Top five analytics debugging tools

Dominic Parker

Natural Search Analyst

When implementing or amending analytics tags, it’s always best practice to test that the tags behave as you expected them to.

Furthermore, if you suspect the data reported in your analytics platform(s) is inaccurate, and you've ruled out any issues with traffic acquisition, it’s likely to be an issue with a tag behaving unexpectedly which could be due to a host of reasons. This is when we would use web analytics debugging tools to pinpoint where the data discrepancies are occurring, what is causing them, and ultimately what action to take to fix the issue(s). It's also good to have some context, such as development sprint timelines, to see any correlation between analytics data and website updates. There are many tools, addons and plugins currently out there, but here are the top 5 that I use to help me diagnose the majority of common issues:

1. Chrome Inspector

Available straight from within the Chrome browser, the inspector is a staple tool that can help with many types of on page debugging. Pressing Ctr+Shift+I will bring up the inspector, allowing you to examine the source code and any external resources that are being referenced on the current page. Using the inspector you can also see the cookie information, including the keys/values being set and whether they are 1st party or 3rd party cookies.

Firefox has a similar feature built directly into the browser.

2. Google Tag Assistant

This Google Chrome extension is good at quickly ascertaining what tags are found on the page you are currently viewing.

It’s mainly focused on Google related tags like Google Analytics, Adwords Conversion tag, Doubleclick tags etc, but will pick up some other tags/tag managers such as Tealium. The tool does have its limitations – sometimes it may report there is an issue with one of your tags even though the tag is firing as expected. This is normally caused by custom coding solutions developers use to implement the tags. Download the Google Tag Assistant from the Chrome app store

3. Google Tag Manager Debugger

If you are using Google Tag Manager to deploy your tags, then Google’s ‘Preview/Debug’ mode is a fantastic way to test your tags in a simulated live environment. When activated it will overlay a pane at the bottom of the page you are viewing, with detailed information on which tags are firing, when they are firing (or not firing), and what data is being collected.

If you are unfamiliar with Google Tag Manager and its many benefits we can help you with implementation and migration of your existing vendor tags.

4. WASP Inspector

The WASP Inspector is another Chrome addon, best described as a beefed up version of Google Tag Assistant. It recognises a wide range of tags on page, and can be accessed by clicking on the toolbar button once installed:

It can also be used from within the Chrome Inspector, and displays a tree like visualisation of the tags and scripts fired on the page you are viewing:

Selecting a tag or script on this screen adds a further visual affect showing the interdependencies between the scripts and tags. Visit the WASP site to download the WASP inspector.

5. Fiddler

Saving the best for last, Fiddler is a free piece of software you install on your computer which will monitor and log all incoming and outgoing HTTP requests/responses for any processes running on your machine. To use it, simply install the software, and navigate to the website in your browser and Fiddler will capture every HTTP request/response and display in chronological order (example shown here for icrossing.co.uk):

You can see the browser makes a total of 39 requests when loading http://www.icrossing.co.uk. The next step is to find the specific analytics tag within this list (Request #34 is the Google Analytics tag firing). Using the ‘Inspector’ function, you can then see exactly what data is being transmitted to the tracking server for this tag:

This is a more robust method of examining the data that’s physically being transmitted between the two servers, and should be part of any web analysts toolkit. You can download Fiddler free from their website. Be aware that there are different versions for different Operating Systems, but they all have essentially the same functionality. I hope this is useful to anyone interested in the workings of analytics tags.

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