Why I removed Google Analytics from my website

Since the day I learned how to set up and install Google Analytics I have added it to every website, every custom landing page, every microsite. I never once questioned it, and pushed it on customers like some crack dealer. Well, for my site, Google Analytics is no more.

I blame and congratulate Jordan Moore for making me start to question why I was doing this. Then I started questioning what I gained from my own GA account stats. Then it hit me: nothing. Actually, I did get something: hours of lost time staring into the abyss that is GA dashboard. We’ll get to that soon. But, first, the tweet that started it all:

Why I removed Google Analytcs from my website

The following are in no particular order. All or some or none may apply to your situation.

Slows down the page load

Fact: the page speed decreases every time the browser has to go to a server and back. No matter how fast that server is, the page is waiting because a pipeline is being used. Milliseconds, full seconds, a minute, it still has to wait to reach out, connect, download and process the files that make the website display, or in this case trackable. The analytics.js (or legacy ga.js) file is listed in Page Speed as a 135B download for a 36.49KB file, and is only cached by your browser for 12 hours before downloading a new one. I know, 135 bytes, but for those that place the GA code before their body tag (instead of being the last thing on the page) they still have to wait for that process to complete. Add that to all the slow-loading social sharing buttons and you could have one slow site.

NOTE: advanced users can prevent blocking by loading GA asynchronously. Learn how.

Some people don’t want to be tracked

Fact: a growing number of users are nervous of being tracked. With news reports of Facebook and Google tracking your every move, and advertisers being able to follow you to your mobile devices from desktop usage, users are pushing back by blocking ads, trackers and even GA. AdBlock Plus is currently the #1 downloaded and installed Firefox add-on. And yes, you can block GA with it. I use and prefer Ghostery to block over 1,955 known ads, trackers, beacons and widgets, including GA.

Placing a badge/notice on your site announcing that you do not track users’ every move can attract users to come back and read/shop with you. (An edge case, I know, but still a positive one.)

The data is overwhelming and highly subjective (if not suspect)

Fact (sort of): using too much data to make decisions can be worse than having no data. In short, when I sat down and thought about how I used the data provided by GA, I found that it was just narcissistic. Like the hours I spent looking at the giant spike in traffic when Smashing Magazine shared my previous blog post. I wasn’t doing anything with it. My website is just a portfolio with a blog for articles and tutorials. On that note, what is a local bar going to do with their website GA data? Probably nothing but see that 35 people visited on Wednesday last week. Whoopee. Seriously, they will never in a dozen lifetimes do A/B testing, or modify page content for better ranking in the ‘ales’ or ‘darts’ keyword categories.

The data provided by GA is massive, badly organized, and takes months to learn how to use properly (let me emphasize ‘properly’ again.) I could write a 200 page book detailing the conversations I have had and overheard on the topic of ‘Pageviews vs Unique visitors’ alone. And don’t get me started on Bounce Rate vs % Exit. Even Wikipedia starts off by saying “Bounce rate (sometimes confused with exit rate)…”. Enough said.

Let’s pretend that the data is 100% accurate (another topic than can fill volumes) and 100 marketing and SEO professionals spent exactly the same amount of time extracting, researching and processing your data. Out will come 100 very different reports and suggestions to improve your SEO, TAC, page rank and a dozen other industry-specific terms. They may overlap on popular topics being thrown around that week, but for the most part each will essentially be bringing more baggage to the table than you have data. Think of it on par with reading tea leaves: Google will not give out its secrets on how it ranks sites, so ‘experts’ have devised a cottage industry akin to tarot card reading and tasseography. Let’s be honest here, there is no science to SEO since no one can prove the outcome was a direct result of the method. And let’s call it what it is: professional guesswork based on experience in hitting an ever moving target that is altering the rules of the game itself.

Think of SEO as an archer, and Page Rank as a target in the back of a speeding truck, but the target can control the wind and even deflect arrows at will. And worse still, if the arrows hits a bullseye, the target (GA) can reach up and throw the arrow back, if it so chooses and without reason or notice. How much time and money are you going to give that archer to gain the reward of hitting the target?

The reward of ‘hitting the target’

Fortune cookie: every journey has a reward, it just may not be the one you want. Have you ever asked yourself “what is the reward of being on the first page of Google results for X, Y, and Z keywords?” Is it that you think the user will click on the link and visit your site more often? Then what? Is it that you think your sales will skyrocket? Will they really? Or is it some personal triumph like climbing Kilimanjaro? What I can tell you is that the vast majority of website owners and SEO/Marketing have only discussed ‘getting on page one’ but have not given a single moments thought to what that really means for the website. Or, better yet, for their users.

For my wife’s skate shop, it means rising above the skate manufacturer websites that don’t sell direct, and other local skate shops that do. It means lending credence to their shop as being an established and knowledgeable place for skates in the community. These are laudable goals, whereas ‘selling more stuff’ is not only shortsighted and narrow-minded, but setting yourself up for being easily disappointed since ranking on page 1 has little to nothing to do with people buying more stuff from you. It simply means you came up high in a search result. (And keep in mind that search results are different for each user depending on their geo-location, logged in to GMail, search history, cookies and so on. Page 1 in L.A. does not ensure Page 1 in NYC.)

Being on Page 1 and having more customers click through is great, but if they are coming to a shitty website or get shitty service, they will leave and never come back. Your Page 1 rank may be a paper tiger, unable to withstand the rain. Meaning, Google will depress your page rank if users continuously bounce.

