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Website Stat Malfunctions: Why Your Website Success (or Failure) May Be Fiction

In my last post, I told a story about an executive who misinterpreted the statistics on his home page bounce rate.

He thought the bounce rate was 70 percent, when in fact the real home page bounce rate was 20 percent.

There are lots of other ways that companies can misinterpret their website statistics, even though they are just repeating the outputs from their analytics software. Here are four of my favorite, and very common, “things may not be as they first appear” mistakes regarding website statistics.

#1 Visits Are Not Always Real

We’ve seen people cite a certain number of site visits, only to find out that their Google Analytics statistic included visits from employees.

After filtering out employee visits, the actual visits to the site were much lower.

We’ve also seen cases where the web developer forgot to put Google Analytics code on a huge number of pages within a site, or they had a typo in the Analytics code. The company thought visits were low, but in fact it was just a coding error.

The bottomline? The stats you’ve been relaying to management regarding site visits may not be correct.

#2 Bounce Rates Are Not Always Real

We’ve seen instances in which the client had an iframe on their webpages that brought in content from another page on their site, which also had Google Analytics on it.

This can inflate your visits (see #1 Visits Are Not Always Real above), but it can also mess with your bounce rate statistics. Every time that iframe loads, Google thinks somebody is looking at a page and that they then leave the page without clicking on a link. A bounce is tallied, but it’s not really a bounce.

Another cause of false bounce counts is when you accidentally put your Google Analytics code on your page twice, which can result in a bounce rate of zero. Forgetting to put Analytics on parts of your website can also lead to false reports of high bounce rates. And, of course, I’ve written previously about the impact that a login option can have on bounce rates.

The key takeaway on this one is that the bounce rates you see in Google Analytics could very well be wrong. Before you use them to make a decision, you’ll want to have somebody vet your Google Analytics to make sure you’ve got all the plumbing right.

#3 Social Likes Are Not Always Real

Those little widgets you see all over the web that tell you how many times a page has been tweeted or liked are pretty cool, aren’t they?

They look great, but, unfortunately, they don’t give an accurate report on how many times a page has been promoted socially.

If you keep clicking on them, the numbers keep going up. You can bump up the tweet count by simply clicking away on the Twitter button, without having to actually tweet the article multiple times.

The only way to get the real number is to use the Facebook and Twitter APIs. The dashboard we use to track social promotion of PR placements does that, and it’s often a disappointment to our clients: “Wait, you’re telling me that the article was only re-tweeted 30 times, but the magazine’s site says it was re-tweet 200 times.”

Yeah, sorry, that’s not the correct stat. Our number, which come directly from the Twitter API, is right; that number you are seeing on the article page is wrong.

So, when you see those Twitter numbers or somebody tells you that their article was re-tweeted a gazillion times, take it all with a grain of salt. To monitor the effectiveness of your social media marketing programs, you need to make sure you are working with accurate numbers.

#4 Conversions Are Not Always Real

Last but not least, conversion statistics are often not correct, which can lead to a false sense of your digital performance and mess up any attempts at landing page optimization.

The most common error we see in conversion reporting is forgetting to set up the goal tracking on a page. In this case, you think Google is tallying your conversions but it’s not. This results in understated conversion rates in Google Analytics. Even if goal tracking is set up, there may be problems with miskeying the goal URL or having incorrect URL matching, which can get tricky. Making a mistake regarding whether a goal URL is case sensitive is another common mistake. URL rewrite filters within Google Analytics can also cause problems if you don’t use the rewritten URL as your goal.

Yet another source of conversion error is when people forget to no-index their forms’ thank-you pages. In this case, the form thank-you page can end up being indexed in search engines. When somebody arrives on the page via search, a conversion is tallied. But in fact they really haven’t completed the form, so conversion rates are inflated.

If you haven’t done it already, it’s good to have a second set of eyes on your Google Analytics conversion tracking setup. Our website assessments include this analysis, and we almost always uncover some small error that messes up conversion rate statistics.

Double-Check Your Website Statistics Now!

The key learning for this article is that you need to be careful with website stats. Before you start bragging about a website statistic, yelling at somebody because you are unhappy with a website statistic or making big decisions based on your website analytics, take the time to make sure your numbers are right.

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