Site Overlay Issues in Google Analytics


People ask me a lot about the Site Overlay in Google Analytics. I always feel bad that I don’t have many good things to say about it. But to be a little more constructive, here’s some additional information about the Site Overlay.

What it’s supposed to do

It shows you an overlay of your pages with information about how many clicks each (internal) link gets, as well as conversion rates for visitors who followed the link. When you hover over the links, you can see the information. It looks something like the following when it’s working:

site overlay

What can go wrong

  1. You might get all zeroes for the click and conversion data.

    Why? Probably you are using a filter to rewrite your URLs, and then they don’t match what GA expects (like adding a domain name to the URL to distinguish subdomains). As a rule of thumb, if clicking on a page in Top Content to open it on the site doesn’t work, neither will Site Overlay.

    Is there a solution? You could make a profile without your filters that alter URLs, and use that for the Site Overlay. But if you have the same URLs on different subdomains, for example, the data might not be what you expect.

  2. You might get nothing.

    Why? JavaScripty evilness. If you have a lot of JavaScript going on on your site, it’s possible that something interferes with the site overlay scripts that display on the site, and it just doesn’t work.

    Is there a solution? You can try to track down what’s interfering and change it to work around the site overlay, but this tends to be much more trouble than it’s worth.

Pageviews, not actual clicks

One last thing to be aware of with the site overlay: it’s based on pageviews, not actual clicks on links. So suppose your homepage has two links to the same page — maybe one in the navigation and one in the copy of the page — not that uncommon. Site overlay will report ALL the clicks for BOTH links, on both of them. It can’t tell the difference; it just knows that a visitor went to page #2 after this one.

So what can we do?

In many cases, I think the best thing you can do is forget about site overlay entirely. It’s easy to get caught up and interested in a fancy feature like this, but take a step back and ask if this kind of information is actually going to give you some actionable data. If not, why are you worrying about it?

Now, there are some decent reasons to be interested in this kind of data. Maybe you’re running internal banner campaigns cross-promoting products, and you want to see whether people click on those. Maybe what you’re really trying to do is get inside the head of a user and understand how they’re interacting with a page, sort of an informal, distributed user testing.

If you’re really interested in who clicks on what, there are a couple of tools I often recommend as alternatives to Site Overlay. They tend to work better and give more (and more interesting) data. Watch for a followup post later in the week about these. UPDATE: Here’s the post on alternatives to Site Overlay.

— Jonathan

Jonathan Weber is our Data Evangelist, focusing on bringing the strategic value of data analysis to our customers. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars and is currently writing a book on Google Analytics & Tag Manager. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. Away from the computer you can find him as a flower farmer and plant geek.

  • Dan Shields

    We have the issue with all 0’s. The Site Overlay worked at one point but just died previously to the summer. We don’t have any filters that change our URL’s and yeah we can go to the URL’s that are on the Top Content.

    We think it might be a Javascript thing but I’m not sure how to go about pinpointing that. You are saying that if it is a Javascript situation then the overlay wouldn’t even load? I understand that if there were something breaking the Javascript, then it wouldn’t load but could there be a situation where the Javascript on the site might mess up the numbers also?

  • Ran

    Hi Dan,

    The folks at the Google Analytics blog posted a few useful tips today which you should try –


  • Adam Golomb

    I recommend Crazy Egg ( It is rather inexpensive and does a great job with heat maps and click tracking.

  • Jacques Warren

    Ah!! This function is all WA applications is just crap. Always excite marketing people; always under-deliver.

  • Patrick

    Another great application to learn more about user behaviour is Clicktale (
    Let’s you record video’s of the surfing behaviour of your clients on your website.

  • Jonathan

    Adam & Patrick: Great minds think alike, because I just did a followup post recommending CrazyEgg and ClickTale. 🙂 It’s here:

  • Medication Therapy Management

    Thanks for sharing this insight. So Site Overlay is a myth rather than reality. What do the others say?

  • Ara

    Here’s a question that I’ve been wondering about: If I open the Site Overlay window for a page, will that count as a page view in my GA stats?

  • Tyler

    I have the EXACT same question Ara. Anyone?

  • Jonathan

    Yes, the page is tracked normally, even when you’re looking at it with Site Overlay. Ideally you have a filter that removes your internal/employee traffic to your site already that takes care of this.

  • Doug Mayer

    I used site overlay for the first time and now the site overlay is always there when I go to any page on my web site. I deleted temp files but it’s still there. ARGHHH! Anybody know anything about this?

  • Jonathan

    Go back to Google Analytics, launch the Site Overlay, and click the “Close” link in the upper right.

    This happens sometimes if you just close the window with the site overlay in it without clicking the close link to take the overlay away.

  • Menno Geelen

    I have the same problem as Doug mayer and its annoying me as hell.
    Tried the solution Jonathan gave but that didnt work either. I can clikc the close link as much as i want but the js function siteOverlay._close() is not getting called. Any help on this would be appreciated.


  • ib

    Question: Site overlay seems to be working for us (we have run into a few snags), but now it seems that we are able to see the number of clicks on a link. What we can’t see, are the number of transactions and / or any revenue numbers. Through end of January this seemed to be working, but now its not. We can see the transactions in analytics just fine, just not in site overlay. We had some URL filtering going on (lowercase and other) which I’ve turned off to see if it makes a difference, nothing yet.

    Any suggestions / thoughts?

    Will lowercase filter affect transaction count even though clicks are showing?

  • Jonathan

    For those having problems getting Site Overlay to go away by any other method, clear your cookies.

    ib – Yes, Google Analytics matches the URLs it sees in the links to the URLs it records (in your Top Content report, for example). So if there’s any mismatch (by a lowercase or other filter), you won’t see the numbers associated with those. As for why it was working, not now, etc…. I’d carefully map out when you made filter changes and the time period you are looking at in GA to see what data is coming through. Remember that filter changes occur permanently when applied and removed, and if you have time period that overlap multiple changes to filters, you might see data that was filtered in different ways. (PS – The new annotations feature is a great way to keep track of when you made changes to filters.)

  • Margaret

    Since trying Site Overlay, my menu on my website is not showing. On my web builder it shows but not on my internet browser. Please help.

  • SEO FLeet

    ya this is fabulous information for me and my work but i m confuse how can i increasing my visitor in Google analytic

  • Content Writing India

    I hadn’t figured out how to work the Site Overlay feature and this article helped!

    I still think it’s not too important, you were right when you said that these are just distractions. Good post!

    Content Writing India

  • decorative comforters

    Yeah let’s just forget about it and stick to what we are best comfortable. It’s not too important to use it.

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