When I asked myself this question, I found I didn’t care if I was on page 1 for X, Y, and Z keywords. The web industry in San Francisco alone is massive, and not one I can afford to go up against. Secondly, I have a full-time job and currently do not want to do freelance work, so that’s no longer a priority. Lastly, my site is not selling anything, there is no advertising, and the blog posts are meant to be conversation starters, free downloads or tutorials. If people find them, great; if not, no big deal.

It’s more for Google’s sake than my own

Fact: Google profits and benefits more from our analytics than we ever do. You could spend 40 hours a week on monitoring and crunching your GA data, and you will never even come close to benefiting as much as Google does. Did you ever stop to think what they do with that data? It isn’t private to you alone, and they do store it all and crunch it endlessly. User bibi21 on this forum brought up a good point that a high bounce rate might be used against you. bibi21 claims that an increase in traffic also meant an increase in Bounce Rate, which brought the website’s Page Rank down. Without GA installed Google won’t be able to track a visitor’s Bounce Rate or % Exit on your site. (Make your own judgment call on this.)

And seriously, how much usage data do we need to help Google collect? I could understand if they were paying me to help collect it, but they don’t.

The data can affect your goals

Jordan Moore said “…a one off post that happens to gain a bit of momentum and out-performs the other posts on my blog; the statistical results of that article would affect my writing intentions for the next piece. In other words, my writing wouldn’t be honest, it would be trying to become something it isn’t.

For years I pounded the desk yelling “See! Tutorials and free downloads attract more traffic! I am a genius!” But, then, thinking back on it, I never once received a paying gig by anyone following a tutorial or downloading a plugin. Hundreds of people visited, downloaded, and left. And, odd as it sounds, that is exactly what the primary purpose of the tutorials and free downloads is: give something back to the community. When I saw huge spikes in traffic because of them, I became misguided in thinking that traffic would convert to paying clients. Instead of writing on topics I wanted to explore, I focused on thinking up tutorials and more free downloads instead of writing what I was interested in. And, professionally, that is a big mistake.

Fucking bots

Fact: when using CloudFlare, I noticed 25-33% of my traffic was non-human (bots). Bots are a major part of the Web. There are good ones (‘good’ is a debatable term here, but these are mostly used by search engines), and there are bad ones (brute force bots, email scrappers, form/spam bots, and more). Even if they were all good, they are major part of the traffic to your site. Depending on the popularity of your site, you could have upwards of 25-40% (or more) coming from bots of all kinds. Popular sites that also have a commenting component (blog or articles) — especially WordPress and other open-source CMS powered websites — will see an inordinate amount of bots hitting their pages and admin logins to post spam and exploit known security holes. With GA, this all gets recorded as a real live visitor. So, go ahead and just lop off 25% of your site’s visitors to account for bots, since really, you should only be counting human visitors. Better yet, try using CloudFlare to block known threats and bad bots, or use a blackhole (or Project Honeypot) to trap and deny bad bots from crawling your site.

To sum it up: use it or lose it

Google Analytics was a time waster for me, and my website doesn’t need it. That bar site I mentioned earlier may or may not need it either. If they are planning on selling ads or paying someone to manage it, then yes, you would need to know if 10 people or 1,000 people are using it daily to see if the cost is worth the time and effort. GA is good for using as a baseline or starting point in projects (but know that the data can be highly subjective.) GA can also help ecommerce sites to know what products customers searched for to get to your site, and what they viewed when they got their (where Bounce Rate matters.) But, if you don’t know what to do with that data, then the time spent looking at it could likely be better spent on your business, or hugging your kids.

My goal is to get recognized for writing about topics that are disruptive, yet helpful and constructive, to the web industry. I want to open dialogs with other industry professionals, not tinker over keyword density, traffic acquisition or whether my visitors in India are using IE 6 or IE 8 (because, for my personal site, I don’t care about IE users seeing it render perfectly.) My goal will be met when I write something thought provoking and get shared by an industry leader, period. To me, that is worth the time it takes to write these posts. And no amount of Google Analytics data can help me write better thought provoking blog posts.

Liberated, indeed!

Feel free to weigh in on this below. Or maybe you have more reasons for removing Google Analytics from a website?

UPDATE Jan 7, 2013: Today, Grant Baker (@BakoInd) took the time to respond to this post on his blog with “Why Google Analytics is Good for America“. With a title like that, you have to read it. And he made some good points too. Thanks, Grant, I appreciate the dialog and feedback.

68 Comments

Scott

Interesting article. BTW – you “could *write* a 200 page book…” not “right” one…

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Tristan Denyer

Thanks for reading and letting me know about the typo. I really appreciate it.

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philip

Tristan, you have dissipated some of my cynicism toward the value your wider profession. I ended up on your site via a helpful consumer image you contributed to Amazon, and I confess I am “not of your (technical) generation.” Yours is some of the rare critical thinking — you call it disruptive — I can remember coming across. Although this may only be due to my Twit gap: I don’t have several hundred thousand Twitter feeds I’m following . . .

Having wasted my life creating, selling, or justifying technology, I testify that the revolutionary zeal is a familiar feeling that didn’t begin with Twitter or even Google. I have been immersed, repeatedly, in the progressive irony of the “solutions” offered, in several Bay-area tech companies from the early ’90s almost up to ubiquity of smartphones. I burden you with this only because it took such repetition for me to recognize how irritating things like Google Analytics can be. And it, only the later of such “paradigm changing” panaceas for lazy engineers . . . until disruptive thinkers, as you say, come out of the wilderness.

