How to check real-time if a Google Analytics implementation works

Often I get questions about how you can tell if a Google Analytics implementation is successful. People don't want to wait at least 4 to in some cases 24 hours before they see some data... or not. That's why I will tell you how I check this seconds after the codes are placed.

How does the tracking work

Google Analytics uses pixel tracking technology to send data to the Google servers. That means that the GATC (Google Analytics Tracking Script) will put a little image on the page that is being tracked. The URL of this image looks like this:

http://www.google-analytics.com/__utm.gif?utmwv=4.8.6d &utmn=123456789 &utmhn=andrescholten.net &utme=8(2!echteresolutie)9(2!1600-750)11(2!1) &utmcs=UTF-8 &utmsr=1600x900 &utmsc=32-bit &utmul=nl &utmje=1 &utmfl=10.1%20r103 &utmdt=Andr%C3%A9%20Scholten%20about%20SEO %2C%20Site%20Speed%20and%20Google%20Analytics%20%E2%80%A2%20Andr%C3 %A9%20Scholten &utmhid=0123456789 &utmr=- &utmp=%2F &utmac=UA-XXXXX-1 &utmcc=__utma%3D96932303.227455505.1294957259.1296151377.1296158590.15%3B%2B __utmz%3D96932303.1296082197.13.7.utmcsr%3Dgoogle%7Cutmccn%3D(organic)%7Cutmcmd %3Dorganic%7Cutmctr%3Dandre%20scholten &aip=1 &utmu=qSEAAAAAAAAQ

This utm.gif image will be fetched from the Google server and now Google can see by it's parameters what is being tracked. The same happens with the event tracking and ecommerce scripts. Each event will generate a call to this image, and each ecommerce transaction will call this image once for the transaction and once per individual item.

Now you know this you also know how to see if an implementation works: watch for the utm.gif calls. To do this you need a tool:

Tool 1: Firefox extension Live HTTP Headers

Firefox has a great extension called Live HTTP Headers. Once you installed you can open the tool to get a view at everything that is being send between Firefox and the internet:

And with a little configuration effort the tool is set to only track Google Analytics calls:

The first tab in the tool will show you all calls with the utm.gif in it. The big advantage of this tool above the next mentioned, is that it also shows the details of tracking that is send over secure (HTTPS) connections.

Tool 2: Fiddler2

Fiddler2 is a more robust tool that is capable of tracking all traffic between your PC and the internet. That means it can do checks for Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Internet Explorer, etc. And as we all know: they can all behave different regarding the more challenging implementations. The tool will show you the Google Analytics tracking pixel like this:

Tool 3: Google Analytics Tracking Code Debugger

That last one I want to mention (but certainly not the least) is a tool developed by Google self. It's an extension for Google Chrome that will show a lot of information about what the tracking code is doing on your page. It checks the code for errors and it will break down every single piece of information in readable parts. In my opinion the best tool for the job:

What to analyse?

With the mentioned tools you can see the entire utm.gif request with all the parameters being send. The most important parameters to keep an eye on are:

  • utmp: after this parameters is the URL that is being measured
  • utmcc: this long parameter contains all cookie info, check if the source (it's after the "utmcsr" part) stays the same until a visitor converts, if not, something is broken and the conversions will be attributed to another source.

A full list of all the other parameters can be found on this page. The parameters for events and ecommerce transaction are somewhat different, but you will be able to analyze them soon enough.

Useful? Have some other tools to mention? Let me know in the comments.

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  • http://www.mprovement.nl Emiel

    I thinks wasp is much easier to use then the google extension. And Wasp recognize more then Google Analytics. Is there a' reason that you recommend the Google debugger?

    • http://andrescholten.net André

      The last time I used WASP it could only detect the presence of a script, and it only worked when the script wasn't modified. It couldn't see what was being measured, is that changed since then?

  • http://www.mprovement.nl Emiel

    It changed a' lot over the years. So I think you should give it a try (its still free). Script that are modified are in sum circumstances still an issue.

  • http://forwardslash.nl/ Jules

    I _was_ an avid livehttpheaders user, until I discovered httpfox. It shows you the same, but in a much more friendly way.

    Query vars line by line, for example, and a post-capture filter possibility.

    Check this screenshot I made: http://twitpic.com/3ujmzb

    • http://andrescholten.net André

      Great tool, just what I was looking for in Firefox.

    • http://www.mprovement.nl Emiel Kamzol

      Great tool much better.

    • Marc

      Hey Jules,
      My favourite is still omnibug firbug plugin:
      http://www.rosssimpson.com/dev/omnibug.html

  • http://www.netblogger.nl Nomar

    I also use WASP and it is very good :)

  • http://analyticsimpact.com/ Ophir Prusak

    Great tip!

    It's actually on my blog posts todo list :)

    My personal favorite though is Charles Proxy - http://www.charlesproxy.com/

    It has a few features that other similar solutions don't

    Not free, but very reasonably priced if you do this for a living :)

    • http://andrescholten.net André

      I heard that name before, I will have a look at it.

  • Patrick

    Totally agree with you on the chrome extension, it definitely rocks! Only thing is that when some JS code is broke. On your site, the google Analytics code debugger will also not work properly.

    And I'm having a har time measuring iframes with that tool. Do you have the same troubles?

  • Rick

    Thanks for Google Analytics Tracking Code Debugger. Just what I needed :)

  • Chris Le

    Great stuff!I've never seen Fiddler before. I'll check that out.

    Here's a tutorial video I posted for the Google Analytics Debugger:
    http://www.seerinteractive.com/blog/checking-the-google-analytics-code-without-waiting-video/2011/06/22/

    It covers installation and how to use it. Hope it helps!

  • Paolo

    what about wireshark to analyse network trafic?

  • http://personaldevelopment.me Don

    What do you think of Clicky Stats? It's simple and for a long time was free for personal site.

  • Søren

    We've made a free tool that will scan 2000 pages for free to see if you have the analytics tracking code on all pages and the version you're using and if you have more than one code on your page - You'll find it at GAtective.com - Feedback would be fine