Why Google Analytics is not as Accurate as You Think

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Google Analytics is not as Accurate as You Think

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The truth about the inaccuracies on Google Analytics and why you should trust your own stats from Anyonita Nibbles
When I first started trying to earn money through my blog, the one piece of advice that kept cropping up was: "Get Google Analytics". Even now, when you inquire about working with a company or brand, their PR rep usually sends through an email asking for a screenshot of your Google Analytics dashboard. 

There seems to be this unspoken rule in blogging and with online businesses that traffic to your site is inconclusive unless it was pulled from the shiny platform of Google Analytics. Well, that's not exactly true. Google Analytics may actually keep one of the most inaccurate records of blog traffic.

I usually get an email each month from a new blogger or a blogger trying to increase their traffic that says something along the lines of "Why is my Google Analytics so much lower than my Blogger or Wordpress?" Well, I'm going to show you why and I'm going to give you proof of why this is a fact and not just an opinion.

Find more blogging tutorials to pin:

Blogger & Wordpress vs Google Analytics
If you're looking for ways to improve traffic to your blog, you need to start with knowing how much traffic you're already getting. Well, what happens when you're getting conflicting information? It makes it difficult to improve and it's hard to stay motivated. 

Bloggers consistently report that their traffic looks shockingly different on Google Analytics than it does on their Blogger or Wordpress platform. This is a problem, a huge problem. And it's a problem that many bloggers aren't even aware of. Many of them get told to rely solely on Google Analytics and to let their Google Analytics traffic dictate their site's footfall. I disagree with this entirely. 

Here's why: Let's say you and I are at a wedding reception and we're standing in the queue waiting for a slice of cake. Just as they get ready to serve us each a slice you have to suddenly leave the room. I eat my cake while you are gone. When you come back, there's no cake left. You're disappointed because you were dying to try this special chocolate fudge raspberry cake. You want to know what the cake tasted like, so do you:

A: ask me what it tasted like or
B: call up a friend and ask them what a different cake they had at a previous wedding tasted like?


Of course, you'd do A. You trust that I'm going to be able to tell you what the cake tastes like because I actually ate it. I can tell you things about the texture of the cake, how moist it was and if there was a hidden jam filling between the layers. Your friend would only be able to tell you about the cake they had. 

Your blogging platform is the friend who tried the cake that you want to know about and Google Analytics is your random friend telling you about a different wedding cake. They might accurately tell you about what they tasted and they might do it in great detail but they cannot tell you about the special chocolate fudge raspberry cake. 

Here's what I mean. So far this week, Google Analytics says this is what my pageviews look like:

What Google Analytics displays for a week's worth of pageviews | Anyonita Nibbles
Click the photo to see it enlarged.

And Blogger insists that this is what my pageviews look like:

What Blogger displays for a week of pageviews | Anyonita Nibbles
Click the photo to see it enlarged.
So what's going on? Is Blogger inflating my views? Or is Google Analytics sleeping on the job? 

Which of my analytics is true?
As they stand, both my Blogger and Google Analytics stats are true. It's just that they look at things slightly differently. The biggest and most important difference is this: Blogger and Wordpress do not, by default, rely on cookies to track your pageviews. Instead Blogger and Wordpress rely on their own hardcoded triggers within their respective systems to alert them of pageviews.

Basically that just means this: say you and two friends were counting the number of people who walked through a grocery store door. You counted every single person who walked through the doors. Friend A counted only the people who walked in carrying cookies. Friend B counted only the people who walked in wearing blue shirts. At the end of the day, you'd each report a different number, but you could all truthfully say, "xx number of people walked into the grocery store today". But that wouldn't be an accurate representation. 

This is what happens with pageviews and visitors from the perspective of Google Analytics and Blogger and Wordpress. Google Analytics can only report visitors to your site when those visitors enable cookies. Cookies give sites permission to track your activity when you're online. Because Google didn't write the programs that drive Blogger and Wordpress, they do not have access to 100% of the data. They cannot see everyone who comes to your site. Only the ones who come in and who have enabled cookies.

So you can guarantee that the statistics Blogger and Wordpress show you are 100% true. If Blogger or Wordpress says your pages were viewed 4,000 times today, they were viewed 4,000 times. They are basing that number of pageviews off of server data that Google would not have access to. If Google Analytics says that your pages were viewed 2,000 times on the same day, they were viewed 2,000 times by people who have enabled cookies and who use Javascript. Google Analytics has no idea the number of people who have visited and who had cookies disabled or do not use Javascript. Hence the discrepancy in the statistics.

Why does everyone think Google Analytics is more accurate?
Many people consider Google Analytics to be more accurate because cookie-enabled tracking means that you can be sure that Google Analytics is showing you the number of actual living people who visited your site or who viewed your pages. 

Here is where Blogger and Wordpress may have a disadvantage. Because they track pageviews and visits from people who don't have cookies enabled, they may count the pageviews generated through spam techniques by computer programs. In short, spammers can easily manipulate Blogger and Wordpress statistics by executing programs that load pages constantly.

So, Google Analytics is better then, right?
I'm not prepared to submit that Google Analytics is better or more accurate. There are a couple of big flaws that Google Analytics makes. One of the biggest inaccuracies Google Analytics displays is the data regarding how much time visitors spend on your page and your bounce rate. A number of things can effect the bounce rate inaccuracy, one of the most troubling being tabbed browsing. 


