Navigating Tracking For Subdomains and Multiple Domains

by Mary McPartlan | Mar 17, 2020

Most Google Analytics accounts that we see don’t have good data. When the data surrounding your website is unreliable, you become blind to how one of your most powerful sales and marketing assets is performing. As a result, business owners make decisions and measure performance based on flawed data.

One of the most common areas we see this flawed data is on websites that have multiple domains or subdomains. If that phrase alone is unfamiliar jargon or you have someone that manages your analytics, this may be an email you need to forward. For those of you that are curious, we’ll go a little deeper into what those mean and what to look out for.

First things first, let’s clarify what your website has.

Does your website have pages that look like this?

  • shop.yoursite.com
  • demo.yoursite.com
  • blog.yoursite.com

You have subdomains. In all of these, ‘yoursite’ is still the primary domain – making ‘shop’, ‘blog’, and ‘demo’ all separate subdomains of ‘yoursite’. 

Does your website have pages that are a completely separate primary domain from ‘yoursite’? We see this with an ecommerce company when checkout pages are on a separate domain. Or with a SaaS company when a demo portal is a separate domain. Or with a multi-location company when each location has its own domain. Examples:

  • paymentplatform.com
  • yoursitedemo.com
  • atlantayoursite.com

You have multiple domains. In all of these, ‘yoursite’ is not the primary domain – instead, ‘paymentplatform’, ‘yoursitedemo’, and ‘atlantayoursite’ are all separate domains.

The difficulty comes when you want to track a single person across all those pages. Many people assume that as long as you have Google Analytics on all your pages, everything will work fine, but there are actually extra steps that need to be taken for subdomain and cross-domain tracking to work. Otherwise, the referral channel in your Google Analytics report might look something like this:

Example of referral channel in Google Analytics when tracking subdomains and multiple domains

A few red flags from this view of the Referral channel to look out for:

  • Unusually high conversion rate from the Referral channel. 
    • Conversion rate from Referral traffic is at 20%, while your site average and all other channels are ~2%
  • A disproportionate percentage of users from the Referral channel compared to the percentage of conversions they make up.
    • Referral traffic only accounts for 10% of all site visitors, but accounts for 70% of all conversions.
  • High traffic volume from self-referrals. 
    • Referral channel drives a high volume of users to the site, but the top Referral source listed is your own website.

If you’ve seen these trends in your reporting, there’s likely a problem. These alone don’t always mean something is wrong, but they should trigger your spidey-senses to investigate. 

Your reporting needs to follow the journey of a single user cohesively across the domains and subdomains that make up your website. If you have subdomains or multiple domains and you’re not confident in the data you’re tracking, let’s talk. Don’t rely on murky data as the basis for measuring performance and making business decisions.

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 by Mary McPartlan

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