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Inside Online Marketing: Google Analytics is Lying to You

By Erin  |   Business Website Tips | Online Marketing

Businessman With Devil Shadow

If you take away one thing from today’s blog post, it’s this: Google Analytics is only as helpful as the data it receives. In fact, we regularly run into situations with new clients where their Google Analytics data is diluted or downright wrong (and completely, 100% unhelpful if not harmful).

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Like many tools, Google Analytics is a victim of its own success. When users sign up for a Google Analytics account, or add a new website to an existing account, they expect the product to work flawlessly out of the box.

However, there are many features that require a bit of research and some extra setup to work perfectly. If you haven’t done so, your company can have significant problems with the data being collected—data that’s needed when creating or improving your company’s online marketing strategy(!).

Our online marketing services.

Let’s assume for a moment that you followed the setup instructions and the code is configured correctly. Now, let’s take a look at some of the common problems you could potentially run into, even though your account is setup correctly.

Posts from the past

Let’s assume your website has been around for a while, it has a great blog, and it’s receiving a respectable amount of traffic.

Chances are good that some of the blog posts you’ve written over the years are helpful and insightful (and have hopefully brought in new business). Chances are also good that you have a few articles that just create noise.

The ‘noisy’ posts are ones that bring in traffic but don’t bring you any new business.

Maybe these noisy blog posts weigh in on a controversial topic. Maybe they help solve a specific technical issue. Maybe they mention a well-known member of your industry.

The problem with these posts is at the end of the day, visits to these posts are just…noise. They may contribute lots of click-through activity, but growth to these articles won’t bring you new business, so mixing this ‘noisy’ data into a conversation about user intent or conversion rates when reviewing your analytics is guaranteed to cause confusion rather than clarity.

You may want to set up a new view in Google Analytics, which allows you to see your statistics excluding the traffic from those noisy posts. Keep in mind it’s important to solve this problem as a View, and not an account-level filter so you can see both the before and after.

Referral report spam

If you’re curious who is sending traffic directly from their website to yours, you probably look at your Referral report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals).

If you look hard enough, you’ll probably find at least a handful of referring websites that have nothing to do with your industry. So why are they sending users to your site?

They’re not.

This is actually a soft form of spam. Some companies create robots that click from their domain to yours, which means their domain shows up in your Referral report. It’s fairly harmless—but the thing is that it throws off your Google Analytics reports.

If you saw a 10% growth in traffic, but 8% of that increase was bot traffic, you’re not growing your productive traffic much. So taking your Google Analytics report to the CEO and boasting you’ve increased traffic to your company’s website by 10% would be incorrect.

Here’s how you can block spam domains from your Google Analytics Referral reports.

Soft conversions

Websites can be built in all kinds of ways, and sometimes a great web development solution can actually create a data collection problem. One common frustration for online marketing teams is something called offsite conversions.

Offsite conversions come in many forms, but let’s use this as our example:

Users browse and shop http://www.example.com, but when they click a ‘Buy Now’ button, the website sends them off to http://www.ecommerce-example.com to finish the transaction.

At the end of the day, the sale succeeds and the revenue ends up where it needs to—but what about the data that shows up in Google Analytics?

If the site owner doesn’t have full development access to http://www.ecommerce-example.com, their analytics reports may show plenty of statistics about pre-purchase actions, but they may know next to nothing about actual conversions.

It can be tempting to set up a ‘next best’ conversion type. The thought is: ‘if tracking sales is difficult, let’s track something else that probably leads to sales’.

Here are a few examples of ‘next best’ conversion types we’ve seen businesses set up for themselves in Google Analytics:

  • Whenever a user adds an item to the cart, that might lead to a conversion.
  • Whenever a user reaches the ‘Contact Us’ page, that might lead to a conversion.
  • Whenever a user visits three pages, that might lead to a conversion.

Those types of actions might be useful—or they might not be.  Relying on ‘next best’ conversions like these instead of ACTUAL conversions can lead to serious, budget-draining, faulty decision-making down the road. 

For example:

“Users from paid advertising added 100 items to shopping carts, so they must account for 100 of our sales.”

If the source of each sale isn’t documented, then website and digtial marketing decisions get based on guesswork instead of actual data.

The exact method for accurately tracking your conversion actions does depend heavily on how your site is built, but regardless, a great online marketing team will always be able to help you find ways to track your most essential statistics. This is exactly why it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion when you’re not sure how accurate your conversion statistics are.

Thinking you might want an expert opinion?

How accurate are your Google Analytics reports? Are they lying to you?

We hope today’s 3 examples encourage you to start thinking critically about the data you’re seeing in your Google Analytics reports. (And remember, these are just 3 of the many, many ways your analytics reports can by “lying” to you.)

Wondering how you can make a significant impact on your website? Increase conversions and generate more revenue? Get in touch and let’s have a conversation. We’d be happy to help evaluate your current situation and online goals.

And finally, we started our blog post today with this tip, and we’re going to end with it as it’s so important: Google Analytics is only as helpful as the data it receives.

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