Inflated Data Part One: What to Do When An Analytics Report Looks Wrong

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Inflated Data Part One: What to Do When An Analytics Report Looks Wrong
Inflated Data Part One: What to Do When An Analytics Report Looks Wrong

So there you are, taking a brief look at the reports, and you notice that the data seems a little inflated but you are not sure. Your management needs you to dig into why the numbers are off. To quote Dennis Hopper from the movie Speed –“What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?”

For starters, you stay calm, knowing that like any other system analytics solutions can encounter reporting errors, creating inflated data that skews reported metrics, producing a false positive about a trend.  You know that such false positives can cause marketers to make decisions based on a trend less significant in reality than what was reported.

Many causes exist for inflated data, mainly from a faulty setting or an script installation error. So let's look at the some of the causes and then review a few ways that a marketer can do to guard against the problem.

Audit tag installation

One cause of inflated data is duplicate tags on a page. Having duplicate tags on a page triggers two firings of the analytics script. So two counts of visits are registered, two sets of average session time is recorded, and so forth.

A few methods exist for checks.  The "find" feature in the browser can search the source code of the page to see if a tag script appears twice.  To do this, navigate to a page and select source code in a browser – it is usually among the selection in the navigation bar.  

The source code reveals the HTML that creates the page. You can then review that code for the analytic script text. The "find" feature can search that code quickly   The "find" feature is also in the browser, but can vary in location – check for advice online about where to access it in the browser you typically use.

Developer debugging tools can also help, such as WASP which can check for tags on a page, or jshint which can detect JavaScript codes errors when run.

Filtering local traffic by IP address

Sometimes analytics is installed without accounting for website loads from visitors who access the site from another part of a company.  Those visitors can raise the visit count and skew metrics.  It is better to filter this traffic out so that your reports can reflect website traffic earned from your marketing.

Most analytic tools have an IP address filter for this purpose.   To do this, add the IP address of each company location in the IP filter. IP filters are usually an administrative feature, such as this example in Google Analytics.

If you are unsure of the IP address, you can type "IP address" in the Google search window or go to WhatsmyIP.com, a site that detects your IP address.

To access you must navigate to the Admin  page of a Google Analytics account; then Property, and View; then select Filters in the menu. Once you do, you will see a New Filter button which will show the options available. You can include or exclude IPs, and subdomains (which I will explain in the next section).

Accounting for how users type your company URL

A filter is also useful for URL domains, be it an address or a subdirectory, for example when there are variations in how your website URL is typed. When URLs are typed from different devices, or even spoken, referral traffic reports sometimes treat variations in the URLs as different URLs. Those variations can create more reporting than necessary.

For example, suppose a visitor creates lowercase characters instead of uppercase because they spoke the URL into a smartphone. The same page will appear to the visitor regardless of the typing. But some analytics solution can record the URLs cases as two sets of pages URLs. So in a given report an analyst will see a new Analytics reports dimension line for each variation, like the following:

  • yourwebsite.com/PEAR
  • yourwebsite.com/pear

To simplify this, users can create a filter that revises all URL to lowercase. This step is similar navigation for an IP filter, except you select a domain sub-directory rather than IP addresses.

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