We packed our bags and decided to jump ship over to Piwik, but I didn’t remove GA from our site completely as I wanted to see just how much the data was being skewed.
Here I am almost a month later and back to report the results. Exciting stuff.
We gathered data over a period of 25 days, which isn’t a month like I said it was, but who cares. It’s still a long enough period to get some definitive data. Stop being so picky.
The most basic data comparison to start with would be the number of visits to the website.
Traffic Overview Comparison
It’s something that pretty much everyone bases their analytics traffic on, so seems like the logical place to start.
Below you will see the data collected from GA on the top and Piwik below it.
Marked in red are the numbers of visits to the website during our 25 day period. As you can see from the top chart, the numbers are almost double that of what registered within Piwik.
Not too surprising then that our page views (green) were over double in Google than Piwik. That’s one hell of a difference when it comes to measuring how much of your content is actually being looked at.
Potentially pretty misleading for anyone not familiar with the referrer spam that is going on at the moment in GA.
Another not so surprising piece of data is our bounce rate, which as also expected, is a hell of a lot higher in GA simply due to the referrer spam bots registering a visit to a single page every time it decides to just screw up our data that little bit more.
Although saying all this, at the moment I don’t really know where the traffic is coming from, maybe I’m just making assumptions too quickly and Piwik is just giving me some bum data.
I guess it’s time for me to check where the traffic is coming from.
Channel Analysis Comparison
Here we have the channel analysis for both GA on top again and Piwik below.
I decided to display it in a pie format because it’s easier to get a quick overview on the traffic and because I like pie.
From this quick overview we can see that in the top chart, referral traffic takes up approximately 50% of our website visits. (I’ve bundled in Social as a referral for this, because Piwik counts social visits as a referral too.)
In comparison to the Piwik data our referral (website) traffic accounts for not even a quarter of our visits over the time period. That’s a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge difference right there.
According to Piwik our main driving traffic channel is Organic search traffic, where GA says that it’s just over a quarter of our overall visits.
One of these is telling lies and I’m going to get to the bottom of it, although I’m pretty confident that I know who it’s going to be.
Let’s take a look at where all these referrer visits are coming from, maybe that will give us more of an idea of what is going on here.
Traffic Source Analysis
Well isn’t this pretty conclusive.
According to GA our top referrers were a bunch of spam visits that only registered 1 page view and an average session duration of 0 seconds. Exactly the kind of traffic we really don’t want.
Oh hold on, Piwik has some of those too though.
Now I’m not going to lie and say that Piwik was completely immune to these spam visits, but the benefit of the self hosted option is that you control what is picked up and what isn’t in your analytics.
As soon as I saw any sign of a spammy visit like best-seo-offer.com, etc, I could block these from being picked up within the Piwik config file.
On GA I’m kind of stuck. No matter what you do, those visits are still going to be registered and will just make your data all kinds of wrong.
You can apply filters in order to remove this spam from your data, but it can get pretty complicated and is a hassle if you have lots of sites contained in different accounts within analytics, most commonly found within web agencies.
The Future of Referrer Spam
Google seem to be reluctant to provide a long term solution for blocking this sort of spam and there’s little you can do to change their minds.
I quite like having our data all self hosted as it puts us in a little bit more control.
I’m not going to delete our google tracking code just yet, in-case a solution is rolled out by the google gods, so that I still have all our data intact. Skewed or not.
Has anyone else experimented with alternative analytics platforms that isn’t Piwik?
I’d love to hear what sort of data you are reporting back and whether the referrer spam is hitting you too.
About Bob Gentle
I'm the MD at NEC. I work with clients on strategy and digital marketing and lead research and development in this quickly evolving area.