4 Deceptive Google Analytics Metrics That Fool Marketers

4 Deceptive Google Analytics Metrics That Fool Marketers

Not all metrics are created equal. There are key performance indicators (KPIs) such as conversion rate and revenue per session that are highly valuable for benchmarking your website’s performance and used to optimize against. You rely on these metrics being highly accurate. However, there are other metrics that shape important data-driven decision-making, that commonly deceive Google Analytics users. 

Bounce Rate

Many users obsess over their website bounce rate, wondering if it’s good or bad compared to other sites. Here’s some insight: Bounce rate will always be specific to your marketing mix. This means that every website has a different type of users coming from different sources and on different devices. In general:

  • New users are more likely to bounce than returning users
  • Users from social media sites are more likely to bounce than users coming from Google search results
  • Mobile users are more likely to bounce than desktop users
  • Users who land on blog posts are more likely to bounce than users who land on your homepage.

Pro Tip: Drill into your landing page reports to see how the data differs for devices, sources, and user type. This will help you define what a poor-performing page is for your website. Then you can start prioritizing the pages you need to optimize.

Average Session Duration

Oftentimes if a user views one page on your site and leaves, the session duration is recorded as 0:00. Google Analytics needs a second event in order to measure the time between start and end. Google doesn’t acknowledge the click to close a page in the browser because Google Analytics is only on the page. 

For example, let’s say my friend Mike goes to a website. The first page he sees, he reads for 2 minutes then he navigates to another page, views it 30 seconds, then exits. Google Analytics will record his session as 2 minutes long because there’s no event being recorded between the second pageview and exit click.

Pro Tip: Track Scroll Rate, button clicks, video plays, PDF downloads, and other on-page interactions with event tracking. As long as these hits are being sent to Google Analytics, it will help make Avg. Session Duration is a more valuable metric than it is by default.

Direct Traffic

Most Google Analytics users assume direct traffic are visitors that type your website directly into their browser. However, it’s actually also traffic that Google Analytics metrics can’t figure out how to classify. There are 3 types of misattribution: 

  1. Digital: People who clicked a link in an email, a link shared via text message or a group text app, or watched a video. Social media and referral websites also heavily influence direct traffic. For example, if Forbes mentions your website on their website, you’ll likely see high amounts of direct traffic. 
  2. Traditional: People who see print advertisements, billboards, TV commercials, hear a radio ad, or even meet you at a conference and get your business card will likely come through the website as direct traffic and/or organic. 
  3.  Word-of-mouth: Taking this one step further, direct traffic can also be interpreted as the source of word-of-mouth, a nearly impossible channel to measure, but conversations with friends or family do happen often and are a relevant factor.

Pro Tip: Use UTM tracking whenever possible to reduce the amount of direct traffic you receive and break it up when analyzing the performance of your marketing efforts. The goal here is always to reduce direct traffic as much as possible and identify more and more sources. Below is an example from FeedOtter

Site Speed

Speed is an extremely important metric that can heavily influence conversion rates, SEO and user experience. You may have noticed that Google Analytics offers this in the “Behavior” report section, but this data is heavily sampled and not particularly accurate for a few reasons:

  • First, analytics is using an average of a small sample and the outliers can dramatically differ between what data tells you and what your speed actually is. 
  • Second, timeouts or errors are logged as 0:00 – when often the problem is the opposite (too long loading times). 
  • Last, you’ll see different speeds when using this tool vs. chrome dev. tools, search console, and third-party tools.

With this said, it’s a decent place to start because it does offer reports on all your pages, but in order to understand more and get a more accurate picture, there are 2 great alternatives.

Chrome Developer Console

  1. Right-click and inspect the page you want to understand
  2. Navigate to the Network tab, click Preserve Log, and refresh the page
  3. A list of tags and scripts will load and you will be able to see, in the Time column, how long each tag or script takes to load. Thus you can identify speed issues.

Google PageSpeed Insights

  1. Go to this page and enter your website or URL
  2. Select desktop or mobile and read Google’s recommendations

The Takeaway

In the end, it’s important to pay special attention to some of these “traps” to avoid being sent on a path based on incorrect or misunderstood data. Unfortunately, many of these deceiving metrics show you positive results when in fact you should be looking at things through a different lens, which of course makes it much easier to take what you see as fact and not spend time speculating or really digging into the Google Analytics metrics. If you keep your eye on these deceiving metrics, however, you’ll be off to a good start. 

Have you been deceived by any of the metrics above? Is there anything you would add to the list? Let us know your thoughts and your story in the comment section below.

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