Forgive me for the cynicism, but reading your ideas I almost felt the urge to shout “hey, one of the lemmings has broken from the pack!” . . . and is leading in a direction this former lemming might follow.

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Freedom Hacker

I feel the same way. I completely removed GA from my site. It does nothing for me, or my users.

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Elena Young

Thank you Tristan!! After searching on how to thoroughly remove ga, changing the phrasing of the question, and getting only e.g. removing one IP address from ag, + lots of GA sites I searched for “why are there no sites on “removing google analytics” in the search results” …and found you.

Now I will just remove it, since I still did not find an alternate way to remove and know that remnants of itself do not remain …when only deleting my account.

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Fab

I understand you don’t need Analytics because you’re not looking for new clients.
but i disagree with most of your points.

My advice is to use Analytics if you know how to, and not only to check your “trafic” because it will make you lose time for nothing.

But if you want to analyze + optimize your website, Analytics is a great and free solution.

“Slows down the page load”
I check your loading time, do you really need 100k Minifier script (a heavy filed, which goal is to reduce your load time.. ), do you know that your Minify script takes between 2 and 4 seconds latency? why do you use a 100ko twitter widget with 1 sec latency? Why do you load jquery on all page chen it’s not used on every pages? Same question for your 25ko slider with very slow latency ?
Analytics is 10ko, and latency usually is 100ms – what makes it usually the shortest script to load on any website. – loads as quickly than a small picture.

“Some people don’t want to be tracked”
You’re right, but they’re already tracked by server logs.

“The data is overwhelming and highly subjective (if not suspect)” What you say is not totally wrong. I’d prefer to say that some people don’t know how to read the data. But i think that bounce rate, goals flows, and testing are useful datas if you know how to read them.

“The reward of ‘hitting the target’”
Google Analytics does not allow you to know if you’re on first page.
But, if you do some SEO work on some keywords, you may be able to track down if your efforts were worth the time or spent.

“It’s more for Google’s sake than my own”
Maybe. Even if they do, what will they do with your website statistics?
If you really care about google hosting your statistics, then why do you host all email @tristandenyer.com on Google Apps? It’s scarier to have all your discussions hosted by them..

“The data can affect your goals”
I wouldn’t recommend to any company to ignore users behaviors and do instead what they think is best.

“Fucking bots”
GA can’t know if it’s a human or a bot as some bot use similar human behaviors and web navigators. But configuring filters you can exclude most of them. It takes 2 minutes using any googled tutorials.

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Tristan Denyer

Thanks for taking the time for such a thorough read of the article, review of my site and comments. I really do appreciate it.

You said “My advice is to use Analytics if you know how to”. On that note, I would take a stab at stating less than 1% of website owners and operators know how to use GA, let alone how to glean helpful information from all that data. If they don’t know how and don’t have a professional around to translate it, should they still use it? I feel it’s then bordering along the lines of owning a car and not knowing how to drive, but keeping it in the case that a relative might stop by and be able to drive it for them.

As for the breakdown of my “heavy” scripts and APIs, I agree with some of it. I believe there is a tradeoff that I talked about with GA, and it’s a tradeoff I do with most other scripts, APIs and calls. While the Minify script is bloated, I found through testing it reduced my page load on average by 50%. As for Twitter, I generally loath all social media API calls on websites, but I broke down for Twitter since my goal is to show visitors that my work is current and position myself as a thought leader (subjective, I know.) So, I am willing to pay 1 sec for “signs of life” and original content.

Loading jQuery on all pages… hmmm, that should not actually be happening. I do make a request, but it should be cached and therefore not downloaded in most cases. Will look into that.

You got me on the slider. I am in the process of removing all sliders from my site, just as a I did with the embedded fonts. They are useless things that need to go away.

Regardless, I make trade offs just as any person does. For me, GA was simply becoming a barnacle I had to scrape off. I didn’t use it. I do use it for other websites I manage, but for my site I am not looking for “page 1” results. I write original content and disseminate it via Twitter and LinkedIn, and I’m perfectly OK with those results. You found this page, and you commented, so I see that as a major win—more so than playing the SEO ‘shell game’ on my own site. Others may—and shoudl!—feel differently about their own sites.

As for the rest, I stand by what I originally wrote. I’ve witnessed many changes being driven by perceptions of the GA data, overshadowing gut feeling and logic. It should frighten people that much of the data is polluted by bot traffic and behaviors. I am currently working from a report by comScore and Nielsen stating up to 80% of a specific site’s recent traffic is suspect&mdash80% bad bots! If following robots/scripts is your thing, cool. But all changes should be sanity-checked by a good, cognitive UX professional.

In short, I ask everyone driving change based purely on raw data: are your optimizing for the sake of playing a numbers game, or are you truly building a better experience for humans? Sometimes a better human experience does not translate to the numbers you want to see in GA.

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JuniorM

Tristan I agree with you about sliders, they are really useless on desktops and also on mobile phones. They are really stupid! If I remove GA, in order to keep an eye on traffic, do you recommend a faster plugin or solution?

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jmacleve

You can filter out bots. That’s the weakest argument you have.

I want to see how the links I have drive traffic. GA works fine for that. It’s also free. And by all the benchmarks, my company’s site loads fast — GA doesn’t slow it down.

I agree that for a lot of people, GA is pointless. But if you’re running a business and you want to see how successful your social media, backlinks and other web activity is, GA is a worthwhile tool.

