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 (and any web host) 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.