Your Google Analytic Reports may be skewed…What?!?
I said it, your Google Analytic Reports may be not be entirely accurate.
Bonus: The low-down on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What you need to know, really.
Warning: The following information is going to sting a little.
If you own, maintain, or have even slightly brushed up against a website, then you have certainly encountered plenty of offers relating to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I’m in the SEO/WEB biz and if ever there was a time to pitch a *K-Mart fit, it is now! *Body goes limp, you drop to the floor, flounce around like a fish out of water, and hope beyond hope that your efforts will get you the (insert shiny object here) you just spotted.
As consumers, professionals, and plain ole humans, we sometimes fall prey to the use of our own judgment based on the trust we have instilled in others. Some days, we may catch clues and notice tricks circulating around in our personal and professional lives. Other days, we find ourselves lending trust to industry leaders. Why not? There are slews of ethical business owners out there. The idea is not to be leery of the big guns, but to be well-informed about what the bullets are made of! Fact is, sometimes, our own opinions, education, training, etc. may also not align with the masses. This is specifically written to empower you as the ultimate decision maker.
Stick with me as I expose some myths, false promises, intentionally imposed mis-conceptions, and all around “snake oil” practices. Along the way, the plan is, also, to give some creds to the folks that boycott these nonsensical activities. Settle in, get cozy. This subject requires a bit more time than usual to cover the bases.
SEO professionals should respect their art. What does this mean? What should it mean to you as a business owner? You just want your website to perform, right?
Let’s first look over the following principles to illustrate the essence of a well-intentioned SEO practitioner. Followed with a listing of “W4H” (who, what, when, where, how).
PRINCIPLE ONE: CONSISTENCY! SEO professionals should use intentional tools to abide by relevant, sound, logical practices. All practices should be delivered with utmost accuracy, in consideration of the expected instant demand. Purest SEO professionals will ensure that content can be presented in a way which lines up with the most up-to-date parameters of a search engines’ best intentions. W4H: page load times, long-tail keywords, structured data, spiders, anchor text, meta descriptions, alt tags, mobile responsive, the list goes on and on.
PRINCIPLE TWO: ENGAGEMENT! Sound SEO’ers are expected to follow and support a set of rules and specifications established and constructed to accelerate migrating thought processes that are often influenced by trends and popularity. Helping others find what they are looking for, within milliseconds, to increase the potential to serve a vast amount of ever-changing technology and rapidly evolving wealth of information that is now available to us, anytime, anywhere. We know that this information must be produced in an instant, without any interruption. W4H: targeted ads, social media, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, LinkedIn, Apps and so on.
PRINCIPLE THREE: RELEVANCY! The SEO profession demands a high level of evolutionary adaptation with evolving technology, training, and a continuous desperation for knowledge. We expect the answers sought through each “organic” search will be delivered with purpose and accuracy. W4H: landing pages, conversion rate optimization (CRO). Keyword strategies, and more.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: DEDICATION! We are in constant flux; coordinating, aligning, and adjusting our efforts so that we may align with billion-dollar companies whose sole purpose is to make money and continue to exist. We must continue to adapt to change; we must continue to search for answers; and we must be willing to grow and learn. The internet provides a vehicle for information in perpetuity. A SEO professional should be a master at the craft of guiding those engines to provide an efficient way to explore and seek whatever ever is chosen. W4H: organic search
PRINCIPLE FIVE: SUCCESS! No matter the goal, success always equals attaining that goal. In other words, success is not success unless it is perceived as success. We shouldn’t be bothered by others pursuit of financial gain. In fact, we should learn from it. But, we should keep watch over our own SEO goals to be certain that the search engines, who provide so many different facets of satisfaction, don’t lose sight of our goal. W4H: naturally occurring organic clicks, #eyeontheball, #dontgetmadgeteven
With that said, my continued frustration with misleading SEO tactics compels me to forge on! Be aware, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m passionate about this stuff. Where there be rants (sure to follow), I promise to include golden nuggets as I proceed, so, please bear with me.
Rules, like you, I often despise them, just like laws there are just to many to go around. But, in the logical world there needs to be some level of conformance, and standards to set us all in the right direction. Like you, I get tons of offers every day by someone offering to place my website at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) without any PPC or ad word $$$ necessary. If I didn’t mention it, the Holy Grail of a search result is to make your way to the top of the SERP with no ads or money spent. So, why don’t these offers excite me? Simple. You cannot “place” a website at the top of a search engine with a simple wave of a magic wand or a dose of snake oil. Ever.
You must EARN the right to be at the top of a search page by first doing fundamental things like this:
- Provide informative, desirable, and original content
- Use information that folks search for and need (like trending info)
- Follow the rules, and evolving standards
- Provide original, detailed, non-misleading semantics of your offering
- Use no tricks, and provide a lot of treats
Google geniuses, like me J, know and appreciate these ideals. Google and other search engine providers only support white hat activities. They even go so far as to use intuition to help us find what we want. This is all in an attempt to furiously fend off “tricksters, hucksters, and scamps” (Amos Lee).
