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Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

Google Analytics Basics: Confronting Data Trust Issues

By Natalie Hart
July 19th, 2011

Time and again I hear clients say, or see Grok readers comment, that they don’t trust the data they’re seeing in Google Analytics. While most of the time it’s simply a matter of not knowing how to accurately read GA data, sometimes there really are problems that need to be solved before data is trustworthy. Now this isn’t to say that this happens to everyone, in fact the situations are often the exceptions and not the rules, but if you find that something just isn’t adding up, it may be one of these problems.

Symptom #1: you see a significant drop in traffic.

Situation: Hypothetically, your traffic is trending as usual… then one day, for one page, there are no visits. Perhaps you think, well it’s an internal page, rarely do we send direct traffic there, so you let it slide. But then, a week later you revisit your GA data for this page’s traffic stats and you still have zero visitors.

The culprit: Chances are pretty good that the GA code got removed by accident or got stepped on in some way that deactivated tracking for that page. This is the most likely of the problems on this list to occur.

How to confirm: Thankfully, this problem is also the easiest problem to spot and fix. However, if you don’t tend to get a lot of traffic, this symptom might not be as obvious to spot, so check your GA regularly and be diligent when making changes on the back end. To confirm that removed or deactivated code is the problem, look at the GA code on the page.

Don’t freak out. Do this instead: Fix or re-place the GA code on that page.

Symptom #2: your Conversion Rate is listed as something other than what you know it to be.

Situation: Your online conversion rate is 1.5%. You know this to be true, but Google Analytics reports your conversion rate to be 1.67%. This makes you question the validity of all the other data in GA.

The culprit: Google Analytics help tells us, “In Analytics, the Conversion Rate indicates the percentage of visitors that convert on at least one of the goals you have defined for that profile.” That’s just an analytics-speak way of saying that GA is capable of tracking multiple goals, and if you set up multiple goals, your conversion rate is an average of the various conversion rates for each goal you have set up. When you’re setting up your account, remember this if you want to track the activity of more than one action on your site.

How to confirm: It’s not fun, but go into GA and calculate by hand the conversion rate for each goal you have set up. Chances are that GA is reporting the correct conversion rate for the compounded value of all the goals.

Don’t freak out. Do this instead:Knowledge is power. Once you know this, it should set your mind at ease. Set up at least one goal that is primary conversion goal for your site, and simply look at this metric when you want a direct answer to your conversion rate question.

Symptom #3: you suspect the data you see is not your own.

This is a special case. It’s a much deeper and more pervasive issue than the other two. So, I’m going to hand it over to some experts: our friends at Blast Advanced Media, who wrote a great post on how to identify Rogue sites, and what to do if they’re influencing your data.

Now remember, these situations do not happen to all accounts. Tracking data properly is important, and plays a huge part in delivering the data trust you need to feel comfortable moving forward with conversion rate optimization plans. If you think that something doesn’t quite add up, start with these 3 common situations and hopefully you’ll find a resolution by the time you’ve made it through the list. Still think there’s a problem? ASK FOR HELP! There are great resources in the Google Analytics Help files, from Google Analytics partners to great website optimization firms like us here at FutureNow. Sure, our primary focus is on Conversion Rate Optimization, but each of our OnTarget subscriptions includes basic Analytics support for resolving data trust issues like these (it’s just that central to what we do). Besides… isn’t making your website better the real reason you want all that data anyway? So, don’t wait, find a solution today!

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Comments (26)

  1. It’s not that I don’t trust GA data – I don’t trust it when it kicks me over into fast-access mode. Sampling does not work when you’re trying to look at granular data :P

  2. One concern I have on my website (linked above) is that it is difficult to filter out my own hits from GA so that the visit count isn’t too high based on my own visits and tweaking. Maybe you could address this too in another post?

  3. Cool. Now I know what to look out for when it does happen to my site. Thanks for sharing. I often question some data that Google Analytics present. Number 2 is sure a pain to do though. Ugh!

  4. I’ve been experiencing imilar problems with Google Analytics lately. Some of the stats I’m seeing are so off that I know for a fact things are not working properly. I’ve tried the help desk a few times now, but have finally decided to jump ship entirely. I’m now installing WP stats on my sites as I build them. Far superior to the GA configuration, imo.

