Website Traffic. You have to measure it but what if it’s full of a bunch of garbage?

Answer: Take out the garbage. Here’s how.

We recently wrote about steps you can take to protect your website against evil online robots.

We’re continuing with that theme, but this time looking more at data than security (though there is a security component).

Before you non-nerds close this email, know that you absolutely must measure your website traffic. We’ve written numerous times about how to make use of Google Analytics, a free and excellent service, to track and review visits to your website. If you don’t watch website traffic, you have no idea what content is working, what isn’t, where your visitors are from, or anything else about the hard work and honest money you’ve put into your website.

Unfortunately, the bad guys have figured out numerous ways to inject spurious data into Google Analytics information. The typical way is to suggest that traffic to your site emanated from some other site. Being curious when you look at your Analytics data, you say, “Hmmm, I wonder what that site it is and why it’s sending so much traffic my way.” You visit the site and a) it’s selling viagra or porn and/or b) it’s a malicious site that’s trying to put malware on your computer. (This is the security component! In our last newsletter, we talked about some bad stuff that the bad guys do online.) The problem with bad data is that if you are basing decisions on data contained in your traffic reports, and the data in those reports are bad, then you may be making bad decisions. Garbage in, garbage out.

It’s a fairly recent development, starting as I recall a number of months ago with data from a website called (please don’t visit it). The problem has gotten worse every day. A lot of times the bad data make it look like the visit was of one page only, and of zero seconds duration. (Like a person reviled your content! It wasn’t a person and frankly, may not even have been a visit to the site.) For some of the lower-trafficked sites we help to monitor, the garbage accounts for some 90% of traffic data. To date, Google Analytics has done a poor job of keeping this data out. But to be fair, it’s not easy sometimes separating bad from good traffic data, because the bad guys are so clever at exploiting systems weaknesses.

So what’s a website owner to do? There are two simple kinds of Analytics solutions, either of which, or both, may be appropriate. One is you can create a Google Analytics “view” that weeds out all the bad traffic based on filters you create. The good is that you don’t have to worry about the bad data impacting the traffic. The bad is that this is a forward-looking solution only (it cannot be applied to previous traffic) and, if you inadvertently create a faulty filter and block good data from the results, you’ve lost that data forever. (Google on view filters.)

Another approach is to create what’s called an audience “segment”. You create a segment using essentially the same filters you would when creating a “view”. The good is that this filter can be applied to all traffic data, including all prior data. The bad is that you’re still letting the data through, you’re just filtering it out when you look at it. (Google on audience segments.)

So here’s hoping that even though you’re getting some garbage in, you can get the garbage out.

Image source: p.Gordon on Flickr. Used with Creative Commons license. Image modified.

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