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.