Idiots (my spiritual self likes to say, the misguided ones) are always looking for ways to hijack what we seek to find and defer us off to something that most of us would never attempt to even look for in the first place.
The misguided ones know, just as any good business person does, that the law of masses applies. If you can create an automated process that can be served out to billions, regardless of integrity, a good portion of folks are readily available to exploit. Ever heard of the “funnel theory”? It goes something like this, the more (insert people, ideas, etc. here) you “funnel” towards you, the higher the chance of getting the result you are after. While this is not necessarily a negative practice, it does come in handy to the black hat folks who are bent on sending us off on a million misleading trails of doom.
This is why the SEO industry, like all highly professional groups, follow the rules and regs to deter this from happening. The SEO realm is complex, and structured protection against the last frontier (the internet), is necessary. Hats off and high fives to Google, Bing and all others for looking after us by rewarding legitimate businesses.
ADS RANT (Paid Placement)
So, we search for stuff and then on the right hand side of the page we get… personalized placement ads. These are not designed as a plot of trickery, but they are distinguished from everything else and equipped with all our favorite stuff. Who clicks on the ads? You? Don’t tell anyone, but this is what actually helps Google, Bing and other search engines pay the bills. Some of us sometimes get persnickety when they encounter ads, myself included. For the most part, though, I’m ok with it because we all have to do something to make money. But, what if Google switched gears and began charging .25 for every search with the guarantee of no ads? Would we want to pay it? Probably not. So, the ads, we endure.
Clicking on ads equates to purposely subscribing to an advertising only channel. “X-ing” out of them makes me feel like a winner! When I encounter a rapid fire stream of ads, it becomes a game to click the “X” and, as quickly as possible, kill them all. I even find myself on YouTube shooting down ads like they are a part of some kind of arcade game.
Moral of the story…Paid ad placements on a results page provides a distinguishing clue that paid ads are treated much differently by consumers than organic results. Some folks prefer the paid placement ads, and some folks ignore them entirely.
Organic search ranking is the most difficult to achieve and for a good reason. When we search for something online, is it not the organic result that we expect to be returned? If not, we may as well include the word “ad” in the search query. I’m thankful there are a limited few that click the ads. HINT: it’s mostly the competition chomping away at the advertisers PPC campaign budget who are clicking those ads.
The email goes something like this: “Dear Mr. Johnson, we came across your website and would like to help you get found on the web…better yet, place you at the very top of the search ranking”.
I first think to myself, did the solicitor use magic fairy dust or a search engine to discover my site? Magic fairy dust or not, I think I must have done something right for them to find my site in the first place. Even though these folks are just farming for business, they have spent some effort to get their foot in my/your door. Kudos for the effort. But, I also know that what these folks promise is absolutely impossible, and it infuriates me!
They truly may as well be claiming fairy dust and snake oil as the way to win with the search engines. And, then…poof! The website shoots straight to the top.
How do folks make these promises without some sort legal ramifications? It turns out (here comes the low-down), it is actually possible to radically increase organic search results and send a site towards the top. Only, the results last for a limited amount of time.
There are numerous black-hat practices that still can be employed to achieve this objective. If you employ someone that is willing to use these tactics, it is very possible for them to be effective, I admit. But beware, some of the smartest folks in the world work for the search engine companies and they will eventually find out and blacklist your site. You are then doomed. Ever tried to contact Facebook or Google? I have, it’s like they don’t exist.
Don’t believe me? Just poke on over to some of the freelance sites like UpWork and you will see postings like: “I need a viral video to help me sell my coat hangers”, “I need 35,000 likes on my Facebook page” “I need someone to scrape my competitor’s site” the list is endless for those trying to hijack or circumnavigate the system.
Link farms, link wheels, link networks, cloned websites, keyword stuffing, automated search bots… the list goes on and on for ways black hat adopters try to shortcut. They do all this in an attempt to trick search engines into thinking there’s a huge interest in the targeted website. This is what you can expect from the SEO warehouse type folks I mentioned earlier. Although they may be effective short term, the long-term ramifications are highly risky.
TRENDING NOW: There is another approach that these folks may use that is particularly lazy when it comes to SEO. They skip all the risky hard work of stirring up some traffic to your website, which if they don’t get caught, could actually be useful. Instead they chose to falsify your analytics (this is the stingy part). They can do this easy without your knowledge or participation in anyway.
Again, using Black Hat practices for SEO, there are ways to influence Google Analytics reporting. You heard me correctly, there are ways to spoof (alter) your Google Analytics into a false performance metric.
If you know me at all, you know I’m on team Google. All the way. So, please don’t throw them out with the bathwater. Google provides one of the most powerful tools in the web sphere, Google Analytics. Those of us who care about metrics and measuring our efforts adore this tool. Used and configured properly it is absolutely the best tool out there for you money (free). End Google ad J. Dear Google, please send check.