Google Analytics also inaccurately portrays information about the number of visitors to your site. This inaccuracy tends to lead to an inflation of data instead of lack of data. For instance, if one person visits your site from different devices (a computer, a tablet and a phone), Google Analytics will count this as being three separate unique visitors. On the other hand, if two or more people share the same device and each of them accesses your site separately, Google Analytics thinks only one person has visited. When it comes to visitors, Google Analytics has a tendency to be inaccurate because they assign originality to computers and devices and not to actual people.

Well, what about Blogger counting my own pageviews?
This is a real problem and a very annoying one! By default, Blogger is set up to count the pageviews of the blog owner. I'm not sure why anyone would want this included in their blog stats, but Blogger seems to think it's important. You can easily disable this and I suggest that you do. Here's how:


Click the photo to see it enlarged.

On your Blogger dashboard, choose "Overview". Click the link that says "Don't track your own pageveiws". That's it. 

Should I stop using Google Analytics?
You shouldn't stop using Google Analytics, but just be mindful when you are assessing your blog growth that you do not compare Google Analytics like for like with your Blogger or Wordpress stats. That would be like comparing ice skates with stiletto boots. Yes, they'll both keep your feet warm, but only one will aid you in gliding gracefully across frozen water.


A general rule of thumb for assessing your blog growth is to choose one source of analytics and make that your focus in terms of growth. Every month or week check the same one and determine whether you have increased or decreased on that platform only. This will result in a more consistent overview of your blog's growth and will ultimately be more accurate. 


 
More blogging resources:
 
http://www.anyonita-nibbles.co.uk/2014/01/dominate-google-image-search-results.html


http://www.anyonita-nibbles.co.uk/2014/02/google-guest-post-policy.html
 

http://www.anyonita-nibbles.co.uk/2014/03/how-to-autofill-pinterest-pin-descriptions.html






21 comments:

  1. I worry about one lot or the other, as long as the 2 different figures are either staying steady or increasing then I am more than happy.

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  2. Thank you so much for this super informative post, Anyonita! I never knew any of this and your analogies are wonderful! Great job!!

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  3. Great post hun! really clear and explains a lot for a new blogger like me! :)

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  4. I do not use Google Analytics!! I don't like it - I instead use Host Gator's traffic counter, Awstats. It's so easy to read!!!

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    1. I've not paid attention to Host Gator's traffic counter! I need to look into that; I think it's important to use whatever you're comfortable with!

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  5. Wow! Really well written and easy to digest. Thank you!

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  6. Interestingly I've found I'm less confident in my google analytics information than I have been previously - it suddently seems really disparate from my blogger stats so this post was very well timed for me!

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  7. This is really useful. I have only had google analytics for a couple of months so still need to learn lots about it. your blog looks like it will really help me. #sharefriday

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  8. Interestingly enough, my Wordpress stats generally report fewer visitors than Google Analytics. Any clue why that would be that way?

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    1. Mine do too. I tend to use the jetpack stats as they are right there in the dashboard and more convenient, so I'm always pleasantly surprised to see its slightly higher when I go over to GA! I don't know why it is though.
      Anna (intheplayroom)

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    2. I've been experiencing the same thing with WP. Glad it's not just me :)

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    3. I wonder if it could have something to do with your Wordpress themes? Just like Google Analytics would only have access to so much of the Wordpress servers, would the themes be restricted in a similar fashion?

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  9. I've never been able to get on with google analytics and to be honest stats are only ever looked at when I'm asked for them. But I LOVE your cake analogy. Makes perfect sense to me- thanks for sharing :)
    x

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  10. Such a goos post!! I think a lot of people don't understand how GA works and this explains its really well! P.S - LOVING the cake analogy! Ha

    Rahul :)

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  11. I'm a bit confused I got lost in the chocolate cake analogy. I don't understand analytics I've got it installed but I never look at it and the only blogger stats I check are key words search

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    1. Hi Steph, sorry to confuse you! What I meant by that analogy is this: if you want to know something, you go to the source. Not to someone who may have experienced something similar at some point in time. Try this analogy: there's a Angelina Jolie film at the cinema that you want to see called ABC. Your best friend went to see ABC. Your best friend's sister didn't, but she has seen every other Angelina Jolie film Angelina's ever made. If you want to find out what happens in ABC, who do you ask? The person who actually saw it or someone who saw everything BUT that film? That's what the difference in Google Analytics & blogger platform stats can be like.

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  12. Why do you suggest for us to disable Blogger counting our page views? I feel like I missed something... it's probably explained but I can't find it... :/

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    1. For me it's easier and I get a more accurate idea of who my page is reaching. I do a lot of previewing and reading posts as my readers would view it, just to make sure it's okay and that there aren't any major errors. If I do those 10 to 15 times for each post I write, at the end of the week, that would suddenly skew my results.

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  13. Thanks for the detailed, informative post! I use Blogger and have been wondering why there was a discrepancy between it and Google Analytics. I will continue to use both (GA for PR reps, Blogger for my own motivation since it shows more stats!) but it's good to know why there's a difference.

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  14. This is really helpful info. So many places ask for your Google stats, but I've always felt like they weren't as helpful or accurate as they claim to be and now I understand why. Thanks!

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  15. Thank you Anyonita! I use both sources to get statistic and huge difference kept me doubt. You made it very clear.

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