Are the ‘facts’ really facts? Relying on Google Analytics too much might harm your business

Are the ‘facts’ really facts? Relying on Google Analytics too much might harm your business

Rosie Hayes

Rosie Hayes
6th July 2018

It almost seems part of human nature to want easily digestible statistics to make sense of complex activities around business, and monitoring websites is no different. However, the problem occurs when people begin to accept the statistics they’re being presented with as immutable facts.

Most businesses and entrepreneurs use Google Analytics as their main source to inform them about their users, customers, or visitors. Although other analytics tools can be, and probably are used alongside this, it’s probably safe to conjecture that Google Analytics is the most prevalent. But, it’s also worth noting that while Google Analytics is a fantastic database of insights, placing too much reliance on it as a tool can be unfavourable.

Google Analytics (henceforth referred to as GA) may be one of the most reliable tools available regarding analytics, but this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken without a grain of salt. Even the most advanced, comprehensive of instruments in tech aren’t without their flaws, glitches, and fallibility. While all business owners and anyone who uses GA may want concrete, dependable results to help them to continuously amend their strategies and steer them towards success, it’s vital to be aware of the array of defects that could actually be modifying the results that appear. In essence, GA is a brilliant tool, but is not always reliable.

Here are some of the shakier elements of GA and its reporting that should be considered for accuracy:

Time on page and session duration

The results from time on page are measured by timestamps as the user clicks on other pages, which can be deceptive. For instance, if another page is loaded and that’s the last page a person clicks on, that’s not necessarily the time they left the website. Also, if someone loads a page and doesn’t take any further action on the website the session duration can be reported as 0, even if they have spent time on the website.

Sampling/sampling rate

By sampling a smaller data set to find information about a larger trend/pattern, it may not be entirely accurate. Although sampling can be fairly accurate depending on the numbers/information used to scale, it can really only be an estimate.

Spam traffic/bot traffic

The issue here is when fake hits are sent to your GA account. One of the most notorious of these is called Ghost spam, which you can find out more about and how to eliminate here.

Are the ‘facts’ really facts? Relying on Google Analytics too much might harm your business

Incorrect configuration

By configuring your GA settings incorrectly, this can affect the results that show tremendously. Check out these common mistakes when setting up tracking to see if some of the ways listed ring true for you.

UTM parameters

UTM parameters (tracked tags at the end of URLs) can be unreliable if named inconsistently, or if they have the same name as a campaign. See more about UTM parameters here.

Filtering out internal IP traffic

GA can sometimes show internal traffic, making it hard to discern what is internal and external traffic. This can be avoided by creating an IP address filter.  Likewise, it may be necessary to filter out suppliers IP traffic such as a marketing agency or other collaborators.

How Events & Conversions fire differently

This comes to the difference between Goals and Events. Essentially, KPIs should be considered and tracked differently to Events, but both are very useful and can be used in conjunction to better understand a user’s journey.

Users Vs Sessions Vs Pageviews

Users, Sessions and Pageviews are all distinctive, so understanding how these are different will help your reporting.

‘Direct’ traffic

Direct traffic is used as a category when Google cannot determine the channel or referral source. It may be the case that someone has typed the URL in directly, or they have added the URL to their bookmarks. However, there are other reasons that can force Google to categorise traffic as ‘direct’ such as users’ privacy and security plugins, multiple devices, app store apps, and QR codes.

Bounce rates

Bounce rates shown in your analytics may not be accurate. See this article for more information about how to fix it.

This article is just a prefatory text, so feel free to delve deeper into the topic by searching about each of the aforementioned headings.

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