One major rule of Social Media marketing is to track everything, and at Speak Social we take that responsibility very seriously. When certain content goes out for clients that I suspect will perform well, I monitor its performance closely. I pride myself on knowing when and where every click happens. That is where this story of discovery begins …
Google Analytics, for most people, is the end-all-be-all to traffic numbers. People rely on this data to prove the worth of their online campaigns because Google Analytics provides very useful metrics. It gather clicks, web traffic, time-on-site, bounce rate and other data points into one place for content managers to monitor. It measures success, and it measures failure, and (theoretically) you can use that data to adjust your strategy accordingly. For many, it is the most trusted source for analytics out there. Recently, however, we found a very serious chink in the Google Analytics armor.
Let me get right to the point. The numbers don’t match up (literally). Not only do they not match up, they aren’t even close … ever. I was first alerted to this issue through the use of a very popular link shortener, Bit.ly. I always noticed a severe discrepancy in the amount of clicks Bit.ly reported as compared to the web hits reported by Google Analytics. I’m not talking about a marginal difference either. I’m talking about a gap more noticeable than the space between Madonna’s front teeth. (See The Numbers Below)
Being somewhat of a Google fanboy, I figured it MUST have been Bit.ly’s fault for the discrepancy. They are the new kid on the block when placed next to Google. In my mind, there was no way that Google would ever under-report numbers, let alone have a fundamentally faulty reporting system in place. They are GOOGLE!
One fine afternoon, I shared what I knew would be a story with high virality (chance of going viral) on one of my client’s Facebook pages. Instantly the likes and comments came flooding in. With my Bit.ly Dashboard open, I watched as 10 clicks turned into 100 and then into 300. This particular client gets on average 1,000 web hits per month, and in one day we (potentially) drove 300+. Not bad for a day’s work.
The next afternoon, I opened this client’s Google Analytics account to check the web numbers from the previous day. To my shock, the report was less than stellar, which was troubling considering that the previous Facebook post alone got 20 shares, 200 likes and 90 comments. Bit.ly was reporting over 316 clicks to the website, while Google Analytics reported only 89 web hits. Something was very wrong.
I rounded up some Speak Social lab rats, made a test link, attached the proper analytics code, shortened the web link with Bit.ly and sent it out to the team with explicit instructions to click the link once and email me when they did. Do you know what we found? The Bit.ly numbers were spot on, while the numbers delivered by Google Analytics were way off.
This got me thinking. How many times have people in my position had their feet held to the fire because of the shoddy performance of Google Analytics? How many business owners have pulled budget on successful campaigns that were misreported by this Google reporting tool? Google should hold itself to a higher standard if they want to be the overall voice on web traffic.
However, Google blaming aside, we all need to see the deeper lesson here. If you’re relying on only one source for information about your brand, or one source for marketing to your audience, or one source for generating revenue, you are setting yourself up for failure.
I can tell you one thing for certain; I will look at Google Analytics reports with a grain of salt from now on (and build reports based on numbers from multiple sources), and will educate my clients to do the same.
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