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Tristan

Yes, you can filter out bots. BUT, you have to constantly update it. Depending on the site, that update could be daily, weekly, or monthly just to keep up with the hundreds of bots created daily. It very well may be a ‘weak’ argument, but it is by far the most tedious thing to do to keep your data clean.

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Mikko Piippo

In most cases you can just filter out bot hits using host name in GA’s filters. After this, only hits from your domain would be included in GA’s data – no need to update anything.

Abigail Rose

The following link you posted above is broken:
UPDATE Jan 7, 2013: Today, Grant Baker (@BakoInd) took the time to respond to this post on his blog with “Why Google Analytics is Good for America“. With a title like that, you have to read it. And he made some good points too. Thanks, Grant, I appreciate the dialog and feedback.

I agree with you. I think server logs are enough and GA slows down the site for not a good enough reason.

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Misho

Tonight I removed GA, and then I found this article.

This is impressive.
My man. Anarchists. Greetings.

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steve

hi, i enjoyed your article, but for me the most important question is…. what are you now using as a replacement/alternative to GA? I don’t want to use GA, but am a bit confused about what i SHOULD use. Can you please tell me what you use now? Or maybe even recommend a few alternatives with pros and cons listed?
cheers!!

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Tristan Denyer

The article was aimed at those that are not using or looking at the data collected by Google Analytics (GA.) I’m not against using GA. If you are going to actually read the data collected and use it to make your site better, then keep GA on your site. If you are never going to look at the data, speed up your site by removing this superfluous code from loading.

Most (major) web hosts give you the ability to read the server logs. There you can get much of the basic traffic info you would get with Google Analytics. And the best part is that it requires no script to load: it works on the server, not the client side.

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steve

thanks for your comment Tristan but it doesn’t help me. I don’t use GA and don’t want to. What i am looking for is an alternative (most of my sites are wp so a wp plugin would be ideal, but does not have to be a wp plugin). I’ve done some research and i’m aware of some good ones but i’m looking for more feedback / comments to help me decide. Any recommendations and comments would be greatly appreciated.
cheers 🙂

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Tristan Denyer

This reply would better be served as blog post, but here is the condensed version (and still it is long.) Analytics in itself is a beast of a program. GA’s code may look small, but what it does is massive and far-reaching. To get that—or even a fraction of it—is a major undertaking for a team of developers. That, coupled with Google holding the lion’s share, there aren’t many alternatives worth looking into.

When you do find an alternative that does everything you want, it either causes JavaScript conflicts, the page loads slowly, or doesn’t work well on mobile devices.

I’ve tried a few: Lucky Orange, Clicky, ClickTale, Omniture. And none of them were great. Lucky was bulky and slow to use; Clicky caused JavaScript conflicts; the heatmap results on ClickTale were a bit odd for responsive sites; Omniture’s setup and reporting was a beast to work with. In all cases I felt I was doing too much work to get it going, get the reporting right, or came with a steep learning curve. And then to sit in meetings where 5 people could not agree on what the reports said. Ugh.

It boils down to what you need the reporting tool to show you. You should first have a list of key performance indicators (such as bounce rate, page views, time on site) that you need measured. Then find a tool that delivers well on those metrics. Great tools, or popular tools, or even ones that are priced right may not be the right one for you if they don’t deliver those metrics.

Personally, I only occasionally check what pages of my site are most popular, where the inbound traffic is coming from, and I can get that from the server logs easily and quickly.

For you, I would recommend looking into the Chartbeat plugin. I have not used it, but have read some good things about it. The charts and reports look straightforward and easy to read, and best of all, right in your dashboard. Plus! There’s a Chartbeat app for iPhone (I don’t know about availability on other phones.)

Last word: keep in mind that ad/beacon/tracker blockers are the most popular downloaded extensions and add-ons for all browsers. Meaning, millions of people—myself included—block GA, Lucky Orange, Clicky, ClickTale, Omniture, Chartbeat (and more) on a daily basis. With hundreds of millions of ad/beacon/tracker blockers downloaded, I am starting to hold the results we get in all analytics highly suspect, or at least lacking of the true numbers. Reporting for trends over time may apply, but true numbers of visitors are not possible.

And that brings me to bots. I worked for one of the biggest media companies in the world, and ComScore was reporting that well over 50% of their traffic for a given period was non-human, or bots. So, the analytics that they were using to drive sweeping changes to their website and sell advertising were in fact made up of scripts/bots. If your websites are your business, I highly recommend cleaning up your traffic with CloudFlare or DistilNetworks so that your reports and decisions are based on real human visitors, not bots.

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steve

thanks again Tristan.
My main reason for not wanting to use GA is the whole “big brother” thing… i’ve just heard too many stories of suspicions of google using GA to spy on us. For myself, i am building my main site, then lots of “satelite sites” (each with it’s own IP address), each which link back to my main site. My fear is that google will use GA to determine my strategy and therefore de-value these links because they are basically me linking to myself. What do you think?

what you wrote about ‘blockers’ is very interesting. Do these also block GA?

regarding features that i “need”, i’m not much of a ‘techie’ and really just need the basics. How many people (not bots) are visiting, what pages they visit, how long they stay, entry page, exit page, where they came from, where they are located, what they click on.

about your last comment on … “cleaning up your traffic with CloudFlare or DistilNetworks”, this sounds like a very valuable thing for me to learn about. Can you direct me to some places where i can learn how to do this?

thanks again, cheers!

