Every day, I go into a new Google Analytics account and look at numbers that are inaccurate. When I say “inaccurate,” I don’t mean a few extra sessions or a bounce rate that is off a bit. I mean traffic numbers that are double what they should be and time on site and average pages per visit that are half of what they should be. 

Before we get in too deep, let’s take a step back to Google Analytics 101 to make sure we understand a few metrics that will be talked about throughout this post.

Sessions: These were previously referred to as visits and are defined as a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given timeframe. Let’s say someone comes to your homepage, visits three pages, then leaves. That is one session.

Then someone else comes to your homepage, and leaves without visiting another page. Again, that’s one session. So now you should see two new sessions displayed in your Google Analytics account (if you have it set up correctly).

Pageviews: This is a measure of the total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted. The same person who came to your homepage, visited three other pages, and then left would again be one session registering four pageviews.

Pages/Session: This metric is also referred to as average page depth. It is the average number of pages viewed during a session. If someone comes to your site and visits one page while they are there and the second visitor registers four pageviews, your pages/session would be 2.5 based on those two sessions alone.

Average Session Duration: This one is pretty straightforward. Just as it says, this will show you the average length of a session. Your first visitor stays on your site for three minutes while your second visitor remains for only one minute. Your average session duration will be shown as 00:02:00 in Google Analytics.

Bounce Rate: Google defines bounce rate as the percentage of single page visits. Basically, sessions in which the visitor leaves your site from the same page they entered on without interacting with that page.

Now that we have a solid understanding of some of the most important and informative metrics within Google Analytics, let’s take a look at some common scenarios where your data is wrong and some quick fixes.

Scenario 1: You have a Google Analytics account set up, but aren’t seeing any new data being recorded.

No sessions in Google Analytics

Most Likely Cause: You do not have your Google Analytics code installed, you have the wrong code installed, or you have it installed incorrectly.

Quick Fix: Always make sure that the correct code is installed for the account that you are in. Simply go to your “Admin” section located on the right of the top level menu within your account and select ”Tracking Info” then “Tracking Code” in the Property column.

Here you will find detailed instructions, including copy and paste-ready code that should be installed on every page you want to track. In most cases, your developer should be involved if you are not comfortable with the back-end of your site.

Where to find Google Analytics tracking code

Scenario 2: Your Google Analytics data seems to be populating correctly, but you have a very low bounce rate.

Very low bounce rate in Google Analytics

Most Likely Cause: You have your Google Analytics code installed twice. Sometimes, this may be due to the fact that more than one person is working on your site, or possibly just put the code in twice for “good measure.” Whatever the reason, it is not only affecting bounce rate, it is doubling your pageviews, and pages/session since it is counting pageviews twice for each page.

Quick Fix: Ensure that all pages on your site only have the proper Google Analytics code installed once. You can probably see below when the duplicate code was removed from this site based on pageviews, pages/session, and bounce rate:

Increase in pageviews Increase in pages/session Increase in bounce rate

Scenario 3: Your Google Analytics data seems to be populating correctly, but you are starting to see a huge increase in referral traffic.

Most Likely Cause: As much as we’d all like to believe that our traffic has miraculously increased by 30% in one month without doing anything different, it usually is not the case. Enter referral spam. This is essentially fake traffic coming from web indexers that have a number of different intentions. I’m convinced that their main intention is to make my life more difficult. Below is two months of referral data that was hit hard by two main referral spam sites:

Referral spam causing increase in traffic

This is a problem on multiple levels. For example, in June, total sessions are far more than they should be. Also, all of those sessions have incredibly low pages/session, and average session duration. Additionally, they are recording bounce rates near 100%.

Quick Fix: There are numerous articles that have been published that are very helpful in explaining how to properly filter out referral spam from Google Analytics data. One of my favorites can be found here: Geek guide to removing referrer spam in Google Analytics. This is a great resource to learn more about spam bots as well as step-by-step instructions on how to filter this data from your reports.

Scenario 4: Your Google Analytics data is populating, but the total number of sessions seems very low.

Most Likely Cause: Your Google Analytics code is installed correctly, but only on a select few pages. You can identify this by going into your account and looking at “All Pages” under “Behavior.” All of the pages on your site should be represented here for the most part. If you are only seeing a few pages, you probably have an issue.

How to search for top visited pages on your website

Quick Fix: Ensure that your Google Analytics code is properly installed on ALL of the pages on your site. Be sure to remember to separate sections of your site including your blog if you have one.

So there you have it. While there are many other issues that can arise with your Google Analytics data, making sure that these four scenarios are handled on your site should put you in a great place to evaluate accurate data and make informed decisions.

Are there any other scenarios that you’ve seen? Please feel free to comment and share other experiences or problems that you’ve had.

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