Whether you are creating a new analytics implementation or trying to solve a problem with an existing one; testing and debugging is a vital part of the digital analytics process. It can be difficult at times to do this testing using just your analytics tool. Normal traffic to your site can drown out your test data or you may have to wait for the data to become available in your tool. Plus, if there is a problem with your setup you may not see any data in your tool at all.
Fortunately, there are many testing and debugging tools that you can use to work out whether your analytics and conversion tags are working and to help you identify where a problem may lie.
In this post we will show you a three step testing process for your analytics setup with three different types of testing tools.
For this example, we will imagine that we have created a new Google Analytics event tag. This tag has been setup to track Outbound Links. The tag has been setup in Google Tag Manager and we want to make sure it is working properly before we publish it on our site. In order to do this, we follow a three step testing process.
Remember that – even though we are looking at testing a new tag in our example – all the tools in these steps can be used in a similar way to debug an existing tag that is having a problem.
Step 1: Check the page load tag
The first step in our example will be to make sure that our Google Analytics Page View tag is triggering properly. Without this we won’t be able to send our event to Google Analytics. We can find this out quickly by loading our website and checking a simple tool provided by Google, the Google Tag Assistant.
A lot of analytics and online advertising providers, like Google, have their own testing and debugging tools. If you are using one of these providers, then their specific tools can help in testing and debugging your integrations. They are most useful as a quick check to make sure that an advertising pixel or Page View tag is present on the page just like we are doing in our example. Let’s look at the Google Tag Assistant in more detail.
If you are using Google Analytics or Google Ads then the Google Tag Assistant Chrome extension will help you see what Google tags are triggering on your site. The Google Tag Assistant will place itself in the toolbar of your browser. It will show if a Google Page View tag, a Google AdWords Conversion Pixel, a Google Tag Manager container or DoubleClick pixel are triggered each time you load a page in your browser.
If we check the Google Tag Assistant and we do not see the Google Analytics Page View tag, then we know we need to add it in GTM. If we do see the Page View tag then we can move onto step 2.
The Analytics and Advertising providers you use – like Facebook or Twitter – may have their own specific extensions. You can look in the Chrome or Firefox Stores to see if there is one specific to the tool you are using.
Step 2: Test the Tag’s Setup
The next step in our Outbound Links event example is to make sure that Google Tag Manager is triggering our tag at the right moment. To do this we can use the preview mode in Google Tag Manager.
If you are using Google Tag Manager to deploy your tags, then the Google Tag Manager Preview is an excellent and detailed testing tool. By enabling preview mode in GTM you can open your website and a preview box will appear over the bottom of your page.
In the preview box you can see what tags are triggering on each action you take on your website as you browse. For each action you can see why these tags were triggered and why tags you might have expected to trigger did not. You can also see what values are in both the Data Layer and your variables on each website action. Using this you can test problem areas on the live version of your Google Tag Manager container or test new unpublished tags.
For our example we can turn on the Google Tag Manager preview and then load up our website. We can click on an any outbound link and see if our Outbound Links tag triggers properly. If it does not trigger, then we can use the preview window to help debug our tag in Google Tag Manager by looking at why it didn’t trigger. If it triggers successfully then we can move onto Step 3.
If you are using another tag management tool, like Adobe Dynamic Tag Management or Tealium, these will have their own preview mode to help you test and debug.
Step 3: Test that the right data is being sent
The final step in our example would be to use a tag checker to ensure that the event is actually being sent to Google Analytics with all the correct information. We will also make sure that we have not duplicated tags that might be triggering from Google Tag Manager or somewhere else.
For this we use a third-party tool. Provider-specific tools, like Google Tag Assistant, are helpful when you need to quickly check if a page view tag is loading; the tag manager preview modes are vital in getting the setup of your tags and triggers right. However, they do not show you exactly what data is actually being sent from your site to the various analytics and advertising tools you use. Additionally, they will not show you any events that are set up in the site’s code instead of in a tag manager. They will not show all this data in a centralized place or persist the data between page loads.
You can do all this with a third party tool designed to capture the data being sent from your site into a comprehensive and easy to read list. With this sort of tool, you are able to see exactly what tags and pixels are being triggered on the page for all your analytics and advertising tools as well as exactly what data is being sent in them. For our example we will use one of our favourite tag checkers, Omnibug.
Omnibug is a browser extension that will add a new tab to your browser’s developer tools. In this tab Omnibug will show a list of every tag that loads as you browse your site. This includes analytics page view & event tags, as well as Advertising pixels from many different providers. Each item can be expanded revealing details about the HTTP calls that the tags make.
Additionally, Omnibug can be set to persist the list between page loads. This really helps when testing tags like our outbound link tag. This is because when you click an outbound click it may load the new page before you can see what tags were fired in the GTM preview.
To finish testing our Outbound Links event tag you can open Omnibug in your browser’s developer tools and click on an outbound link again. You should see a new entry appear in the Omnibug list for the event. You can expand this and see the complete breakdown of the information sent in your tag and check if it is correct. You will also be able to see all the other tags that have triggered on the page.
So if a tag for the link already exists you will be able to see it here. If you find that more than one Google Analytics tag is triggering or if the information in the tag is incorrect you can go back and fix the problem.
However, if everything is correct then your tag has been successfully implemented and you can publish it.
Omnibug is available for both Chrome and Firefox. There are several other excellent alternatives that you can find on your browser’s store.
If you have any questions about testing or debugging your analytics setup, please feel free to send me an email.