  5. This gives me a lot of great insight. I have always had trouble figuring out conversions through analytics, because setting up funnels and achievements is kind of tricky for me to figure out.

  6. those are great steps to take when you think there is something off with your website’s traffic. google analytics is very helpful when used the correct way.

  7. Thank you for getting this useful information out! It will help people that have this problem. It’s not hard to fix but for someone that doesn’t know what to do, it may be. Thank you for explaining in detail some insight on Google Analytics!

  8. I was wondering, somedays I do have low numbers on traffic, not like on a single page but on all my sites, it comes like one day in a week. I though first, was it a day with less people online (I know that’s quite a crazy though) but it’s definitly on all my websites

  9. I have been managing a lot of website with google analytics and i have never had such a problem. I think GA is alot more acurate then others.

  10. Stats in google analytics are not accurate since they cannot track all visitors. It can give you a good estimation of how many people visit your site compared to other stat programs but it will not give an accurate calculation. The best way to measure your traffic is to see how many times your pages loaded thru your host provider.

  11. Thanks so much I noticed i had a lot of rogue traffic and now i know why I had some landing pages ripped from one of my sites and this has totally had me baffled.

    A quick alternative to this is to create a new google analytic code and replace it. Obviously for wordpress this isn’t that hard to do so if you have a static site you could do a search and replace using dream weavers search and replace feature.

    Its a quick fix and am not saying this is for everyone but if your paying for traffic and your using goal conversion you don’t want anything affecting your real stats.

  12. [...] de su uso incorrecto. Natalie Hart intenta aclarar los problemas más populares en su artículo “Google Analytics Basics: Confronting Data Trust Issues”.Y para terminar, una investigación sobre diferentes posibilidades para analizar a tus competidores [...]

  13. I just come to know that symptom 2 was an issue with me, there had been problems with my convertion rate. Thanks a lot for this useful information you provided.

  14. Thanks for these tips on Google Analystics. To be honest, what always annoyed me the most about analytics was the fact that it’s not instantaneous. It makes it hard to keep tabs on its accuracy. I actually use statcounter and find it far more useful as I can see virtually in realtime what’s going on.

    Obviously it lacks the amazing abilities of conversion tracking, but the majority of my conversations end in a phone call, so tracking them is actually a matter of me taking a quick look on statcounter just after the call has come through. Something that wouldn’t be doable on Google Analytics.

  15. One thing that always puzzles me about analytics is that the back link data seems to change a lot. The data I get on Google will often vary to other SEO tools. I’m now at a point where I don’t know what is accurate.

  16. Personally, I think Google Analytics is more complex than it needs to be. Non techies could have issues utilizing it fully

  17. There are other issues where Google Analytics data is simply off. I’ve run other tracking software side by side, and even taking into account common errors such as those listed in this article (which are spot-on), there were discrepancies where I knew Google Analytics to be wrong.

  18. Having own websites for over a decade, I have seen stats come and go. I use them as a guide only. I stay with the core product/service I am providing without necessarily worry about what the data tells me should be the results. The beany baby craze was great for the initial responders but a failure for the late bloomers. Use your business instincts.

  19. How to confirm : It’s not fun, but go into GA and calculate by hand the conversion rate for each goal you have set up.

  20. Google analytics is a great tool. Like you stated in your article, the problem is most people never really learn how to use it to it’s full potential. Once you learn how to use it, the data it provides is very valuable to a webmaster.

  21. I haven’t been using GA that long so I am still finding my way about, but the thing I am having trouble with is finding out exactly where my traffic is coming from.

  22. Thanks! This is very helpful for me as i work on 21day traffic blueprint.

  23. Thank you, too! Very helpful article about Google Analyrics:)

  24. You can omit your IP address in your GA profile.

  25. I have been used Google Analytics, it is very helpful for an overview about our daily visitors.

  26. Hi, just wanted to say I attended this conference last year, and found it by far the best of about 8 conferences that I attended in the field. Full of professional insight based on testing by experts that knew what they were talking about. I would certainly go again and recommend it to anyone operating in this field.

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Natalie is a Persuasion Analyst with FutureNow.

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