was confusing.

      In my example, is limited to 50 accounts under GA, which is why we never create the account in GA. The client creates the account and adds as admin.

      I picture it with the client account on top, with 'Your account' added to each one as admin.

  11. Mitch says:

    Good tutorial and convinced me to start seperate GA accounts, i guess the only reason that someone would not want to have this recommended setup is because they want to keep a stronghold on the client, almost to ransom. However i think the pros of this setup outweigh the cons. Cheers.