Is Google Analytics really telling you the whole story?

I love statistics. I love knowing exactly how many visitors come to one of my websites, how long they stay and what where they came from in the first place.

Without knowing this kind of information, how can I work to improve my websites?

Google Analytics is a free tool that helps me know some amazing information about my website. It is, in fact, the best free tool out there that isn’t hosted on your own server.

But there is a problem with Google Analytics and really any tool out there that generates states that aren’t hosting on your own server, and based on your own server logs. They are notoriously inaccurate.

Years ago the inaccuracy was about 5% to 10% on small traffic websites and as much as 10% to 20% on sites with more than a few thousand visitors per month. Not that bad, right?

But times have changed and so has the technology and it makes remote tracking even more difficult so I decided to take a look at just how crazy off the numbers being reported really where.

I picked one of my websites and ran a report for the year (so far). It tells me these are the unique visitors who have visited that site in question.

Jan Feb Mar Apr
5,281 4,535 16,217 20,546

The problem is, when you actually review the real numbers, those from my server logs, you find that Google Analytics didn’t even remotely come close. Here is what my website actually had in terms of unique visitors.

Jan Feb Mar Apr
15,498 13,192 18,995 23,656
  • January was off by 10,217
  • February was off by 8,657
  • March was off by 2,778
  • April was off by 3,110

That’s 21,762 people in the first 4 months of the year that Google couldn’t properly track on just one of my websites.

This is why you need to have your own server stats program like AW stats – something that actually tracks your traffic stats internally.

Sure Google Analytics is great for many reasons, and I still strongly suggest using it, but when it comes to accurately tracking the total number of unique visitors to your website, you need to use your own server data. It’s the only way to know for sure just how many people visited your website at any given time during a month.