Has Google Analytics Gone Bad?

A few weeks ago I moved the Rain City Guide servers over to new servers.  Starting a few days before I moved the site over, I noticed a drop in the amount of traffic that coming to RCG as measured by Google Analytics:

Total Traffic to Rain City Guide

The fact that it started a few days beforehand didn’t really surprise me since I had been having trouble with the host (hence the move!).

However, the huge drop that Google Analytics shows is almost entirely from a drop in search engine (think: Google) traffic: Search Engine Traffic to Rain City Guide

It’s not pretty, but I figured it was a reality and just part of the consequences of moving the site from one server to another and I figured Google would hopefully start sending lots search traffic again over time.  But here’s where it gets weird.

The ONLY indication I have that our search traffic has decreased is Google Analytics… All other indications are that the traffic is just about the same.

For example, Quantcast total daily visits from the same time frame (which, just like Google Analytics, uses a bit of javascript I installed in the footer of the site):

Quantcast Daily Visits to Rain City Guide

Diving deeper into the search terms I can see that for terms we used to rank really well for, like [moving to Seattle], Google Analytics said we dropped to only one person visiting us from that search term yesterday:

Moving to Seattle search term on Rain City Guide

But, I simply can’t believe that for two reasons:

  1. The Rain City Guide post on Moving to Seattle is STILL the #1 result on Google for the term
  2. WP-Stats (also using a bit of Java-script in the footer) says we got 32 views from that term yesterday which is a bit low, but closer to what I’d expect by showing up #1 under that particular term in google:

WP-Stat Top Terms

For those wondering, I didn’t touch the Google Analytics code when I moved servers. Nor did I install any caching or other plugins that would be related to this in any way that I can think of…

And finally, just to show you that the issue really is only related to search engine traffic, both the direct traffic and referring traffic have remained pretty consistent throughout this time period:

Direct Traffic to Rain City Guide

Referring Traffic to Rain City Guide

So finally…

My questions for the 4realz community:

  • What is going on with Google Analytics?   Is it busted?  Any ideas on why it would only be picking up a small portion of the search terms that come to Rain City Guide?
  • Or maybe you’d argue that RCG’s google search traffic really did drop off heavily…  But then wouldn’t you have expected us to stop ranking well in the usual phrases [agent recommendations], [Seattle real estate blog], etc.?


After only 14 hours or so of a fix (thanks to an idea I had inspired by a comment below), the search engine traffic on RCG as measured by GA has had a nice bump: Updated Search Engine Traffic on Rain City Guide

(Notice the jump at the right of the chart… That’s today’s traffic from search engines)

At least for one of the WordPress blogs that I run, all evidence points to the fact that the existing tracking code went bust at some point in mid-May!   Obviously, if you’re also noticing that GA is measuring a drop in search engine traffic, as some others have mentioned in the comments, then try upgarding to the latest javascript code.

14 responses

  1. Weird. Something clearly changed about May 24. But if SERPs didn’t change, it’s hard to believe people’s surfing patterns fundamentally shifted (all on the same day).

    My GAs seem fine. Why it would affect just RCG is beyond me. Sounds as if something somewhere is corrupted. What and where is beyond my capability!

  2. I poked through a few accounts to see if I found similar results and I didn’t. So off the top of my head I don’t have a clear answer. But here are some factors, perhaps:

    1) The Google updated its algorithm around the time your issue begins.

    2) Potential issues with your old server may have caused Google to re-rank your site at various data centers that you don’t see from your location. (Unlikely since you seem to rank well still).

    3) Search interest in the keywords and phrases that worked for you in the past suddenly dropped off (again, unlikely but it’s a possibility… maybe no one cares about Seattle real estate blog).

    4) GA servers were all screwed up at the end of May making a hash of a lot of data for a week or so, perhaps your issue is related.

    Have you tried installing another tool just to double-check the GA results?

    I also put a call out on the #WA twitter hashtag, I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

  3. Jay and g.dewald,

    Playing around on GA a bit more, I noticed that Google apparently updated their tracking code at some point from “urchan.js” to “ga.js”. I don’t think it *should* make a difference, but I just updated off of the legacy tracking code to find out.

  4. urchin.js and ga.js are two different code sets. The new one has lots of features (event tracking being the most exciting) but it also could use a little more baking.

