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Tuesday, Jun. 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

Why Doesn’t My Google Analytics Data Match My XYZ Data?

By Natalie Hart
June 7th, 2011

A common question among many of our clients and Grok readers is, “Why doesn’t my GA data match the data from my other sources?” I must applaud these clients for not only collecting data from more than one source, but for taking the time to double check data! But let me reassure you: this is not necessarily something to panic about. Rather, focus your energy on understanding why this can happen, and knowing how to handle it.

The simple answer to this question is that different analytics applications may not be counting the same thing. Here are a couple reasons why your actual numbers might be different:

1. The terminology one program uses vs. the term used by another program may be different. For instance, “visit” and “visitor” are not the same thing, and are often calculated differently from one analytics application to another. In Google Analytics, when a single visitor comes to your site two times within a short period of time and without ever closing the browser window, that behavior is registered as a single visit, while other programs may count this as two visits.

2. Tracking methods may also effect actual numbers because some analytics programs are cookie-based, and rely on a browser setting the cookie. Other programs may use IP + User Agent tracking, meaning it uses log file analysis for its data. The latter type may report higher numbers than those reported by cookie-based analytics applications.

It’s such a common question, that Google even prepared a file to help their users learn why numbers might not match. While Google acknowledges that the GA numbers may be different from what you see in other analytics applications, they raise an important point: the trends in the data tend to be the same. And therein lies the solution to working with data sets from different analytics applications: don’t fixate on the numbers themselves, but look at the trends these numbers are showing you. Perhaps your various Analtyics tools track numbers differently, but if the tracking is working properly, the trends you see in the data still should be the same or similar. These trends will give you the insights into whether there is a challenge or opportunity somewhere on your site, or within your marketing efforts.

Concerned that you’re not seeing an accurate representation of the visitors coming to your site? Start by creating a filter to exclude any internal, company IP addresses. This is especially relevant if you have low traffic, and you or your employees visit your own site many times a day. If your concerns are more about discrepancies among your different Google tools data – AdWords account, AdWords Campaigns report, and Traffic Sources reports – read Google’s explanation for the differences. Again, the answer is likely not such a big problem after all: they aren’t tracking the same things.

If, after exhausting all of the options listed above, you still have reason not to trust your data, get someone in there to check your code. Make sure that everything is set up correctly. If the tracking code is not set up correctly, you will not see accurate data (and most likely you won’t see similar trends either), and that is a problem. But it’s not insurmountable.  There are companies out there with the expertise to track down and fix those errors for you.  Or, if you subscribe to one of our OnTarget services, data accuracy is so central to the work we do, that our very own Josh Hay will work with you to resolve the problem.

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Comments (28)

  1. “don’t fixate on the numbers themselves, but look at the trends these numbers are showing you. ”

    And THAT is the crux of the whole article, in my opinion. Numbers don’t matter as much as the trend that signifies those numbers….

  2. I have two comments to make on your article.

    First: you talked about filtering the IP addresses of your company computers. Can you explain how to do it with Google Analytics?

    Second: you said if the tracking code is not properly configured you might get wrong data. I think if it is the case, you will not get any data at all, at least with Google Analytics.

  3. Go not know much about this, but I no matter what program you are using will never give the exact dates, because everyone has a margin of error of logic.

  4. Interesting.
    I will agree on one thing for sure; I definitely waste too much time watching numbers on a screen, which are in no way helping a business.

    But I am wondering if there is any plugins of script that we could use to detect spiders automatically.
    In other words, except IP filtering, is there a way to minimize the “false negatives” if I can call them that ?

    Thanks for answering ;)

  5. Sadly my Google Analytics data never seems to match anything, but I still love it for the level of information that it gives me.

  6. I went through a brief period of obsessing about the differences in GA, Alexa, Quantcast, and the statistics from my web hosting.

    Quickly, I realized that it wasn’t a good use of my time, and any reasonably accurate numbers (which meant not Alexa) was more than good enough to track trends.

  7. I check my traffic a lot but I only use Analytics. Analytics is great and very good way for me to know how visitors from different sources view my site.

    My site is new so my traffic doesn’t slowly increase but rapidly increases one week then the next week just very slightly.

    However I have noticed this week that google has been giving me more traffic than reffering sites, so that’s good because they are more targeted. Or am I missing something?

  8. I think that Google Analytics is still the best of all.

  9. Yes, i agree with that. I have a wordpress blog and google analytics on it. Blog stats are completely different from analytics data. But it doesn’t matter as you said, ” Trend matters, numbers don’t”.

  10. I use a few methods in addition to analytics (webmaster tools, cpanel on server etc.) but in general what’s important is really the trend rather than specific numbers. When your site is booming it will show on all these tools

  11. I have to agree with the comments above although ga is not accurate i still love all the info it gives me

  12. I can agree with some of the people here, and your client!

    Far too easy to obsess over the numbers – and not focus on the trends of the information.

    A great article – a really concise way of explaining the difference between a visitor and a visit. I have tweeted this page for a friends reference.

    Good stuff.

  13. I think that no matter what tracking method is used there will be always a minor portion of inaccuracy

  14. Great article. It’s good advice not to pay too much attention to small daily fluctuations in Google Analytics traffic levels or sources. We have several clients who get very excited (or upset!) by these variations; but they don’t amount to much over the course of a month.

    FWIW, the GA stats don’t even agree with Google’s own Webmaster Tools data, and the numbers we see in the AdWords keyword tool are very suspect. AdWords Campaign Reports are rock solid, though.

  15. This is a common problem with my blog IndianMarketer.com, and the surprising issue is that Google Analytics is not even matching with the Google Webmasters Tools Data.
    For Example, GMT shows that Google has referred xxxx no. of visitors for all the keywords, while GA’s data doesn’t match with that.

  16. I am using Google analytics and google webmaster to track my website. But even this two application doesn’t match each other.

  17. @Indian Marketer – I believe this is an issue of “visit” versus “visitor”…. check the links in the post for more info.

  18. @Austin Social – Again, the Google tools are measuring slightly different metrics. Check the links in the post for details.

  19. @Asbestos survey – as mentioned, in other comments, see links in the post for details about this.

  20. @Marijayne Bushey — Google has a pretty good explanation for this here: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1213138

  21. What so ever is there. Google is far more accurate than others!

  22. great article, thank you! i use the google data just for the big picture, knowing that you never get exact numbers for the reasons you listed. but it’s a great tool anyway!

  23. Sometimes it is very hard to unerstand the logic of Google analysis. As well as its ranking. And Google Anamytics is a part of Google Search Engine System.
    But if we knew it all, Google wouldn’t be the #1.

  24. That’s good advice to focus on the trends and not the actual numbers, I have a hard time with that. I’m going to look at filtering out internal ip’s as well. Thanks

  25. Google analytics are notoriously inaccurate but still the best on the market. By biggest tip is to note that a bounce was not always a none visitor.. it only means that visitor only viewed one page. As they only viewed one page google has no way of creating a time stamp as this is taken when the second page is clicked. Therefore google places that as a bounce with 0 time on site.

  26. I use the data from the cart system analytics. It seem to be more acurate than google about search terms.

  27. I really appreciate the help and advice given here, now I understand why my data results vary.

    perth hairdressers

  28. Someone asked about how to filter there IP addresses from Google Analytics data.

    It’s actually pretty simple, you can wrap a condition around the Analytics code that checks for this kind of thing. If it is a match, then the code isn’t attached to the page.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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