Do you use Google Analytics? Well, a recent study shows that you’re not alone, roughly one third of the Alexa top 500 websites traffic wise use it. That surprised me a little. Anyways, I use Google Analytics myself and noticed before that some numbers are inaccurate or downright wrong. In May I discovered how wrong, completely wrong.
The numbers of search engine referers, more specifically, are wrong. I’ve noticed that before but wasn’t panicking as no statistic tool is perfectly accurate, you always should use at least 2 of them and compare the numbers. Now this time I checked my stats over at SEO 2.0 I was unable to ignore it anymore.
SEO 2.0 is mostly about social media and blogging SEO and it relies on traffic from other sources than Google. I only get insignificant numbers of visitors from Google on my blog, mostly due to very specific “long tail” queries. The only really important keyphrase is “SEO 2.0″ itself. Now looking at my May stats I was very surprised that one of better performing keywords was “site seo vs blog seo” without quotes.
I looked deeper into that just to discover that all 60 visitors looking for this keyword is one person from Bucharest, Romania. Google Analytics counted her or him several times a day for more than 2 weeks.
Now I sometimes create returning visits just by launching my FireFox with my saved tabs but how can a person search for the same query every day several times and then click the search result each time? This one riddles me. I’ve seen that kind of behaviour with Google Analytics in the past but always thought it was due to myself or several developers from my client working on the same site.
Not this time, there is certainly no Romanian developer working on my site. Now try to multiply these numbers for one of the top 500 sites and you end up with completely worthless statistics.
I’m not here to bash Google for their great analytics solution. I love checking and comparing bounce rates etc. but it’s more than strange that a search engine gets the search referers wrong in its own analytics solution. So if they don’t want people to make up conspiracy theories about Google overstating their search referers numbers they better fix this quick.
What can you do about it? Look out for some alternatives and either use Google Analytics and at least another solution or even more. What alternatives are there?
Well, if you’re running a “top 500 website” you better rely on a solution used and recommended by leading search marketers. This is ClickTracks in most cases. Also Omniture has been recommended by many professionals. Many people outside of Germany probably don’t know it but some German marketers prefer Etracker. Just to name three of them. There are plenty of high end solutions out there you surely can afford if you run such a huge site.
For the average webmaster seeking a low cost or free solution there is no single alternative to rely on. There is Piwik, an open source alternative recently hailed by many, but it’s in alpha now and didn’t work for me, it produced SQL errors instead.
Another solution is to use Google Analytics along a specialized search analytics tool like:
Have you experienced similar issues with Google Analytics or am I the only one to discover this?
There have been a post at SEOmoz, by SEO theory blogger Micheal Martinez already in 2006 and a post in 2007 from AimClear focused on the reliability on Google Analytics with another topic, outages.
My conclusion right now is a grim one: Google Analytics is cheating you, I hope not on purpose. Unless you do not care about accurate search referers and visitor numbers you should use one of the solutions above or resort to log file analysis.