Why you need at least 2 views in Google Analytics

by Tim Leighton-Boyce

The first thing any GA implementation should include is two views: a working view and a ‘raw’ unaltered backup view. One day that raw view will save you from a data disaster.

The ‘raw’ unprocessed view is one in which the data has not been modified in any way when configuring the view 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 views messes up the data.

Updated: February 2014 Google have changed their terminology. What used to be called ‘profiles’ are now called ‘views’
Updated: September 2012 Make that 3: why you need a spare GA view
June 2012 How to use ‘Copy View’ in Google Analytics v5

How to Set Up a Raw View

When setting up a raw view 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 view to ignore any parameters and you should not configure the default page. Doing either of those would modify the data.

Configuration setting for raw Google Analytics profile

Off the top of my head I cannot think of any filters that you would dare to apply to this view. 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 view is precisely the one you would want to cross-check against when debugging such filters.

What to Do if You Only Have One View

If you only have one view 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 view should become your raw view. It will contain historical data in the raw form, so it makes sense to keep this valuable resource intact and create new working views instead.

If this is the case, I recommend editing the name of the view 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 view 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 view so that you can see at a glance when the data begins.

Update, June 2012: You can now use ‘Copy View’ to quickly create a clone of an existing view and then edit the settings.

Setting up Goals in a Raw View

Although you should not have any filters applied to your raw view, it’s possible to configure goals. In the days when GA was limited to four goals per view I used to use this view for housekeeping and debugging goals, such as the goal for the 404 page, so as not to us up slots in the main working views.

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 views 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 view you seldom visit.

How the Raw View Can Help You or Save The Day

For most purpose the raw view is one that sits in the background collecting all the data. It’s not a view 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 view 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 view. 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 view 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 view, but at least you’ll have the raw data to fill in the gaps in an external report…

 

Updates

 


September 2012: Why you should also have a spare view in Google Analytics
Two views is the minimum you should have for each GA web property. But it’s much better to have a third view 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 views. So there is a big benefit in continuing to use the same view 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 views. We need a new views with a fresh set of 20 slots. But a new view will have no historical data.

Fortunately the client already has another spare view 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’ view. 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 view becomes the new working view, we must remember to set up another spare for next time….

June 2012: How to copy and duplicate views in Google Analytics
The easiest way to create a new view in GA is to copy an existing view.
1. Go to the ‘view settings’ tab in the Admin area:

Screenshot showing the profile settings interface in Google Analytics

2. There’s a ‘Copy view’ button down at the bottom of the screen, to the right of the ‘Apply’ button:

Screenshot showing the copy profile interface in Google Analytics

3. Choose a name for your new view and click the ‘Copy profile’ button:

Screenshot showing the profile settings interface in Google Analytics

4. Then click back over to the ‘View Settings’ tab and make your changes.
In the case of a ‘raw’ view, 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.

Screenshot showing the profile settings for a raw profile in Google Analytics

The view’s goals will also be copied into the new view. 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’:

Screenshot showing how to stop a goal collecting data in Google Analytics

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Illiya Vjestica September 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Surprised no one has commented on the usefulness of this post. Thanks for putting this together Tim.

I knew how to do this but it’s been a great resource to point my clients to or friends in the Analytics industry.

Bob Strassel Jr. January 16, 2013 at 1:10 am

Hey Tim,
Great stuff. You made it very simple. I was trying to explain this to someone and the reason why you should have a raw data profile. I feel like a lot of times when dealing with a small business, they don’t do this, as they often set up GA themselves. I also don’t really recall ever seeing any of this mentioned in setup tutorials by Google. I could be wrong, but would be great “best practice.” The only mention I see is all the way on the bottom at: http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1009714 and it states:
“Google Analytics automatically creates an unfiltered profile for every property you add to your account. We recommend you never delete or add a filter to this original profile. Data can never be retrieved once deleted or filtered”.
It’s not even on setup checklist:
http://www.google.com/analytics/learn/setupchecklist.html
Thanks for the great post and for sharing!
- Bob

Tim Leighton-Boyce January 16, 2013 at 10:57 am

Thanks for adding those links, Bob. It’s very useful to have them here and you make a very good point.

I’ll mention your post on the G+ Google Analytics group in the hope that maybe that will encourage a change in the documentation.

Tim

seoand February 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

Thanks! Good information. But now it’s named “View” (so one needs go Admin>View>View Settings (as stated below is “Copy)- the settings are the same as You mentioned in the article and the road to take also :)
Google has relevant information about copying a view also:
https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/3256366?hl=en&ref_topic=1009620

Tim Leighton-Boyce February 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

Yes, you’re right. I haven’t yet bothered to update all my posts to refer to ‘views’ instead of ‘profiles’, but in this case I should.

Rupesh March 5, 2014 at 11:54 am

I have followed the steps that are mentioned by Seoand & I have created a Duplicate Profile. Now I wanted to use this for Filters but I am unable to do that as in the Duplicate Profile I don’t have any Historical Data.

Can anyone tell me how to get the Historical data in this Duplicate Profile.Currently, I have all the data in my Raw Profile but I don’t want to messed up with that to Add Filters.

does anyone have suggestions for this?

Tim Leighton-Boyce March 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm

@Rupesh – I’m afraid there is currently no way you can import historical data into a new view.

But if you add filters to the view which contains your historical data, the filters would not affect the historical data itself. They would only take effect on new data as it is added. So there is no easy solution.

If I understand what you are trying to do — compare current period ‘filtered’ data with historical ‘unfiltered’ data then one solution might be to do the comparison in a spreadsheet, using data exported from the two views or extracted via the API from the two views. Google docs spreadsheet and the Google Analytics Magic script would be good for this:

https://developers.google.com/analytics/solutions/report-automation-magic

But you may prefer to use the view with your historical data as the working view, with filters and simply create a new unfiltered view to use as a ‘raw’ view from now onwards.

Maybe someone else will suggest a better way.

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