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Google Analytics: A Bit Of A Misnomer

You Get What You Pay For

October 29, 2010
it is extremely difficult to draw conclusions about your web traffic and user behavior when you are only seeing between 1% and 3% of your web traffic.
If you’ve ever looked at your Google Analytics data and felt like something was a little wrong, you’ve never been more right. We took a look at Google Analytics data and compared it to two server based statistics packages and found Google’s numbers to be almost entirely inaccurate.

If you are basing business decisions on your Google Analytics data you may be making poor decisions because of bad information.


What We Did
We compared data for one month against the following statistics tools:

+ Google Analytics
+ Sawmill
+ GeekPAK’s Web Statistics Module

We compared these three tools against the following common data points:

+ Page Views
+ Visitors
+ Referrers
+ Most Popular Pages
+ Entry Pages
+ Exit Pages
+ Browsers

The three different tools take 3 completely different approaches to statistics.

Sawmill is a traditional log based tool that analyzes the actual logs from the web server. This is the de facto standard method for analyzing web statistics and is the method used by most of the tools in the industry.

Our GeekPAK Enhanced Web Statistics Module is meant to act as a supplement to log based tools. Because our statistics are part of the process our CMS uses when loading pages, these numbers are extremely accurate. Activity only gets logged if and when the CMS actually performs them.

From Google’s website: Google Analytics uses a first-party cookie and JavaScript code to collect information about visitors and to track your advertising campaign data. Google Analytics anonymously tracks how visitors interact with a website, including where they came from, what they did on a site, and whether they completed any of the site's conversion goals.

After looking at the data, we have a hunch that their stats are heavily weighted by searches users perform when on Google and this is one of the primary sources for the skewed data. If anyone wants to hear more about this, shoot us an email or a tweet.



What We Found
The following elements were identical for both Sawmill and GeekPAK with only the occasional swap in order of the top elements:

+ referrers
+ pages
+ entry pages
+ exit pages
+ browsers

Google was all over the map listing between 2 and 3 items from the top 5 in each category that neither GeekPAK nor Sawmill listed. In addition to having the wrong elements, the order was also inconsistent and inaccurate when compared to GeekPAK and Sawmill.

When you take a look at raw numbers you come to see the error of Google Analytics’ ways. In fact looking at the numbers makes the other categories almost irrelevant because the raw number of page views Google collects is so inaccurate, that building lists of top pages, referrers etc is pure nonsense.

Sawmill:
Google Analytics only captured 4% of the actual visitors and 1.2% of the traffic our web server actually recorded.

GeekPAK:
Google Analytics only captured 7.5% of the actual visitors and 3.2% of the traffic our CMS recorded.*

* It should be noted that the GeekPAK Statistics Module filters out web crawlers and robots providing data on actual users browsing web pages. Sawmill records all traffic including robots and web crawlers. This explains the discrepency in gross numbers between the two. However the items listed and the rankings presented matched almost exactly in every category.


Conclusion
Google Analytics is free and you get what you pay for. It certainly provides some views that we haven’t seen in other web statistics tools, but it is extremely difficult to draw conclusions about your web traffic and user behavior when you are only seeing between 1% and 3% of your web traffic.

Finally, the percentages and discrepancies you might observe will vary based on how you have your web analysis tools configured. The precise percentages presented here are not the key point, but rather that Google Analytics is only capturing a small percentage of your actual web traffic. We have looked at data across multiple clients for several years and have confirmed the errors and trends presented here.



If you would like to see the data we used to prepare this article, shoot us an email or a tweet, we’d be happy to share it with you.

 

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