Making Sense of Google Analytics with Annotations

Making Sense of Google Analytics with Annotations

As I mentioned in the article on tracking traffic with Google Analytics, measuring and monitoring your blog performance is important. The goal is to do more of what does work and less of what doesn’t. However, the amount of blog traffic isn’t always about how your site ranks in search for certain keywords, people find your site and your business in different ways. There are also other factors beyond SEO efforts that influence rankings themselves.

So how do you know what exactly is bringing traffic to your site? Obviously, you can dig into Analytics extensive reporting and analyze what exactly is going on; however, sometimes we want to see the answer more quickly than that and very often, the answer should be obvious. For example, in the case of filtering blog referral spam out of Google Analytics reporting, if your site has been under attack by GA spammers, the drop in reported traffic will be very obvious if the filter is set up correctly. However, as I mentioned in the other article, the filter only applies to traffic reported after it is in place, not prior to. So you have to wait to see the true reports.

Let’s say you go back several months later and you see this drop and you start wondering, “What happened there?” You might wonder if you lost positions in search or if there was a functional problem with your web site. If you are keeping some sort of site journal tracking each change in your web site, you could go back through the history and see if you can tell what cause the fluctuation in traffic. However, there is an easier way to record this, annotations in Google Analytics

What Are Annotations

So what are annotations? An annotation in general is described as “a metadata (a comment, explanation, presentational markup) attached to text, image, or other data.” Put most simply, an annotation is a note that explains data. Google Analytics offers the ability to add an annotation, a note or comment, to any specific date in a reporting period. So, for example, if you add a filter to Google Analytics to block the referral spam, also add an annotation to the date it is done so that someone can quickly see what that change was at any future point in time.

How to Create Annotations in Google Analytics

Adding an annotation in Google Analytics is a simple and straightforward process.

Step 1 Log into your Google Analytics account and go to the Dashboard for the site you will be editing.

adding annotations to Google Analytics Step 2
Step 2 Under the main traffic dashboard, click the arrowhead underneath the traffic graph.

adding annotations to Google Analytics Step 3
Step 3 Click “create new annotation.”

adding annotations to Google Analytics Step 4
Step 4 Click in the date field to select the date to annotation, enter the description of the event and click save.

adding annotations to Google Analytics
The traffic graph will now be marked indication the annotation for that date. If you use multiple annotations and want to draw attention to one particular (or more) date, you can star the annotation and a star will display next to the comment indicator.

When to Use Annotations in Google Analytics

When should you use Google Annotations? Anytime you make a significant change to your site or there is a significant event related to your business that has the potention to impact traffic to your web site. This might not be something web related. Maybe you ran an ad with a link to your site. (This could also be tracking using custom urls and campaigns.) Maybe your business was mentioned on the news or another media channel with a wide reach. Maybe you had a piece of content that went viral. Anything that is outside of your regular business practice or normal site promotion efforts and growth. Here are a few suggestions for when to annotate in Google Analytics:

  • Any changes that filter traffic or reporting on your site.
  • Changes in url structure of your web site
  • Launching a new site or a web site redesign.
  • Any major change in site keywords and targeting.
  • When your business has an event or a promotion that is outside of your standard operations.
  • When a piece of content goes viral across any channel. Even if the content is being shared across a social media channel, there should be residual traffic to your site.
  • When your business receives promotion that is out of your standard process, such as by a major news source or by an industry leader. This would be a good time if you aren’t do so already to set up a report tracking the average traffic and noting how much of that new traffic is retained after the major spike.

What other ways do you use annotations?

Google Analytics Referral Spam & Your Site

Google Analytics Referral Spam & Your Site

If you have a blog or a web site that you’ve been working on for any amount of time, one of the first things you learn is how to measure the traffic on your site. Without measuring performance, all the money, time and effort can be a little discouraging if you don’t see results. There are few things more aggravating than seeing an increase in site traffic and then realizing that it is nothing more than spammers artificially increasing your site stats.

What is the Point of Referral Spam?

So what is the point of someone spamming your site statistics? I think a screenshot of some of the referrals makes it obvious. What is supposed to show in this field is a list of sites that have sent your site traffic. Unsuspecting webmasters, thinking that one of these sites is linking to them will click on the site, generating traffic for the spammer. Sometimes it is traffic only and the spammer benefits by CPM ad revenue. Sometimes the link is to a malicious site. Sometimes, it is a product or service provider hoping that someone will be interested in their service. And of course, sometimes it is the ultimate source of spam, it is a link to a porn site.

example of referral spam

By the way, this happens to be a site that already has been filtered for spam referrals. These are new spam domains that have been added in the past couple of months. Obviously, the person with the black-friday.ga domain was hoping for click throughs to take advantage of the Black Friday specials. Will the majority of people visit the spam site? No, but through the sheer mass volume of spam referrals, the slight percentage that will make it worthwhile to the spammers.