Tristan Denyer

If ‘big brother’ thing is bothering you an your users, know that it isn’t just Google. When you add a Facebook Like widget/button, a Twitter widget, YouTube videos (etc.) on your site you are essentially opening your visitors’ behavior up to being collected by those third-parties via the JavaScript that they load. Facebook collects user behavior from all websites that have the Like button installed.

Google will devalue those links if they are not related to the site they link to. Example: a dog kennel site linking to a car site is not natural, therefore spurious or questionable, regardless of IP. Secondly, if you are creating sites just to link back to a main site, please stop. This is not only questionable from Google’s position (and could get you blacklisted), but just makes the content on the web even thinner. No one likes going to a site where its sole existence is to get them to go to another site. People want substantive content, not more websites.

You should be creating content that people want to link to naturally. Creating your own links is spammy and risky and bad form. Great content naturally gets linked to form legitimate websites. Again, place your effort on great content instead of more vaporsites, and you will do well. Don’t just take my word on it: Phil Sharp of UserTesting.com has a great 37-min presentation on how to do link-building properly (see his SlideShare here.)

Yes, most ad-blockers and tracking blockers block GA.

You can learn more about CloudFlare or Distil Networks from their websites. Blocking bots is their core product.

steve

The niche i’m in is my passion and i have a great amount of expertise in it. The ‘satellite sites’ i build are all within different areas of the niche and are all quality sites. I share your hate for worthless spammy sites.

regarding cloudflare and distil networks, is it a case of choosing one or the other? or can both be used together on any one site for greater effect?

cheers!

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Srihari

Nice article indeed. My Google analytics was down day before and it was showing all 0 for one day and I gave a Google search to know the reason and found this blog instead and I was forced to think what exactly I am achieving from GA or how I used it till now. I only check GA to see the number of real time user and page views each day.

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Sean Carlos

I would agree that it is easy to get lost in a sea of analytics data, especially if it isn’t clear how to interpret the data (which includes understanding how reliable it is). Yet I would argue the solution in many cases is to get proper analytics training rather than just admitting defeat in the face of data overload. Proper training would include not only an understanding of what the data means (and doesn’t mean, e.g. “direct traffic” really means “source unknown”) but would also include strategies and tactics to intelligently and efficiently consume the data.
Should you uninstall Google Analytics if you have it now? I don’t think so. You won’t have access to historical data should the day arrive you change your mind about analytics usefulness. Also in my mind the performance concern is overstated: Google Analytics is so widely used it is unlikely the ga.js or analytics.js file needs to be loaded for visits to your site: its most likely already in a user’s browser cache. And in any case it would only be loaded once, not for every page. Is Google disproportionately benefiting by gathering knowledge of your website usage. I doubt it. Google already has much information about web usage as I wrote two years ago: http://antezeta.com/news/how-google-tracks-us. Disclaimer: I provide Google Analytics training, so sure, I’m probably biased :-).

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Tristan Denyer

Thanks for your feedback on this.

I think your mentioning of “access to historical data should the day arrive you change your mind” is important to note. If readers think that they will miss historical data (even a little bit), then they should leave Google Analytics in place. I removed it because I can always look to server logs if I really need get basic historical data.

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wayne mitzen

The problem – OSINT
Open Source Intelligence gathering.

Stuff I look for. Stuff my co-workers look for. Individually, no issue.

Correlate that – and it becomes a real issue

“Hey look IP xxx.xxx.xxx.xx is searching for this, and that and that and that…

To fed and commercial companies trying to innovate and develop new stuff, it’s possible to see what they’re doing.

All it takes in one insider threat at one of these companies to make big bucks selling that info to an adversary or competitor.

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Jim

Concerning Google not being able to know your your bounce rate if you don’t have GA installed. Can’t they still gather that data? Seems like I read this scenario somewhere;

Search Google > click on website > don’t like the site > quickly back to the Google search page > click on another website

Google sees that a large percent of people searching on a keyword chose your website and immediately returned to the same search page and then quickly chose another site. After this happens a certain # of times Google decides they’re showing you too high in the SERPs for that keyword.

IDN, thought I read it somewhere.

Thanks for this article and the one you linked to. I do benefit from GA on some sites but realized I was automatically installing on everyone that were not needed and hadn’t looked at in 6 months.

Cheers

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Tristan Denyer

Google can likely track bounce rate without Google Analytics, and I think you’ll be surprised how they do this: DoubleClick ad tracking beacon for retargeting (which is likely why they bought them.) Read more about how they track you.

The way you described would be a very course way of tracking bounce since they wouldn’t now if the user made an engagement on that page, went to a second, deeper page and then back again. Since DoubleClick is everywhere AdWords are (which is on a lot of sites), they drop a tracking cookie in your browser and watch where you go. That way they can get far more granular event data from the pages you visit, especially if you visit another site with the DoubleClick beacon.

Just another reason I use Ghostery and visit pages (nearly) invisible.

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Jim

Thanks for the info and the links Tristan. I agree that the tracking would offer a lot more targeted marketing that SERP bounce.

Concerning organic ranking I can’t imagine the largest data miner ignoring the direct feedback users offer with a quick bounce back to the same search page if excessive. Google may not know what the engagement was on the web page but bouncing back after a few seconds would not inspire confidence. After a certain threshold of bounces is exceeded it seems reasonable that Google would use this metric as a vote against that website being relevant to the search term.

Pure speculation on my part though. No hard data to back it up.

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Tristan Denyer

True, they could. But I feel that it would be yield a few false positives where a quick action is common, such as download pages, quick product demos, and, well I can’t think of another right now.