But, there can be a caveat to trusting the data you see before your very eyes and to most folks, it goes entirely undetected. The most popular way we see manipulation of analytic data is by Ghost Referrer Spam or Crawler Referrer Spam. For instance, let’s say a good ole’ Black Hat SEO firm entices you to employ them to optimize your site. If they are really lazy, they can simply inject your analytics with spam to show an improved referral rate to trick you onto thinking they have done their job. The good news is, at least with this tactic, they do not run the risk of blacklisting your site. Bad news is, it is the data is skewed or absolutely false.
In that same context, the next most popular influencer of false analytic reporting is our own internal user site activity (our personal interaction with the website). No fear with this one; we know we can fix this issue with simple filters that exists within the Google Analytics program. Essentially, the remedy just “filter” out all polluted data that skews the integrity of internal reporting, which would include both our own internal activity and filter out the false spam that we identify.
ANALYTICS-GHOST and CRAWLER REFERRER SPAM
Even if you haven’t outright hired a Black Hat SEO firm, I will bet you that you are still encountering Ghost Referrer Spam or Crawler Referrer Spam (prepare to be very angry).
If you are running Google Analytics on your web site, you can investigate, by going to Google Analytics, then to Acquisition> All Traffic> Referrals. Have a look at the Source Column and pay close attention to sources like “free-share buttons.com”,“pornhub-forum.ga”. These two are examples of the most popular spam sources but, believe me, there are many others.
Another clue that the Referrer is actually a spammer is that the page targeted will be either the generic home page, identified by a slash / or some sort of fake page. Since they actually don’t know your homepage URL, they can use generic indicators. In an attempt to really get you excited, they may also include some portion of a popular URL like Huffington Post. Don’t go out and buy that Porsche yet, you more than likely, have not been syndicated by Huffington Post.
If you find yourself saying, “I’m infected” or “my site has been hi-jacked”. Please calm down. This type of spam only affects the presentation of the analytic data in your analytic reports and views. It is a false insertion into the analytic, itself. Hence the term, “ghost”. This type of intrusion has no real effect on your SEO or your site ranking, but we still need to deal with how it affects reporting.
Why would they do such a thing? This can come from multiple sources of reasoning. First, if they are under your employ they want to skew your analytics so that they can show the increase in referrals, traffic and such. Another reason for Ghost Referrer Spam or Creepy Crawler Referrer Spam is to entice administrators to click on the referral links presented in the reports and views. We are very inquisitive beings. When we encounter sites like we-are-seo-rockstars.com in the referrer list, we, naturally, want to click on the very gracious referrer to investigate. DO NOT DO THAT.
If you do, you may not only expose yourself to Trojans that may await you at the referrers site, you have also helped the referrer spam achieve their underlying goal. The goal, of course, is to drive traffic to a particular site of their choosing. Using web crawlers and bots reaches millions by automation, invoked by a simple script, it is a very cost effective way to reach the masses.
If any of the above resonates and you are encountering Ghost Referrer Spam or Crawler Referrer Spam, Fusion Four has a FREE downloadable solution which contains instructions to making some changes within the Google Analytics admin settings. Please take advantage of this document where you will find instructions on how to create filters to exclude the false reporting of Ghost Referrer Spam or Crawler Referrer Spam. We also include details on creating filters to exclude internal (your own) traffic so that you are presented with clean, pure usage data to measure web traffic and behavior.
Disclaimer: Tactics in the download mentioned above do not prevent Creepy Crawlers from crawling your site. Fusion Four offers add-on packages to combat that struggle. Because of the complexity and evolving nature of the Creepy Crawler world with this particular type of intrusion, we only offer this service to current clients.
I realize that this discussion cannot go on forever, so, a conclusion is due. Here are some solid SEO guidelines to help you out, for now:
- Don’t hire anyone that promises to send your site to the top, ever. “the top” shouldn’t be promised as a valid deliverable;
- Ask for realistic goals such as a range for upward movement
- Require communication about the types of SEO principles used to improve your search performance
- Ask for metrics to gauge the efforts and expect a list of what is necessary on your part to keep the movement going
- Demand the website be developed as both responsive and adaptive
Honorable SEO pros will ask for useful content, dissect your site, offer white hat recommendations, (re)structure and be available to host the site. More than likely they will suggest a mobile-friendly analysis to make sure your site conforms to Google’s latest release of their search algorithm.
There are a lot of folks out there that can provide that service. Expect them to start with a deep hard look at what you have to offer. Whether it be a product, service, idea, robot… it doesn’t really matter. The first step a good professional will consider is if you have either something lots of folks need or if you have a unique, unambiguous way to present your offering. Look for SEO professionals that insist on sound principles…end of story.
If you’d like help with your SEO strategy, we have years of experience and are ready to get started. Contact us today!