Why is Referral Spam a Problem?

So someone is messing with your site statistics. Why is this a problem? For sites with a large amount of traffic, it may not be much of an issue as the the percentage of spam versus actual traffic may be miniscule. However, the referral spam has become such a nuisance, that I believe over time it can distort the picture of site traffic and growth even for large sites.

It is a problem particularly for sites that are new and sites without a large amount of traffic. I have seen referral spam that record 200 to 300 visits per month to a single domain for a site. For some small business sites, this completely obscures the true measure of actual site growth. The sites with low traffic volume are also more likely to be inexperienced webmasters that won’t realize that it is spam and will actually visit the potentially malicious site.

How Referral Spam Works

A few months ago, I spent quite a bit of time researching how to get rid of this nuisance. Referral spam has been an issue almost as long as the internet has been around; however, this particular type of spamming is fairly new. Before, spammers would ping your server with a referral, spoofing an actual visit. This would not only generate a bogus referral link (bogus in that an actual person did not visit your site from that referral) but it would also add to your site bandwidth. You would notice it through the bandwidth spike as well as the referral log. Once identified, the spam referral could be blocked through the .htaccess file of the site.

This referral spam is different. There is no actual interaction between the spammer and your site at all. Instead, the spammer interacts directly with Google Analytics, triggering a referral for your site. They do this by obtaining your Google Analytics ID by crawling the code of the web site. Once they have that ID, they use it to tell Google that there has been a visit to your site from theirs. Since there is no interaction with your site, the referral spam can’t be blocked on a site level at all.

How do you know if you are dealing with Google Analytics referral spam versus the old style that jacked up your bandwidth? The problem is so pervasive at this point that I think if any site is using Google Analytics and has any sort of web presence at all, you are probably getting hit. However, you can confirm this by looking at the referrals in Google Analytics and comparing it to the referral log in the stats for your hosting account.

How to Block Referral Spam in Google Analytics

As people came to grips with combating this issue, there was a lot of different advice for blocking it. Some of it was wrong. Some said to block it in the .htaccess file, which doesn’t work. Some methods simply kept the referring domain name from being viewed but still counted the spam referral as real traffic. Not only does it not help at all, but it makes the problem worse.  Your traffic is still inflated but you aren’t seen the source of it, even if it is false.

What I have tried that actually works is creating a filter in Google Analytics to block campaigns referring from spam domains from showing as a referral source as well as being counting in the site traffic.

block google analytics referral spam

  1. On the admin tab of your domain account in Google Analytics:
  2. Click filters.
  3. Click Add Filter
  4. Enter a name for the filter
  5. Select “Custom” for filter type
  6. Select “Campaign Source” for filter field
  7. In the filter pattern, enter the domain names. Domain names should be separated by pipes (|) and periods escaped by “/”
  8. Add the views the filter should apply to. This is an account level filter and you may have multiple domains tracking under that account. Select all domains or unique views that you would like the filter applied to.

block google analytics referral spam

These are the filter patterns I have right now:

Filter #1

darodar\.|semalt\.|buttons-for.*?website|blackhatworth|ilovevitaly|prodvigator|cenokos\.|ranksonic\.|adcash\.|share.?buttons\.|social.?buttons\.|hulfingtonpost\.|best-seo-(solution|offer|service)|free.*traffic|buy-cheap-online|100dollars-seo

Filter #2

trafficmonetize\.|success-seo\.|videos-for-your-business.\|semaltmedia\.|adf\.ly|copyrightclaims\.org|snip\.to|hosting-tracker\.com|alibestsale\.com|black-friday\.ga|cyber-monday\.ga|free-floating-buttons\.com

Here’s the bummer, there is a character limit to the filter pattern so depending on how many domains that need to be blocked, you may need to create multiple filters. The other thing is that this filter will need to continue to be updated because spammers never sleep. Well they do, but they automate all this so it’s running, creating work for you, while they go off and have coffee.

Easy Way to Block Google Analytics Referral Spam

After all of this, here is the simplest way to block referral spam which I discovered when revisiting all the information to write this article. As I mentioned, this is a headache that continually has to be addressed. Stijlbreuk created a service that automatically updates your Google Analytics filter for you. The why from their site:

Referrer spam blocker started as a friday-afternoon project here at Stijlbreuk. We were tired of manually updating the spam filters and created a tool that did this automatically to make our lives easier. We showed some people in our network and because they were enthusiastic we decided to spend a “little bit more time” on it to make it more user friendly.

