Over the last few months I’ve noticed something with the Google Analytics stats for my small business forum that call into the question the validity of those referrer stats and are making me question Google Analytics stats in general.
I’m sharing some images of those stats below. I had to reduce their size to fit within the design here, but you can click on any of the images for a full size view.
Small Business Forum Referrer Stats
As the responsible SEO that I am, I periodically check stats for several sites under my control. On the small business forum I’ve notice that this blog seems to send a fair amount of visitors each month. It’s usually the #1 or #2 referrer to the forum.
At first glance I should be happy. This blog sends some pretty good traffic to the forum. There’s a very low bounce rate and visitors are spending a lot of time at the forum and viewing a lot of pages. Looking a little deeper though you notice something strange.
You can see in the image above that of the 136 visitors this blog sent to the forum over the month, 134 of them visited from the main page of the blog and only 2 visited from specific posts.
That’s certainly possible as the main blog page gets the most traffic for the entire blog, but still it seems a little odd that 98.5% of the clicks originated there. The home page of this blog does not get 98.5% of the traffic to the entire blog.
Digging a little further you can see in the image below that 133 out of those 136 visitors are using a Mac. Hmm? The market share for Macs is growing and this site has always had a few more Mac users than usual, but really 133 out of 136? Interestingly enough I happen to use a Mac.
Let’s change the dimension from operating system to city and see what’s there
The plot thickens. 133 of those 136 visitors apparently live in Denver. What are the odds? Wait a minute. I don’t live in Denver but my IP goes out through my ISP in Denver. Seems like all those visitors just might be me.
I can dig into some of the other dimensions, but it’s pretty clear that most (probably 133) visitors from this blog to the forum are me.
Now you might be thinking what’s so unusual about that. I naturally spend time here and also at the forum. The unusual part is I don’t ever click a link to get there. I type the forum address directly. Generally I just type the letter ‘s’ and my browser shows the forum right away. Other than when I tested to make sure I correctly added the links, I’ve never clicked from here to there. And that testing all took place several months before the stats you see above.
Are Referrer Stats Bogus?
At first I thought maybe it was because I would usually load up my browser with this blog in one tab and then open a new tab to visit the forum. I thought perhaps having this site open in one tab caused Google to think the traffic was originating there. Not a pleasant thought if you think about it.
However I’ve made sure the last few months never to have this site open in a tab when visiting the forum. And again I never click any link from here to the forum. Maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t a referrer visit mean a visit through a clicked link?
So why does Google consistently show what would indicate me clicking links here and visiting my forum when I never click the links here to the forum?
I won’t post more images, but I will tell you that most of the top referrer sites month over month are sites of forum members. Checking some of the dimensions shows the same pattern you see above. It’s pretty clear the overwhelming majority of the visits are by the same person.
While it’s possible some forum members do visit through links on their site, I tend to doubt it. I suspect the situation is similar to what’s happening with my own visits to the forum.
What Do These Bogus Stats Imply?
Am I missing something here? Or is Google recording referrers where none truly exists. A couple questions come to mind right away.
- If these stats aren’t real what other stats that Google is showing also aren’t real?
- How exactly is Google tracking visits if it isn’t through clicks on a link and what does that imply about what they track in general?
Again I’ll ask if I’m missing something here? Could I be doing something with Analytics causing referrers to show like this? I haven’t noticed this on any of the other sites I track. Have you ever seen something like this on any of the sites you track?