November 8, 2022
Google metrics

People who know me, know that I am a fan of Google Lighthouse, and especially the perfomance statistics. Well, fan… ‘obsessed’ may be a better word. I rely on Google when it comes to website statistics. This is why I was shocked when I got an email from Google, about the performance of one of my websites, that was clearly wrong.

It showed me the following statistics (from Google Analytics):

Users 111 Increase 42.1%
Sessions 319 Increase 27.1%
Bounce Rate 56.1% Increase 9.3%
Session Duration    00:04:16    Increase 100.9%

Google gets it wrong

I love some positive news… but I was pretty sure this particular website had a decrease and not an increase in visitors. What went wrong? Well… the words ‘increase 42.1%’ were written in red. I would formulate that as a decrease of almost 60%, but Google presented it as an increase of 42.1% and marked it red. I think that is very unclear and (frankly) wrong. Remember that there is a whole team behind Google Analytics. How can they have missed this? This email went out to thousands of website owners around the world and made a fool out of Google.

Google Analytics is useless anyway

So Google reported a hefty decrease (or tried to). But was there an actual decrease in traffic of more than 50%? I had seen a consistent drop of only a few percent per month. The answer was that this was untrue as well. Google Search Console showed a steady 7 to 14 clicks per day and the server logs also showed steady traffic. There was no sign of a traffic drop. Why did Google Analytics reported there was? That can be easily explained. I follow the EU law, because I do not want to risk a 400k euro penalty. Therefore I ask for permission before I load Google Analytics. The amount of people that grant permission to load Google Analytics gets lower every month and apparently this month was an absolute low. Additionally, people with ad-blockers will never load Google Analytics, even when they ‘Approve’ everything. Their number is also on the rise. As a result Google Analytics thought there were very little visitors this month, while the actual amount stayed roughly the same. We can conclude that Google Analytics has officially become the poorest and most unreliable (or dangerous) way to deliver usage statistics.

The alternative

Ironically, Google also has a product that does work and is legal to use in the EU, which is ‘Google Search Console’. This is the tool I used to verify the amount of traffic through the Google search engine. Although it can tell you how well your website performs in the most popular search engine, it cannot say anything about direct (or social) traffic. Therefore it is only partially useful. You should always use it on combination with server logs. Analyzing server logs was already popular in the 90’s and still works. Sure, you will measure some bots along the way, but you will get a complete image of your traffic. The best thing about server logs is that their usage is also compliant with the EU laws (as long as you keep them to yourself and rotate them frequently).

Thank you for reading this post. Happy coding! May your website traffic prosper and increase by more than 100% ;-).

()  Joost van der Schee

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