How the Cookie Crumbles…

3 minute read

David Stratford

Have you noticed issues with your Google Analytics data? Have you noticed an increase in conversions and events associated with direct traffic? David, our Paid Media specialist did. Read his findings here.

Have you noticed issues with your Google Analytics data?

Have you seen direct traffic recording record numbers of sessions and transactions, while all other channels seem to be dropping off?

Have you seen low organic traffic levels in Analytics, but data seems fine when viewing in search console?

Or, seen data differences between Analytics and other organic traffic tracking software?

Have you seen a disparity between data in Google Ads and Analytics?

Or, seen a disparity between different reporting sections within Google Analytics for the same data?

For some of our clients we’ve been noticing all of this, yet we’ve searched online forums for answers, and nobody is talking about any of these data issues. We checked with Google, to get the standard ‘check auto-tagging is switched on’ response. So, we checked and indeed, auto-tagging in Google Ads is switched on, yet we’re still seeing all of these discrepancies in Analytics data.

Some have been showing massive direct traffic bloating:

This generally happens when tracking code has dropped from data sources. We are used to this, to some degree, but we’ve seen this increasing massively since early 2022.

We added utm tracking to override data issues, but in some cases, we’ve still seen 75% of google/cpc data missing in Source/Medium (under Acquisition in Analytics) when compared to Campaigns under Google Ads (in Analytics still).

Coinciding with this, we’ve noticed a huge drop in recorded organic data to some degree, some as much as an 84% drop in year-on-year sessions:

(1 Jan 2023 – 11 Feb 2023 vs. year-on-year Analytics data)

A huge disparity between 2022 and 2023 when looking at organic traffic, when viewed in Google Analytics, but similar YoY traffic data when viewed in search console.

What has been causing this?

Nobody else seems to be talking about it…

How do we remedy these issues?

An intermittent issue is always the hardest to track down…

A number of websites have been showing differing versions of these issues – some with a very high disparity, while others the differences are nominal. So, very hard to track down.

An answer seemed to appear while tracking each other in Real-time Analytics, with our mobile phones, on 4G. Taking it in turns to view Analytics and tracking one another across different sites.

Why does one phone show up, all tracked properly, when the other doesn’t?

A Samsung Galaxy S22 missing all data, while an iPhone 14 tracking everything is very odd and seems to be against the general trend of things.

What action did we both just make on the website?

The first thing you see on a website, especially when in incognito mode, is the cookie policy pop-up.

There seems to be no consistency in the interpretation of what is needed on these pop-ups. Government sites seem to keep it simple – Yes or No. Multinational sites like Google or Amazon, again very straightforward with ‘opt-in all’ vs. ‘customise opt-outs’. However, smaller sites rely on plug-ins or agency interpretation (some based on legal interpretation). These tend to have a quick escape ‘X’ with the user automatically opting-out of any tracking, while we’ve even seen one that requires the user to click further and decide which part of the tracking needs to be switched on.

No wonder there’s so many issues in the recording of data.

We trialled the removal of a cookie pop-up for one of our clients:

Immediately resolved our recorded organic data disparity.

So, some cookie pop-ups are affecting anything up to 85% of recorded data in Google Analytics. This is especially an issue with the tracking of eCommerce data.

How can this be resolved?

Check how your cookie policy asks the user to opt-in or opt-out, check if there’s an easy ‘close window’ button and see if this automatically opts the user out of Analytics tracking.

We have now seen many healthier Analytics accounts, with data being tracked properly – and many happier clients, who know we’re interested in hunting down any data issues.

Roll on GA4 being finalised, eh?

Get in touch if you are worried about similar discrepancies, we’ll track down your tracking issues!

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