Tracking Website Performance : bit.ly and Google Analytics

Finding ways to track your website and the performance of the URLs that you give out is an important tool in monitoring your internet marketing efforts. This allows you to learn what is and isn’t working which will then show you if you need to adjust your approach or even your content.

I’ve been using the bit.ly service the past few days to do some comparisons on their stats reporting versus Google Analytics stats reporting. I also used Google Analytics (GA) campaign tracking to simplify things on that end.

bit.ly is a service that shortens long URLs and, as a bonus to number buffs like myself, gives you instant and live tracking statistics. It tells you where the URL is posted, what conversations the URL is being involved in, where everything is coming from, time of the clicks and more. GA statistics are delayed which is why I wanted to try this route in tandem with the extended and in depth tracking that GA offers.

Here’s what I did yesterday, February 11, 2009:

  1. I created a post for my small business tips about customers.
    Original URL
    http://www.americasbestcompanies.com/blog/small-business-tip-about-customers.aspx

  2. I took the original URL and put it into the GA campaign tracking URL Tool. There’s a great tutorial on how and why to use that here.
    GA Tracking URL
    http://www.americasbestcompanies.com/blog/small-business-tip-about-customers.aspx?utm_campaign=Small%Business%Tips&utm_medium=Text%Link&utm_source=Twitter&utm_content=About%the%Customers

  3. I then signed up for a free account at bit.ly.

  4. I pasted my full GA link with all their tracking tags into the field and had them shorten it.
    Shortened URL
    http://bit.ly/CQifo

  5. I then sent a Twitter message out sharing the link.

My stats were indeed updated live via bit.ly and I could see exactly when someone clicked on the link. As of 10:00 am today, February 12, 2009 here are what the two different stats reports are showing me:

bit.ly shows the link received 46 clicks.

Twitter's Statistics with Bit.ly

Google Analytics shows the link with the tracking code received 6 unique pageviews.

Twitter Tracking Results with Google Analytics

My question now is why are the stats reports so far off from one another? There are, of course, certain variables to consider like mobile phones that aren’t JavaScript enabled (GA tracks via JavaScript) and things such as multiple clicks from a single user (GA doesn’t count these). Even considering a couple people clicking the link twice or a few mobile views, I still don’t see how these reported stats are so different from one another. 

I certainly didn’t tell anyone that I was performing the experiment so my results haven’t been skewed in that regard. My current Twitter follower base is 424 which makes me more inclined to believe that 46 people saw the article via Twitter over the reported 6 by Google. I did another set of business tips with the same tracking today. My results are pretty on par with what happened on the above example.

With the numbers varying so much, I pulled down raw server data just to do a quick comparison. My server reported 36 hits to the article. This number lends us closer to what bit.ly has reported yet still no where near what GA has documented.

Right now I’m left with more questions than answers. An article by Michael Martinez at SEO Moz from August of 2006 reports similar inaccuracies as do a majority of the comments on his post. How accurate is Google Analytics now? Has it gotten better or only worse? How about bit.ly? What’s their story on tracking?

Despite there being accuracy and reporting issues, it’s important not to give up on tracking statistics. Data and results are what help us to make the decisions that can bring us to the next level in our business or our marketing. My recommendation is not to put all of your eggs in one basket. In other words, don’t rely simply on Google Analytics for your tracking. Compare and contrast with your domain’s raw data logs and don’t be afraid to use other services as well.