What Google Analytics Can’t Tell You – what rubbishPrivacy and Accuracy October 17th, 2009
I wanted to put this out there to illustrate the type of crap competitors will go to to discredit Google Analytics. The link takes you to an article by clicktale which is a rehash of a previous discredited post by Brandt Dainow last year. Take a minute to read it and the two so called flaws of Google Analytics…
Even though Clicktale sugar coat their “article” in the first paragraph, its a poor example of misinformation to promote themselves. The specific points raised were dealt with by myself and others last year – see for example, Shelby Thayer’s excellent blog Trending Upward. I summarize my original response later in this post.
However my beef with Clicktale is not that they use misinformation to promote themselves (lots of competitors do that!), but that they themselves use Google Analytics to track individually identified visitors to their own website i.e. ignoring my right to privacy and going completely against the GA Terms of Service.
How Clicktale break the Google Analytics Terms of Service
By spamming me with their email, Clicktale encouraged me to read more of their “story” by including a link with hidden tracking parameters. Nothing wrong with using tracking parameters to detect a visitor has clicked on an email link, however this must not be personally identifiable. The following is an excerpt of Clicktale’s link:
utm_campaign=What_GA_Part1&ct=enable,t(What_GA_P1_1_10_17_09),t(First Name %3D Brian), t(Last Name %3D Clifton),t(Email Address %3D brian%40omegadm.co.uk), t(Company %3D http%3A%2F%2Fwww.advanced-web-metrics.com%2Fblog%2F)- Show quoted text -
As you can see my name and email address are clearly contained in the link. This means that in Clicktale’s Google Analytics reports my details will show up. Unless I clear my cookies, this information will also be tracked in repeat visits.
Is that a valid use of tracking? No – who on earth wishes to be tracked at an individually personally identified level? Its fair enough to propose this if I have done business with you before or subscribed. However, even if you explicitly ask for my permission, Google’s stance on privacy is such that you cannot do this with Google tools/products.
My response to the claims by Clicktale/Brandt Dainow:
The article is factually incorrect. I wish he had reached out to those with a stronger connection to Google Analytics before taking such a strong (inaccurate) stance. Unfortunately, these days writing those type of headlines is a sure fire way of generating traffic, which was probably the intention…
To clarify what he is claiming, he is stating that for metrics such as time on page and time on site, that GA includes single page visits. The unwritten standard in the field of web analytics is to exclude single page (bounced) visits and the last page of a visit for such calculations.
The reason is that time spent on the last page is so inaccurate to measure. For example, say I visit two pages on your web site each lasting one minute, then I get distracted on the third page and leave my browser open. GA will close my session from a tracking point of view after 30 mins of inactivity. That is also an unwritten industry standard and can be adjusted if required.
Calculating the time on site for my visit will be horribly skewed if page 3 is included:
60+60+1800 = 1920 seconds
The reality is better calculated by omitting the last very inaccurate measurement:
60+60 = 120 seconds
So most web analytics tools omit the last page visited for these types of calculations. And if the visit is only one page then then the entire session is omitted. A single page visit is still tracked as a visitor, just excluded from time metrics.
Clearly that still is not 100% accurate, but it is a much better situation than including it. Further information on this can be found at:
If you agree with my sentiment, please retweet this article and spread the word so that we can have an informed debate about the strengths and weaknesses of Google Analytics and not this pap…