GA Site Overlay (and A Letter To You, Avinash)

December 18, 2007
By Robbin Steif

Dear Avinash:

I know you say that you aren’t the guru of Web Analytics. Nevertheless, every time you speak or write, people change how they do their work based on your thoughts. Some of those people are my customers!! So you have to start approving your posts with me first Website Worth.

Well, I guess that won’t happen. But here is my concern with your excellent blogpost today: Unlike you, I never look at the site overlay, and I think it is the least helpful report in GA.

Here is why: the Overlay is just a visual representation of the content > Top Content report. So if you have a link to your shopping cart on your home page, and you have a link from all your other pages, they all get the same values in the Google Analytics overlay. There is no differentiation based on which page the visitor was actually on when he made the click. You can add a query parameter to differentiate links that go to the same page, like so: /shoppingcart/index.html?link=home. However, you (arguably) create an SEO problem for yourself by creating duplicate content with that technique.

Furthermore – as soon as you rewrite your URLs in any way, your overlay breaks. Here are some examples:

  • You want to see the entire url, not just the stem. This is very helpful when you have subdomains. But when it gets written like, the overlay breaks
  • You want to rewrite your urls so that you can see them ALL by page title. Do the rewrite, the overlay breaks.
  • You rewrite your pages so that they pass a value to urchinTracker in the old Google Analytics, or to trackPageview in the new Google Analytics. Now you have a nice friendly name, but oops! your site overlay is broken again.

We can get around some of those problems by having a profile with no rewriting. But when you do the rewrite in the code (like passing values to the urchinTracker / trackPageview example), that isn’t an option. And still you have the problem of not differentiating links among pages. So I never find any use for the overlay (and am curious to learn about who does….)