My guess is that if Google does this they would weight it lower against data retrieved from GA or DoubleClick.

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Average Joe

Thanks for the information from a developer’s perspective. I’m just one of the Horde that surfs. Chances are slim I hit any of your servers but I’m past 50 and so my forays are missions in and out – I typically linger anywhere. I buy stuff on Amazon and they know a lot about me. I am hesitant to share it but I find that I get the product at good prices or something similar. I don’t mind their internal analytics when the goal is simply to sell me goods. Google on the other hand is a sinister ninja that is spying when I am unaware they are even on the website. DNT, ghostery are now standard on all my devices. I see a lot of blocking on some sites. FB and google are my chief interest but I am set to block everything. I use IE and firefox and limit each to certain types of internet use. Banking on one, casual surf on another. Browzar to browse as anonymous as possible and Tor when I really sweep my tracks. But I have to still wonder just how good a job are they doing? Heck, you may want to place an analytic on my PC that I would not mind, but how could I know it is anonymous or benign. Kill them all and rest easier! However, it feels at times like a whole lot of work to do all this when I just want to surf. I once discovered Google Analytics tracking when I logged into my private 401K account with Transamerica.
I filed on them with the FTC. Transamerica apologized to my VP of HR but not to me directly. Too late to prevent google from storing my SS# and other personal data. That day I decided Google was Satan incarnate. I just have this comment for developers – with great power comes great responsibility – do no evil LOL

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Abigail Rose

Average Joe, maybe you have not heard of StartPage.com. Let’s you do anonymous Google searches. That is all I use now.

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Tristan Denyer

Thanks for the suggestion, Abigail. You may want to look at DuckDuckGo as well, “The search engine that doesn’t track you.”

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Maxine

I am not a developer, i am a writer and blogger and perfumer that wants to share useful information. I have only installed GA about a month now but there hasn’t been a day I HAVEN’T looked at the stats and that’s insane! This and JordanM’s article have both convinced me of what I already knew, I don’t need GA and it’s better to just concentrate on what each of us do best and leave the tea leaves alone :)….removing GA now. Thank you ever so much for writing this piece!

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Tristan Denyer

Yeah, every day is a bit much and can lead to you reading into the fine grain details and not seeing the big picture.

If you haven’t removed it already, I would say leave it in place and see if you can do some behavior modification so that you can get insights from Google Analytics, but not on a daily basis. My suggestion is to leave it on place and set a weekly calendar reminder to check GA. Then set a calendar reminder to review your feelings for GA 60 days from now. If you find that you cheat and look at GA more than once a week, and it still bothers you, then you could remove it. If 60 days goes by and you find you only looked at it when your calendar reminder goes off, then I say leave the weekly alert and GA in place.

Also, you can set up a report to be emailed to you from GA every Monday morning (or other times.) This could be one way to not log in and only get the info once a week. You can Google for how to set up a Google Analytics report and dashboard.

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Jaimie Dijstra

Quiet amazing the time which Google Analytics takes or adds to site load. I read your article several months ago and it’s been on my mind! Since then I’ve been pumping up the speed of a site with cloudflare, optimized code and fine tuning etc. Over the last 24 hours I’ve been randomly testing with and with out google analytics every few hours or so just to rule out internet factors etc, and tested with gtmetrix.com. I noticed my page load speed was actually being doubled by google analytics, and was sometimes adding a couple of seconds (!!) onto my page load, and at a particular time a show stopping additional 5 seconds. Without analytics there was more consistency, the page load is averaging 1.5 to 2 seconds (great for the site as it has a large amount of images and is https), and the yslow rating improved from 98% to 99%. Definitely in some cases google analytics is not worth the sacrifice, and a lot of the info I got from it I can just as well extract from the site and server logs. On other sites which I run which are faster, I still use it as it’s easier data to present to others such as clients. Thanks for the article, this convinced me to draw lines of when to use and when not to bother!!

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Tristan Denyer

Thanks for the feedback on your tests! And I agree, my server logs give me more than enough data to know what is working and what is not. Even then, for my own site I only look at them a few times a year.

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larrybud

I can’t believe any ecommerce site wouldn’t have some sort of analytics installed. I don’t see how it’s a shortfall of the analytics if you don’t understand what some of the metrics means. After all, it’s just *data*. How you interpret that data is on you, not on the analytics.

I know for for my site, which can have a multi-step sign up system, it let me discover which step people were bailing on most, which let to stream lining my signup process (giving an option for a detailed signup or a quick one), which let to more signups, and more sales.

It also let me to revamp my pages which let to fewer bounces, which in turn I believe let to more signups and thus more sales.

Remember, it’s just data

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Tristan Denyer

I agree: if you are running an ecommerce site, it would be strange to not include analytics tracking of some kind. In that space improvement of 10% could lead to more money in your pocket. Therefore, the time spent on reading the analytics tea leaves can actually pay off.

It is just data. In it’s basic form it’s inert information. What I am focusing on with this post is when it stops becoming just data, or inert, and starts to become a problem for users that aren’t gaining anything from it. Some people have a problem with alcohol, while others let it sit on the shelf and collect dust.

I’m glad reading the data helped increase your sign ups. Wish more people used it that way.

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Annett

For me the biggest reason not to use GA, is that the amount of referral spam, make the data unreliable. It takes a big amount of time, to keep up the Work of blocking out referral spam, and I can only do it, when I see the new source to spam in my data – and thats in my opinion too late.
There are other ways to keep statistic, and you can choose one, where you don’t share the data with anyone else.