    I currently don’t advise people to switch to the “new ga.js” code yet. But it probably won’t hurt too much. I don’t think it’s related to your issue.

  5. I noticed something around the same dates, too, also a traffic drop, though I couldn’t point it to search engine traffic for sure (we’re just starting and we don’t get enough traffic to detect that kind of pattern yet). We do pop up as a first result with relevant terms on Yahoo, though, but not Google. I’ve noticed some traffic coming from google recently, but the formerly usual Yahoo referrals have all but evaporated.

    We’ve always been using the newer script and we haven’t made any other changes. I thought it was just a drop due to actual content, but hearing a similar story makes me wonder about the accuracy of the tool itself. I’m only using that and a server-side Webalizer account, but maybe I should install additional trackers in light of this issue…

  6. You got me curious, so I poked around in my Google Analytics stats for a while and was unable to see anything similar.

    On the other hand, I poked around in your Quantcast statistics a little bit as well, and found some charts that seem to indicate a fairly similar trend to what Analytics is showing.

    They’re showing a decline 5/15-5/31, followed by something of a leveling off since then. I am inclined to think that the issue has something to do with your Google ranking, perhaps on some search terms other than the obvious ones that come to mind?

    My $0.02.

  7. Interestingly, the search engine traffic that GA recognizes is WAY up today over the past few weeks. I only started using the new script code at 10am and despite the fact that it’s not yet 8pm, the total search traffic for the day is almost double the usual search engine traffic.

    I’ll give it another day to confirm things, but I think the problem has been solved and that the old tracking code was missing lots of search traffic.

  8. I see a similar drop from May 24. Normally 300 visitors daily sice then reduced to 50. Next to GA I also use GetClicky, here business as usual. So it must be something in GA.

  9. I noticed something similar happening on my site and it’s freaking me out.

    Organic traffic from Google was about 70% of my total traffic up until late May. Since then it is more like 30% and it is actually DROPPING.

    My Page rank has remained unchanged. Was 3/10 and still is 3/10.

    Now, I did go on vacation around that time and stopped posting for about 3 weeks, so that could have something to do with it, but I only ever post about once a week anyway so I wouldn’t think a 3 week hiatus would result in a drop like that.

    In my case it seemed to fall off the cliff around the last couple days of May.

    Consistent across Google Analytics and Sitemeter.

    I guess I’ll try upgrading to the latest GA code first and see what happens.

  10. Erno and Andrew: The upgraded code solved the problem for me! My traffic according to GA has been back to normal levels ever since the change! 😉

  11. Upgraded GA code has not changed anything for me in the 24 hours since. still not getting ANY google traffic and my page rank of 3 is just puzzling me. how can i still be a 3 and not be getting ANY google traffic. is google punishing me for something?

  12. I found your blog when searching “google analytics shows a drop in keyword search” because I’ve been trying to figure out what has happened to my site that totally freake me out this past week. I have been raking pretty steady and in Google’s top 10 for over 2 years for a few select money making keywords. One day I did a check and I had fallen to page 6 for two of them, and even further down for a few more. I had been updating my site with a new logo so for a couple of weeks I had been working steady on it. My first thought was I must had messed something up and didn’t realize it. In looking at my G-analytics account I could see that for certain keywords the search for all of them happened around June 19-21. This was about the time I started uploading changed pages on my site. However I didn’t see the big bottoming out until July7th. All the top keywords in G-analytics showed the same thing a big decline (and I dont’ mean just a swoop down I’m talking about a straight line to the bottom and then flat line…like I had died for two weeks).
    I’ve been frantically trying to retrace my steps ..and tonight in looking at my GA account I couldn’t help but think it has something specific that happened during those 3 days.

    Tonight I just happen to compare my home page (which has been updated) to an internal page that has not been updated and is ranking very high. After reading the above post in you blog..and checking to see which code I’m using ..the old or new… I realized my updated pages don’t have ANY analytics code in them. But my older pages do! And, my older pages are still ranking ok.

    I think I must have accidentally removed the GA tracking code completely…so I’m fixing to go put it back right now and I’ll come back and update here to let you know if it had an impact.

  13. Donna: Accidentally removing the GA tracking code would definitely cause such a problem! 🙂

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