Web stats: do you believe Google, or the web site owner?

Escherman’s Andrew Smith, in technology PR, asks whose site traffic figures do you trust – Google’s (via Ad Planner), or the site owner?

I don’t have Ad Planner, but because I run AdSense I can see Google’s stats on Adsense views on this site. I also have web logs, analyzed via awstats.

I took a look at my own figures for June. My stats show about 6.5 times more page views than AdSense reports.

This isn’t hits vs pages, incidentally. “Hits” record every request, so a page with several images requires several hits. Hits is therefore always the biggest number, but pages is in theory more meaningful.

It is a huge discrepancy. What’s the reason? I can think of several:

  • Google only counts page views that run its AdSense script. Bots like web crawlers are not likely to run these.
  • Not all my pages have AdSense on them, though most do.
  • Every time a request is made for my RSS feed, awstats will count that as a page view, but Google (rightly) will not.
  • Google will try to eliminate the rubbish, like spam bots posting comments that end up in the Akismet junk box.

Still, 6.5 times is a huge difference, more than I would expect. The page view discrepancy on the site Smith chose to look at is a mere 4.2 times – though we don’t know how that particular web site calculates its figures.

I don’t have any firm conclusions, though my own figures suggest that any web site which simply quotes figures from its logs will come up with something much larger than Google’s filtered stats.

I’d have thought the answer for advertisers would be to use tracking images and the like in ads so they can get their own statistics.

Finally, this prompts another question. Just how much Web traffic is bot-driven? We know that somewhere between 65% up to, by some estimates, 90%+ of email is spam. Web crawlers and RSS feeds are not bad things, but they are not human visitors either. Add that to the spam bots, and what proportion does it form?

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4 thoughts on “Web stats: do you believe Google, or the web site owner?”

  1. I am in the same boat as Alan; firefox + noscript. I allow google analytics javascirpt, but most others I do not. If you are checking stats from adwords then I will not register there.

    Also, those who run adblock will not be counted as well.

    So, which numbers to trust depends on your site. If you run a site full of paranoid security people who all block javascirpt then your local stats will be more accurate. However, for most sites google analytics will be a better measurement of a sites performance. It is nice with analytics not to have the stupid bots in your stats.

  2. Bot traffic can easily get huge. It depends on several factors like how many pages you have or whether you block the most impatient bots. You can estimate it by checking in your logs how many page views had image/css downloads from the same IP address. For my site this method indicates that 31% of my “page views” are bots – even though some of them get banned after a minute.

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