Does Google Analytics Undercount Your Blog Traffic?

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I recently started using WP Engine to host my WordPress blog, and I noticed something weird: My traffic according to WP Engine is about 3 times higher than my Google Analytics data. I expected a bit of discrepancy, but this was huge.

So I looked into why this might be, because if it wasn't misleading or dishonest, I wanted to use those higher numbers! Here's where I and other bloggers have come down on the issue: Analytics probably undercounts and WP Engine probably overcounts.

But if you use the right data set, WP Engine may be more accurate and give you a higher traffic number that you can use to you advantage when talking to brands or other partners about collaborations or sponsorships.

Visits, also known as uniques, is usually the number people are most interested in. To find the analogous data at WP Engine, look at “Billable Visits.” That number excludes bots that are scanning your site, so it's not wildly over-calculating how many eyeballs are seeing your content. Here's how they calculate it:

We take the number of unique IP addresses seen in a 24-hour period as the number of ‘visits' to the site during that period. The number of ‘visits' in a given month is the sum of those daily visits during that month.

The difference between GA and WP Engine is the goal: While GA is mainly a tool for bloggers, brands or anyone who needs to quantify website traffic, WP Engine is counting traffic so they can figure out how much to charge you for their services.

That's why WP Engine does counts quick bounces as visits. Here's how the company explains it:

Suppose a human clicks a link to the site, then before the site has a chance to load the human clicks ‘back.' Does that count as a visit? Our servers still had to render and attempt to return the page, so in that sense ‘yes.' But a human didn’t see the site and Google Analytics isn’t going to see that hit, so in that sense ‘no.' Because we need the notion of a ‘visit' to correspond to ‘the amount of computing resources required to serve traffic,' we round off in favor of saying ‘yes.'

Google doesn't count quick bounces as a visit, and if a human didn't see the page, brands wouldn't want it counted. But there are ways that GA overcounts—even though it undercounts overall—that probably more than makes up for this disparity. For example, if a person using two browsers or has cookies disabled goes to the same page twice, GA would count that as two visits, whereas WP Engine would count it as just one because the IP address would be the same.

Many more differences between GA and WP Engine's methods account for the disparity in numbers. Read WP Engine's full explanation of how they count visits here. Obviously, it's complicated, and no method is perfect.

There's no question that the industry standard for counting traffic is currently Google Analytics, and if a potential partner specifically asks for your GA numbers, that's what you should provide. But that doesn't mean GA is 100% accurate and that a better tool might not exist. It also doesn't mean that you can't use whatever number you believe most accurately reflect your blog's traffic.

What traffic analytics tool do you use? Which do you think is most accurate? Tell us in the comments!

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About The Author

In addition to being editor at IFB, Kristen writes for Forbes, Eat, Sleep, Denim, and her own blog, Stylenik. Previously, she served as the San Francisco editor for Racked, covering the intersection of retail, fashion, and technology. She has written about everything from human cloning to luxury shopping for publications including Wired, Gizmodo, Refinery 29, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in a '70s house in '70s clothes on the Northern California coast. 

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16 Responses

  1. Elise Xavier

    I personally use both Google Analytics and Jetpack Stats in order to keep track of statistics. They’re fairly similar, though I can tell you for a fact that Google Analytics is always the lower of the two. That being said, it’s usually only lower by a small percentage (comparing using some very old statistics from one of my sites, 71k pageviews on Google Analtyics vs 73k on Jetpack). I’d trust Jetpack over Google Analytics, I think it’s probably the most accurate, but if you’re getting a lot higher than Google Analytics with anything, it’s safe to say the other statistics are probably way off. I’ve heard of WPEngine having almost absurd statistics in the past. I’d steer clear from using those as accurate stats, as they’re (no offence) pretty biased considering they charge you in tiers based on pageviews.

    • Kristen Philipkoski

      Thanks for your comment! Recently, WPEngine changed the way it measures “Billable Visits” to eliminate some of the traffic from bots (https://wpengine.com/support/faq-bot-visits-removed-from-overage-calculations/), and that number is not as crazy-high compared to Google Analytics. That’s why if you’re using WPEngine I recommend looking at Billable Visits rather than the total visits, which is insanely high because it includes robots. I hear what your saying though, one can go to far in the wishful thinking direction 🙂

      • Elise Xavier

        That’s a huge step in the right direction for WP Engine. Good for them. I’m sure they took a small hit financially due to this move, but it’s definitely one that’ll win them more favour in consumers’ eyes. Didn’t know about this – thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Chelsea Pearl

    This is really good to know! I use GA religiously and check it every single day. Never though there would be that much of a discrepancy between analytics tools.

  3. London Blogger

    I am so happy to read that I am not the only one having this problem. I had over 4k views up till now in January alone, but GA is showing only 120, seriously, that is ridiculous! Thank you for this!

    • Jason Barksdale

      I know this is an older post. But did you end up finding out what the issue was?

  4. Alyssa

    This is such an interesting piece! Do you know if there is a “WPEngine”-like service if you’re on Blogger though? I’m on Blogger, so I use Bloggers own stats (which don’t have uniques) and then Googe Analytics. Would love to compare the GA # with something else though, but maybe there’s nothing else available if you’re on Blogger?

    • Kristen Philipkoski

      Hi Alyssa, I think you may be right because Blogger is your web host and WPEngine is also a web host. Do you find your Blogger and GA numbers are different? They may be one and the same since Blogger is owned by Google.

  5. Nuclear Glitter

    I use GA, WP and Jetpack, and in my case, it’s on contrary. GA shows like double time more visitors than WP. Maybe it’s because I’m hosted on SiteGround and I pay regular plans, I have no idea.

  6. Rachel

    This is interesting, because I’ve always notice a big discrepancy between GA and Blogger dashboard stats. Could this be for a similar reason?

    • Stella Lee @Purfylle

      I’ve heard blogger counts bots and I’ve seen big spikes in numbers after my site was crawled by webmaster tools so I’d say it’s likely.

    • Kristen Philipkoski

      Yes indeed it could be! And it’s interesting that the numbers are different even though Google owns Blogger.

  7. valerie hansen

    I am wondering the same as Rachel. I am on blogger and my stats are always much higher than GA…twice as much usually

  8. Stella Lee @Purfylle

    IP address isn’t an accurate measure either, our IP address changes every time we have a power outage. It also doesn’t take into account share houses where several friends may all live together and each read your site. It’s very much a six of one, half a dozen of the other situation.

  9. Iman Brooks

    I am so happy I found this I have about a 2,000 different page view discrepancy with blogger and GA. I am thinking it is not counting a chunk of my views from Stumbleupon and Bloglovin (I am guessing because they show up as really short views). I was about to lose my mind thinking people really are not visiting my blog. LOL

  10. Betty

    Google Analytics Counter Tracker plugin on Word Press is the best for your blog analysis. You are able access a whole lot of functionality just by using the plugin.