Can You Use Google Analytics to Find Accessibility Issues?

July 19, 2021

Google Analytics is one of the most powerful free tools for monitoring traffic and website performance. It’s also capable of highlighting certain user experience issues, some of which could affect accessibility people for disabilities. However, website owners need to tread carefully if they explore using Analytics to find usability barriers.

No single tool can find all of a website’s issues, and that’s especially true when a tool isn’t actually designed to analyze accessibility. Real users need to interact with the site directly in order to ensure conformance with standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Analytics simply provides another way to collect top-level information that can be helpful in some instances.

It’s also important to note that analyzing raw data can create misleading conclusions (as discussed later). You can’t use Analytics to view all users with disabilities, for example — and even if this were possible, it would create major ethical and legal concerns.

Finally, Analytics can’t offer guidance for fixing problems or meeting the success criteria of the WCAG. If your goal is to create a much more accessible website, you’ll need to use other resources to find solutions. Our free WCAG 2.1 AA compliance summary provides a good starting point.

With those limitations in mind, Analytics can still provide some broad insights that may be useful during the first phase of a larger accessibility initiative. These tips will help you develop the right approach.

Use the Analytics Behavior Flow to see how users interact with your site

Analytics offers a Behavior Flow report to visualize the paths that users take from page to page (or Event to Event, if you’re tracking that info). This report can show "pain points" that prevent users from completing certain actions. For example, if users regularly reach your e-commerce site’s checkout page, but fail to complete a detailed form, you may need to revisit the form to improve conversions.

Heat maps in the Behavior Flow can provide insights for when certain elements are frustrating users. If a large percentage of users exit your site after receiving a pop-up notification, for instance, that could be a problem.

Sorting by audience age can show how older users interact with a site differently than younger users. Because older adults are statistically more likely to have disabilities, this could highlight usability issues that need to be addressed.

However, be careful when interpreting these insights. Google collects demographic information with cookies, and the information may be inaccurate for a number of reasons. Users may use ad blockers to prevent cookies from loading, for instance, and Google’s Data Sampling – which attempts to take a representative sample set of demographic info for larger sites – could present unreliable data.

Use the Content Drilldown to find landing pages and exit pages

The Content Drilldown provides information about traffic to your site’s pages and directories. By using a secondary dimension, you can view demographic information — but again, demographic data has serious limitations.

Look for pages with high bounce rates or a low average time spent on page. Visit those pages or directories, then ask a few questions: Can you navigate easily? Would a user be able to navigate the page without using a mouse? Is the content laid out in a logical way, and does each page have descriptive title tags and headings?

By finding underperforming pages and viewing them with a different perspective, you may be able to notice issues that would frustrate real-world users.

Use traffic trends to get perspective, but don’t make broad assumptions

Google Analytics doesn’t provide all of the information you need to see how actual users interact with your site by any means. You can’t determine which users accessed a page with a screen reader or other assistive technology, for example. The tool can’t tell you why your page layout left a user feeling frustrated. Analytics currently doesn’t highlight low contrast issues and other major accessibility concerns, and the tool probably won’t add these features in the near future.

When using Analytics, your goal is to possibly find major user experience concerns you wouldn't have noticed before. But, addressing these may boost accessibility.

Many website owners want to use established tools to improve accessibility. That’s understandable, but while Analytics can provide some potentially useful insights, specialized tools are much more effective. Automated accessibility audits can give you a better starting point — and human audits are even better.

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