Something weird happening in Analytics

Almost any website has some kind of analytics tool installed, but I’ve see a lot of people who take this data for granted, and trust what they are seeing in their reports.

Well, the numbers displayed in your analytics aren’t always correct I can assure you! Even if you’ve configured your tool and have the necessary filters (filter your own traffic) in place, your statistics can still get polluted.

Many times I’ve been data mining to check (and fix if necessary) if the numbers are representative enough to do some kind of analysis.

100% accurate simply doesn’t exist, but that’s another discussion :)

Today I was working on an issue that’s been bothering me for several days, and although I didn’t manage to get it fixed (up until now ;) )

I did discover something that polluted our numbers big time!

Here’s what happened:

For some time I was worrying about the Direct Traffic in our Analytics tool.

I know that existing clients using our online software (I work in a SaaS company) can come back using a bookmark or just type in our URL in the address bar, but 40% of direct traffic… no, I don’t believe that!

Finding a the problem. Easier said than done

So, let’s find out where this traffic comes from… It didn’t take me long to learn that traffic coming from HTTPS websites lost some header information along the way when they send traffic to our HTTP website.

An easy fix, and I was looking forward to the result, so that way we could find out which other websites were linking to us.

We implemented the SSL certificate, but the direct traffic didn’t drop that much. We did get some new “Referral Traffic” in our reports but there was still something weird going on.

When I was investigating this deeper, I found out that the redirect on our homepage (from .com to .com/language) transformed Organic Search Traffic to Direct Traffic, but only for FireFox users.

This was one of the errors we made ourselves, in the redirect we had in place we still referred to the old HTTP URL so that’s why the information got lost.

Alright, let’s fix this redirect! This should result in a drop of Direct Traffic and a boost in Organic Search traffic.

But it didn’t.

The Direct Traffic only dropped with a few percent, so there must be something else.

Deep dive into the numbers

We got tens of thousands of new visitors during August and September, direct traffic and using Internet Explorer 7. The traffic had a bounce rate of 99%.

Searching on forums like Moz, seroundtable, and other online marketing blogs I read about a spike in direct traffic caused by the retargeting platform “AdRoll”.

As we didn’t use the platform anymore, but still had the remarketing pixel on our website, we were targeted by bots who were looking for the retargeting code.

We removed the code ASAP to prevent this from happening again.

To get rid of this false data I created a custom filter in our Analytics reports to filter out the direct IE7 traffic, and our data is (more or less) clean again.

Please keep this in mind…

While writing this post I thought about the time I worked in an online agency as an online marketing consultant.

Companies hired me to see how they could improve their online strategy, and most of the time my job started with diving into their analytics tool(s) to see what could be improved.

Most of the time the setup of the tool itself wasn’t even done right, so they were looking at numbers that didn’t make any sense.

You need Analytics tools to analyze your traffic, but don’t ever take those numbers for granted.

Always make annotations whenever you’ve changed important elements on your website, but also when you know you’re getting (online) media coverage or running temporary ad campaigns.

Doing this you will understand much better why there are spikes or drops in traffic, or when something weird is happening and you need to dive into the data.

To help you with your analytics, I will start writing a series of blogposts that will help you configure, but also understand the number you see in your stats. That way you too can improve your website, based on correct data.








2 Responses

  1. Mark November 24, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    I was seeing this as well. Contacted Adroll, as we were still using them, and they of course said this is no longer a problem. Turned it off on Tuesday, direct traffic returned to normal. Won’t be going back to Adroll use anytime soon.

  2. jbrabants November 25, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    Indeed, I really like remarketing, and thought AdRoll would be great to have 1 platform to target several networks but after this experience I really doubt I ever go back to them. If they just told me what happened and maybe some kind of apology… but no… :)

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