One of Google Analytics’ greatest charms is its ability to be highly customized. However, sometimes the ability to tinker with its infrastructure comes with risks. One of those risks is the unassuming but potentially deadly Default Page setting.
The Default Page Setting Hates Kittens
For people who might be confused about what the Default Page setting does, Google has provided this very helpful tool tip when you hover over the question mark:
Enter the default page for your domain so that multiple URLs that point to the same page are treated as the same entry in your reports. For example, if example.com and example.com/index.html both open the same page, you can enter index.html in this field.
I can’t tell you how many of these errants entries I’ve caught in analytics audits. Someone sees that their site uses an index page (usually .php or .aspx, not .html) and enters it into this field.
The problem with this approach is that if you drop an index page into this field, Google will append every request URI (geek speak for the URLs you see in your content reports) with whatever you enter into this field.
My Test That Resulted In Frankendata
For the sake of science, I decided to trash my Test view by adding index.html into my Default Page setting. Check out my All Pages report:
It’s like my data died and woke up in index.html hell. If you thought this setting would help you clean up your reports, you will probably be sorely disappointed.
So what happens when you add something into that field is Google appends it to the end of every URL in your content reports that ends in a forward slash. And if those pages aren’t real, when you click the target icon to the right of every URL in a content report, you will be met with a 404 page.
A Better Alternative
Behind Curtain 1
The best way to handle a site that allows visitors to access a page from two different URLs like it’s 2007 (e.g., /my-page/ and /my-page/index.php) is to have the /index.php version redirect to the /my-page/ page. This is both better for your SEO and analytics.
Behind Curtain 2
If your developers are on strike or too busy playing Candy Crush to set that up for you, the next best alternative, in my opinion, is to use a Search and Replace filter in Google Analytics to remove the index pages. I demonstrate how to set this up in the video below (with two alternatives because I’m just that accommodating).