Typically when someone decides to use Google Analytics on their website they grab the code and paste it on the site without thinking too much about what they’re doing. Many of those who are new (and even some not so new) to Google Analytics don’t understand how site structure will affect Google Analytics. If you are thinking about installing Google Analytics or if things aren’t quite working like you expected, consider mapping out your site architecture to see where you can simplify things before you get in too deep.

If you can help it, one domain will make the Google Analytics setup and tracking much easier. By increasing the number of domains, you will complicate the tracking process. Because Google Analytics uses first party cookies, each time your visitor travels to another domain, you have to pass along all the information about who they are and where they came from. Doing this again and again could potentially result in a loss of data and your referral information might not make it to the final destination. That means that if you are running paid advertising campaigns you won’t be able to attribute the sale or conversion to its correct source, which might make it look like you’re losing money when actually your paid campaigns are very profitable. By simplifying the number of domains on your site you will not only save yourself some headaches with the Google Analytics Tracking Code, but typically it will make for a much better user experience since the user will know where they are at all times.

I’ve given subdomains its own category because tracking them with Google Analytics can be much less painful than tracking separate domains. Let’s assume your site has one domain and two subdomains: my.widgets.com and shop.widgets.com. A simple code modification will make the tracking seamless. But add in a few other domains to the equation and you begin to see a web of confusing data. Stick to subdomains instead of additional domains whenever possible. This not only makes the tracking easier, but it’s much better for SEO and quality score to have a single domain to drive traffic to.

In-house applications vs. 3rd party applications:
If you have the option always choose applications that give you the most control. Using 3rd party applications, shopping carts specifically, will cause additional complications with Google Analytics tracking. Typically 3rd party shopping carts are on another domain and they don’t allow you to paste your own javascript code on the shopping cart pages. When someone goes from your domain to the 3rd party’s domain there’s no way to pass along the visitors information without Google Analytics code on the pages. Even if you use the utm_nooverride=1 method to maintain the referral information, there’s still the issue of whether you will be able to get the transaction level variables on your domain’s receipt page in order to pass the information into Google Analytics.

Not all 3rd party applications are bad. There are 3rd party applications that have made efforts to integrate with Google Analytics, so you can consider using an application with a plug-in for your tracking needs. There are also customizable shopping carts and CMS’ that will allow you to track Google Analytics effectively.

When it comes to having a successful Google Analytics setup, the simpler your site architecture is the better. Draw out your site’s architecture on paper before installing Google Analytics. Is there anything you can simplify? Making all the necessary changes up front will save you a lot of time in the long run.