Google Analytics account setups – still a bit of a mess

Here’s a question. Google is great at a lot of things, and pours a lot of time and money into continued development of its products – so why is the way that accounts are set up for Analytics still such a mess?

It’s not so bad if you just want to manage your own website: one user, one website is a straightforward setup and then the way Google structures its accounts won’t trip you up. But if you’re an agency trying to manage multiple websites for multiple clients, it can become a nightmare. Insufficient information in the early days, combined with the way Google organises its user access privileges has left us with a legacy setup that is difficult to maintain and impossible to alter.

To understand the problem, the first thing you need to know is the difference between an account and a profile. According to Google, “an account contains a collection of profiles”. Accounts are the umbrella access level, while profiles are the information about each individual website, allowing you to apply “different rules and criteria for advanced analysis” on a site-by-site basis.

Back when we first started using Analytics for our clients, it was common practice for agencies to have one master Analytics account, and set up each of their clients’ websites as profiles within that account. Which seems fine until you begin to look at the user types Google provides, and their levels of access to the account.  There are two types of access: ‘user’ and ‘administrator’. A user can access information about a specific profile but not make any changes – so he or she can see what’s going on, but can’t add other users, or set up filters or goals. An administrator, on the other hand, has full privileges to do all of those things, allowing him or her to use some of the more powerful features of Analytics….. but also, and this is where the problem lies… an administrator has access to all profiles in an account. That’s right – set up one client with administrator-level access, and that client can see the data for all the profiles in that account.

So the crux of the problem is that for agencies like ourselves, with multiple profiles in one account, and each profile showing the data for a different client’s website – we simply can’t give any of our clients administrator access. As a result, our clients have Analytics accounts that they can view but not alter – and we have a lot of client profiles in one account that we can’t grant our clients proper access to. And we can’t move the profiles around into new accounts, except by killing them off and setting up new ones – thereby losing all historical data.

The solution seems really simple – either allow profiles to be moved into new accounts (keeping all historical data); or provide a middle level of access, along the lines of ‘profile administrator’, with most of the administrator privileges, but limited to one profile. For years, Google’s blog comments and support forums have been jammed with frustrated people crying out for these changes, but for some reason the folks at Mountain View haven’t seen fit to remedy the situation.

Analytics is a great tool, and let’s not forget that Google provides it free of charge. But where users are so clearly struggling, frustrated and baffled by set-up issues like this, it’s hard to understand why Google doesn’t come to the rescue, and make its account set-ups easier to understand and easier to manage.

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