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chris

Thanks for the read. You’re bang on with this one and I really just needed a good example prior to me removing it from my site as well. Once they removed the keyword used to visit my site tool, GA became a joke anyway.

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Nick

Oh, thank you, I no longer feel like the office crazy person. I have very little understand of GA or how to use it, just an instinct that we are drowning ourselves in data for the sake of seeming to do something measurable, and just sinking deeper into the quagmire rather than merely spending all that time making attractive websites.

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Mel

Oh my days, I am so glad I read your article. I thought by installing it, it will help but all it’s done is give me more headache. I don’t understand some of the lingo and I am second guessing why some things are happening. I am taking GA off!!! No more Big Brother.

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Aidan

Great article. Google Analytics has always been a pain. I have a niche site, so especially with the lower traffic, the data just wasn’t useful.

I get good information from my CDN, CloudFlare, anyway. It’s good enough.

Thanks for writing this.

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claudia rowe

We did the same as we were getting nothing useful or intelligible from GA. Almost immediately our page ranking dropped on Google Search. Of course, the old pages of our site, that were deleted more than 6 months ago and about which we’ve requested Google move from Google search, continue to rank highly.

The Borg of Microsoft has taken over Google, silently and inexorably. Clearly, resistance has been useless.

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Mickel

Great article!

I’m also thinking about removing GA from some of my websites (maybe all) and maybe use server log readers like AW Stats etc…

My main website is a how-to tutorial site and most of the time (everyday) I only check how many visits I had and sometimes I look at the keywords that visitors use in my sites search bar.

I always notice that GA is slowing down the most when I test my sites with Pingdom Tools.

Also Adsense. But I use Adsense to earn a little bit of money with my site.

Btw… I saw that Jordan Moore added GA to his website again.

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Abigail Rose

I have a really good website with all the seo in place.
No matter what I do, Google refuses to put any pages anywhere near the top.
I totally give up on Google (unless you want to pay).
I try to send people by word of mouth.
However, make a mistake and put a link that is dead and Google might see it within a few hours and then it is there almost forever, for years, showing as 404 Not Found.
If we bad mouth Google too much they also will use that against us, I have heard.
Try to use your own Webhost’s Analytics.

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Alastair Bartlett

Very good article Tristian, I am completely on the fence between you and your commenter Fab – I’ve been doing a lot of research in to how to drive more traffic to my site as well, with minimal success – it’s been ‘ok’ let’s say. My points would be as follows:
-Completely agree on the GA information/dashboard. It’s far too much information, they use ambiguous terms along with highly confusing titles (like bounce rate etc. as you mentioned). That was funny about the wiki entry lol.
-I also agree on how helpful the information is, I have real difficulty determining how it’s genuinely going to help me, it has certain benefits, but it’s very non-specific.
-And you are absolutely right about getting nonsense visits and the huge gulf between ‘visitors’ and ‘customers’, is, in my view, very apparent.
-but what Fab said about 1. it’s a free tool and 2. you can see what kind of effect your content is having and how popular it is.
Now, I completely understand your point about the whole GA platform being convoluted and time consuming, but I do ask myself ‘what would YOU dedicate your time on (with regards driving your business forward) if you don’t believe in analytics and how they can help?’. I’ve been attempting to find a better form of marketing my mobile applications development business – and I feel there are better areas to focus on, but I haven’t really found it yet. I do ‘blog’ etc. but it’s incredibly time consuming as well, as is social media. Anyway, look forward to hearing your thoughts – thanks for the article.

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Michelle

Interesting article, and I’m in complete agreement.

I’ve just deleted Google Analytics from all my sites. Sick to death of Google using MY data for their own ends. In my mind, there is little good to come of using Analytics and a lot of bad. So, like you, mine is now gone. Liberated 🙂

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Tristan

No, I don’t think analytics is bad. The article takes the angle that analytics not always useful or applicable to all situations. In some cases it can be dead weight on the site or a distraction. In the cases where you are not using it, you are telling Google how good/bad your site’s performance is, meaning they can rank you higher/lower based on it. For instance, bounce rate—if your bounce rate is horribly high, Google will bury your site in the rankings. This is a good thing for users because no one wants to go to the wrong site. But, if you are not planning on doing anything about it, why tell Google that? In short: use it or lose it.

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Dave

Great article. I’d also like to recommend Google Analytic Counters Tracker
Plugin. This plugin, analyses the visitors hits on your websites and displays it
graphically. It is also simple and easy to use.

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ddanjovi

I have been trying out different analytics software on my server, whilst browsing google I found this article and yes this information is very important to me whilst making a decision to analyze my web traffic or not. I have realized my time would be better spent improving the website instead of looking at stats on a half complete website, I get too eager sometimes.
Nice one for writing this article I feel its best to ditch the “anal”ytics. haha
The thing you mentioned about bots damn good point sir!

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Amy P

I found myself here getting quick information on malware (bots). After reading your stand on Google and all the awesome comments, I now breathe easier knowing that bots are nothing to freak out about. I also learned that there are many other ways to look at analytics and there are many choices of software or plugins to keep bots out of my site. I know very little about Google. Dashboards look really cool but I now know I can look at reports thru my server. Thanks for your opinion!

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Chris

fucking bots.. enough said. Thanks for helping me pick a direction. Do you know of a group that supports this or has a badge to tell visitors the site is tracking free

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Tristan

A badge would be great. I don’t know of one, at the moment. I think this would be a great thing for certain search engines to put in their results: “no tracking”, “no ads”, “does not track”. Things like that could make some people choose your site over others. Google would likely be none too stoked over this idea, but I bet the Brave browser and DuckDuckGo search engine would be interested.

