The first thing any GA implementation should include is two profiles: a working profile and a ‘raw’ unaltered backup profile. One day that raw profile will save you from a data disaster.
The ‘raw’ unprocessed profile is one in which the data has not been modified in any way when configuring the profile settings or by adding filters.
You should always have such a set of data available so that you can sanity check anything else you do against a pure source. And you will also have a backup in case anything you do in your working profiles messes up the data.
How to Set Up a Raw Profile
When setting up a raw profile you should enable ecommerce and configure search where relevant (but do not strip the search parameters). Doing this will just enable more reporting, no data will be changed.
You should not configure the profile to ignore any parameters and you should not configure the default page. Doing either of those would modify the data.
Off the top of my head I cannot think of any filters that you would dare to apply to this profile. You don’t want to filter anything out, and you don’t want to use filters to change data.
So definitely NO excluding of IP addresses, or changing all the URIs to lowercase. This raw profile is precisely the one you would want to cross-check against when debugging such filters.
What to Do if You Only Have One Profile
If you only have one profile set up for the site at the moment, check whether any filters have been applied, or if the default page or any parameters to ignore have been configured. If none of the above have been done, then this profile should become your raw profile. It will contain historical data in the raw form, so it makes sense to keep this valuable resource intact and create new working profiles instead.
If this is the case, I recommend editing the name of the profile to make it clear what it is. It’s probably called something like ‘www.mydomain.com’, which will sort nicely to the bottom of most lists. So I would just add a function and warning to the end: ‘www.mydomain.com (raw data – do NOT change)’
If you haven’t got a profile like this already, you need to set one up as soon as possible. I recommend sticking the date of the next day at the end of the name when configuring this profile so that you can see at a glance when the data begins.
Update, June 2012: You can now use ‘Copy Profile’ to quickly create a clone of an existing profile and then edit the settings.
Setting up Goals in a Raw Profile
Although you should not have any filters applied to your raw profile, it’s possible to configure goals. In the days when GA was limited to four goals per profile I used to use this profile for housekeeping and debugging goals, such as the goal for the 404 page, so as not to us up slots in the main working profiles.
I’d recommend having at least that goal configured here. The ‘Reverse Goal Path’ report will then have a full, un-modified set of data to work with when you need it to go looking for internal sources of bad links. But I would also configure such a goal in one of the main working profiles these days and configure an Intelligence alert for its conversion rate. This is data is something you need to have in front of you, not hidden in a profile you seldom visit.
How the Raw Profile Can Help You or Save The Day
For most purpose the raw profile is one that sits in the background collecting all the data. It’s not a profile most people would want to see.
You’ll need the raw when configuring filters which do things like include or exclude visits of some kind. By comparing the new filtered figures with the un-filtered version you will be able to sanity check whether the difference is credible or whether you need to re-check your filters.
You’ll also find the raw profile useful if you find a situation in which a parameter you have stripped out by using the ‘ignore parameter’ setting suddenly turns out to have a use. For example, you would normally strip session ids out of a working profile. But it’s conceivable that at a later date you might want to be able to find all the sessions which encountered some error page and create a segment in order to track what other aspects those visits have in common.
Finally, you’ll also be very grateful for the raw profile if you ever make a mistake with a filter and discover days later that it has trashed some relevant data. You won’t be able to undo the damage in the working profile, but at least you’ll have the raw data to fill in the gaps in an external report…
September 2012: Why you should also have a spare profile in Google Analytics
Two profiles is the minimum you should have for each GA web property. But it’s much better to have a third profile available for the future.
I’ve just been reminded of this by an experience with a client who has just moved their ecommerce site to a new platform. They have built up many years of historical data in the existing profiles. So there is a big benefit in continuing to use the same profiles in order to preserve the continuity and make easy comparisons possible.
BUT… the new site has a very different structure and uses different URIs. The existing goals need to be replaced by new equivalents.
Most of the existing goal slots have been used up in the main working profiles. We need a new profile with a fresh set of 20 slots. But a new profile will have no historical data.
Fortunately the client already has another spare profile which has been storing data for several years. It has a limited set of data-hygiene filters in place to create a ‘clean’ set of data so this is not a ‘raw’ profile. But all 20 goal slots are empty.
This approach means that although historical comparisons of things like checkout abandon rates will need to be done externally, most of the key comparisons of ecommerce conversion rates and so on will all be fine.
Of course, as soon as this profile becomes the new working profile, we must remember to set up another spare for next time….
June 2012: How to copy and duplicate profiles in Google Analytics
The easiest way to create a new profile in GA is to copy an existing profile.
1. Go to the ‘profile settings’ tab in the Admin area:
2. There’s a ‘Copy profile’ button down at the bottom of the screen, to the right of the ‘Apply’ button:
3. Choose a name for your new profile and click the ‘Copy profile’ button:
4. Then click back over to the ‘Profile Settings’ tab and make your changes.
In the case of a ‘raw’ profile, remove any ‘default page’, ‘Exclude URL Query Parameters’, and uncheck ‘Strip category parameters out of URL’ if you have it configured in the site search section. Also check to make sure that no filters are being applied to the raw profile.
The profile’s goals will also be copied into the new profile. This may be exactly what you want. But if you will need to use those goal slots for something else, you will need to try to stop these recording any data. At the moment there does not seem to be any way of deleting the goals. So the only solution I know of at the moment is to set the goal to ‘inactive’: