Analysing Your Website Visitors

Are You Getting As Many Customers As You Thought?

How do I measure my website traffic

You may have got really excited when you checked your web analysis tools and found that you have “loads more visitors” to your website. Great news!

But hold on, before you get too excited that you will now get loads more potential people converting on your site into downloads, sales and phone calls are they really ‘people’ at all? Or is there a lot of Ghosts on your reporting information. Very likely!

Analysing website traffic (potential customers) and how to interpret results to maximise your return on investment you’ve spent on building your website, social media and SEO is a specialist skill. Following we look at just one example of how the results can easily be skewed and give false results in your reports.

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What Is Ghost Website Traffic?

As you can see in the example graph that follows the overall website visitors (shown in Blue as Sessions) contains a high percentage of Ghost traffic (in Orange). These apparent visitors shown in Orange are not real website visitors at all, merely a reporting issue. This particular example was chosen as ALL of the reported referral traffic in this case is Ghost Traffic.

Google Analytics Report Showing Website Visitors and Referral Traffic

This false information in the Google Analytics report is generated by software that copies your Google Analytics code and pretends, within the report, to be a website visitor but they never came anywhere near your website – as such they are Ghost visitors, pure apparitions.

The problem is often greater for SME or new business websites where traffic is low, as proportionally the amount of Ghost traffic reduces when real site traffic increases.

Web Visitors (Real Ones) Versus Ghost Visitors (Not Real)

When your reporting tool, say Google Analytics, is installed onto your website it should count and report to you the number of people who came to your website. True.

However, if you look more deeply into your reporting information you will find the ‘Referrals’ section (Acquisition → All Traffic → Channels → Referrals) of your Google Analytics Report.

Where to Find Referral Traffic In Google Analytics Reports

A lot of visitors appear to be arriving from strange looking sites and when you try to look at the website they came from it most likely won’t show up in Google.

In the example below I have added a red flag to mark the Ghost Traffic and a Green Flag for real referral website visitors (e.g. t.co is Twitter)

Identifying ghost referrals and real web referral traffic

In fact these website visitors  (well computer software to be honest)  which I have marked with red flags never came anywhere near your website at all.

What happens, it is widely understood, is to discredit Google’s Analytics credibility, hackers obtain your reporting code installed into your site and then ‘parse’ (that is to pass by) your reporting data. These show up in your referrals report. They are not real visitors to your website at all.

Do Fake Website Visitors Affect My Business Google Ranking?

No, thankfully these annoying ghost visitors have no bearing on your actual potential to rank in Google. This is because Google never sees the fake traffic in your reports at all. So good news!

Does It Matter If There Are Ghosts In My Websites Reports?

Having information in your reports that isn’t ‘real’ can significantly mask what is happening on your website. For example the bounce rate (measure of how many people leave your site in under 60 seconds / do not click through to a 2nd page) is likely to show an increase causing you concerns that your web content isn’t ‘working’ for website visitors. Ghost traffic nearly always has a 100% Bounce Rate.

This may lead you to start adjusting the site, either personally or by paying your web developer to improve the experience users have but to no avail. And at a cost.

How Do I Overcome This Problem?

There are a few ways. One is simply to ignore the traffic that comes from these fake ghost visitors. I wouldn’t recommend that though as you may well have valid referral traffic from real websites or social media that have back linked to you.

You can simply filter out the referrals to your site using the Advanced Filter but again this is a bit of a blunt tool and you will have to do this every time you want to exclude the information.

What I would recommend is setting up a 2nd View of your website traffic (Admin → View → Create New View) and then filter out the Ghost traffic JUST on that View. It is essential that the main view of your reporting data in Google Analytics remains untouched as you can’t undo any errors you may make trying to filter out the ghost traffic.

Setting Up Reporting In Google Analytics

The next step takes some expertise but in summary you would go to: Admin → View → New View You Created → Filters

Then: Add Filter → Create New Filter → Name The Filter (e.g. Block “Semalt” Ghosts) → Select Filter Type → Custom → Exclude → Filter Field → Referral → Filter Pattern → Add Reg Ex Code (where the box Filter Pattern is)

This last part ‘Add Code’ is particularly tricky to get right, why?

How To Add Filters In Google Analytics

Using Code To Permanently Filter Out Invalid Referral Traffic

There is no easy way to do this. The code needed is called Regular Expression (or RegEx for short). And it is used in Google Analytics like this:

1) You have ghost traffic from a Referral Source such as:  /Semalt.com/123 showing up.
2) RegEx Code needs to be written to ‘Exclude’ Semalt.com (and any variations in case they use e.g. /Semalt.com/567)
3) This will work BUT say you want to ensure that genuine traffic from: www.TheGuardian.com/Semalt (as you wrote a brilliant article for the Guardian and they gave you a backlink to your website) then there’s a risk that you will also Exclude this information.

Therefore the coding, which is very fickle, needs to be carefully written to avoid only web addresses starting with /Semalt.com/

How Else Can I See Genuine Traffic To My Website?

Although underused by many businesses (and even web developers) the most solid reporting comes from using Google Console formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, which is not affected by Ghost traffic.

One cannot see the same information in the same depth as in Google Analytics BUT you will get an accurate picture of:

• Which Keyword Phrase people searched for to reach your website
• Number of Impressions (people who saw your website in their Google Results)
• Number of Clicks (people who clicked through to your website)
• Whether they came to your website via Desktop, Mobile, Tablet devices

Where Can I Get Help With Website Reporting?

There are tutorials online at the Google Academy that touch on Filtering out Ghost Traffic and also on Googles Help Pages , various blog articles/YouTube videos and I also use this book Mastering Regular Expressions as my ‘go to’ for checking code structure.

There is no easy way to do any of these detailed changes to your reporting as Google are yet to provide a ‘quick and easy way’ to remove Ghost traffic, but if you get stuck or would like further advice please do not hesitate to drop me a message Mark@Sparks4Growth.com

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