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ridgedale

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to publish your insights, as well as taking the time to answer points/queries raised. It makes for interesting reading and confirms some of the concerns I have had for some time regarding the Internet and data privacy. These concerns led me to switching to making DuckDuckGo the default homepage and search engine for my browsers some time ago.

Would you be prepared to share the reasoning behind your decision to temporarily reinstall GA to track the visits to the Chapters of Your Book as opposed to using an alternative such as Piwik, for example?

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Tristan

Why did I choose to temporarily reinstall GA instead of another service? Because it was a simple 5 second flip of the switch, so to speak. Setting up another service would have taken a lot longer, plus the learning curve of a new system… was more than I needed. I really just wanted to be able to track the page views and depth to which people visited the chapters of my book. I also wanted to see where they were coming from and if Google had indexed them.

Putting the chapters of my book online is really a test to see if it needs to be its own site. I already spun one blog post off into its own site a few years back, and without the server side tracking I would not have known that I was getting enough traffic to spin it off. Once it was off my site, I didn’t really need GA anymore. Now that I have a potential spin-off, I’d like to know the numbers to make an informed decision.

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ridgedale

I notice the Jordan Moore post referred to at the beginning has been removed. Any idea why?

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ridgedale

Just spotted Jordan has reactivated GA!
I wonder what changed his mind and why he saw fit to completely remove the original post.

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Charlie Hall

I would like to do the same with my College class web site. I use Rapid Weaver (a Mac App) to manage my site. Could you please steer me to a method for removing GA from My web site? Thanks Very Much!!

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Miranda

There ARE open source analytics engines with nice user interfaces that take 10 minutes to setup. One example is Piwik, which I’ve installed on my hosts, it just requires a MySQL database and away you go. Much, much faster than Google Anal and all the data is private only for my use. Developers too lazy to setup such products are basically admitting they don’t care about their visitors privacy.

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Tristan

Thanks for the tip! Maybe one day I’ll remember to create a list of alternatives to GA.

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Ioana

Excellent choice. Most of the time I can’t not use Google Analytics because clients expect it, particularly if they have Adwords, but I avoid GA for myself (and anyone else who will listen to me) and use Clicky instead. I find it much better than GA anyway and I don’t mind a website owner following my moves on his property (others should be ok with me tracking them on my website too), it’s just being tracked by Google that’s really unsettling. Give Clicky or Piwik a try next time you want to monitor something. Piwik was a little more complicated some years ago when I used it, but that was because I’m not a developer and couldn’t install it myself.

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Charlie Hall

I need to remove Google Analytics from my web site. I use Rapid Weaver to manage the site. I cannot find any way to do that. Can you steer me to some method to removing GA from my site. I can find all sorts of ways to remove from GA account but I need to remove the code from my site. I do not think I changed anything when GA did a revision or some such a while back.

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B miller

I am “the bartender” user of GA. I don’t know how to use most of it and when I try to learn, it’s too confusing. So I focused on learning SEO instead. I set my site up following the SEO guidelines I learned. I installed GA and the first thing I noticed was a lot of spam from places like “SEO-Hunter” and weird names like that. Always from out of country it seemed. I figured it was spam so I searched google on how to filter out spam from GA and there were several simple tutorials that were easy to follow. I learned how to block them, and how to block my own traffic when I would look at the site. I’ve never set up any of the testing, I have no clue how. All I know is that I want to keep bounce down as low as possible and I want the time spent on site to be high. I know if the time spent on the site is over 2 minutes, chances are better than not that I have a sale waiting for me. My site loads slow as hell because it’s run on Magento and hosted on a shared server. When I test the speed, it shows mobile to be “slow”. But I make conversions to sales almost on a daily basis. So the products are desirable enough to be found via google search (Where most of my sales come from). I don’t think I’d have to do anything different to increase sales if I were ranked on page 1 of google because the products sell themselves and exposure is the problem. I can see some little changes and I make assumptions on those changes. I.E. If I make an effort to increase my backlinks to quality sites, I can see in GA that traffic increases and conversion can improve but it’s not a guarantee. I don’t obsess over GA results on my site because I don’t understand a lot of it. Despite what GA says or tells me, I believe if I move my site to a WordPress Woocommerce page and a better server it will increase my page load speed by a large margin and that in itself will increase the conversion rate. I don’t base that on anything within GA, I base that on my own habits on using the web and my tendency to hit the back button if the site doesn’t load in an instant. As far as Google penalizing you for having a very high bounce rate, do they really even need you to have GA installed on your site to see that information? Can’t one of their bots see or collect that data themselves? It seems odd that google would be stuck if the pesky user just uninstalled GA in order to avoid penalties… I get the feeling google knows all the data and GA is there for the webmaster so they can see the data.

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Tristan

“As far as Google penalizing you for having a very high bounce rate, do they really even need you to have GA installed on your site to see that information? Can’t one of their bots see or collect that data themselves?”

I believe they need GA installed to know bounce rate of users. Basically, it’s a behavioral pattern metric that measures percentage of people that do not advance to another page. The bot would have its own behavior programmed in.

I also believe this is why Google ranks non-GA enabled sites a little lower than those with GA—they simply don’t have insight into how well the site does. They can guess based on how quickly the person returns to Google search from clicking through to your site, but that would be a rough guess of engagement.

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