We thought about possible business models before making the app public, but we decided that making money of the spam issue just didn’t feel right. We see the tool as our “digitale visitekaartje” or “digital business card” in english. We hope that some companies will notice the quality of the tool and get in touch for similar projects. If you like what you see, please contact us here.

referral spam blocker service

So rather than going back to constantly update your filters,

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account
  2. Visit the Referral Spam Blocker site
  3. Click Authenticate now
  4. Click “Allow” to give the Referral Spam Blocker app
  5. Select the accounts you would like the filters applied to
  6. Click the “Let’s Do This” button at the bottom

But wait, that sounds too easy and it’s free? Yes, it’s free, but here’s the downside. Currently their service has a limit of 2000 calls to Google’s API. To block referrers for one site, they have to make approximately 30 calls to the API, meaning only 66 sites can be added to the service a day. If you visit and their quota is exhausted, try back the next day or follow the instructions to add the filters manually yourself as noted above.

Where to Go From Here

Now that you’ve blocked all the spam referrers from showing up in your web site stats, now what do you do next? First, it doesn’t filter referrals previously recorded so if you view your statistics as most people do for the month, it will take a full month before you are looking at “clean” statistics. If you are in the process of growing your site, be prepared for a drop in traffic numbers. It might be a little discouraging, but remember, they were never actual visitors in the first place.

Further Resources on Blocking Google Analytics Referral Spam

  • Definitive Guide to Removing Google Analytics Spam from Analytics Edge: This has a good overview of the history of the different spam tactics
  • Guide to Removing Referrer Spam in Google Analytics from Analytics Toolkit: Screenshots of how to set up your filters in Google Analytics, but you have to scroll down to see the most recent solution.
  • How to Stop Referrer Spam from Raven Tools: This is another play by play in the search for a solution; however, again scroll down to the bottom of the article for the most current solution.
  • Filtering Domain Referrals from Google:  (Added June 2016) Since writing this article, Google has added a resource to their knowledge base for eliminating Analytics spam that uses the method above.
  • Guide to Removing Analytics Spam from O How Digital Marketing:  (Added June 2016) In this guide from O How Digital Marketing, they provide steps for providing multiple data views for your site.  They also outline four different steps for eliminating false traffic from your Google Analytics account by 1) eliminating ghost traffic using an include filter for valid hostnames, 2) filtering for crawler spam using the method I describe above, 3) enabling bot filtering in the view setting (I forget this sometimes,) and 4) excluding the IP addresses of web administrators and team members.  The issue with #1 is that first your site has to have enough history to have a record of valid hostnames beyond your own domain name.  The second is that with the proliferation of social media and accounts on other properties, with this method you must remember to add any new referrers to the view as only the hostnames within the filter will display.  As they recommend creating unfiltered master views, the filtered views can be compared; however, I think it would be very easy to forget.  Third, you can only have include one hostname filter for your account which, like all filters, is limited to 255 characters.  If you have one web property on one Analytics account, this may not be an issue.  If not, the 255 character limitation can quickly become an issue.
Social Media, Images, Your Clients and You

Social Media, Images, Your Clients and You

Several months ago, I started a new personal blog. Now when you start a new site, there are a few ways you can go to build traffic:  do keyword research and write content targeted for search traffic and link building, network with other high traffic sites in your niche and link building, pay for traffic, or promote your site through social media.

Most people do a combination of all of the above, along with a focus on building their own email list.

I know how to do all that and I do that on other site, but on this sites, I just didn’t want to write with keywords in mind.  I want to write what I want to write about.  Also, some of the topics I write about on this site are things a lot of people would be interested in, but they aren’t searching for.

Since I nixed two legs of a standard traffic building strategy, I had to focus on building an audience through social media sites.  There are a variety of ways I’ve been doing this, but the primary focus has been consistent updates using images.

And it’s worked.

You Only Have Their Attention for a Second

It’s a statement of fact in a culture where a large percentage of the population’s primary form of communication is texts full of abbreviations and hashtags that you only have a few seconds to catch their attention.

You can write awesome content, and you should, but people are probably just going to read the headline.  How many times have you seen a friend share an article on Facebook and by their comment, it is very obvious that they didn’t even read it.

What percentage of shares on your newsfeeds are images?  It may vary depending on the demographics of your friends and fans, but I would put a bet on it being a high percentage.

Show then Tell

Everyone likes show and tell time, even as adults we do.  We want to see it, rather than just hear it and have to create a mental picture in our minds.

That translates into social media marketing.

If you have a message, you need to show them first and then tell.  Have a visual image that conveys your message, and then tell them what it is.

Those snapshots are the posts and updates that are shared most frequently by your followers . . . and some of them may actually read them.

The Fickleness of Facebook

-A couple of years ago when Facebook implemented Edgerank, I wrote a post explaining why businesses can’t rely on Facebook for promotion.  Edgerank throttles the number of page fans that actually see your status update in their news feed.

Since I wrote that article, it’s actually gotten worse.  Worse for the business owner that is.  It’s better for Facebook because it almost forces the average page owner to pay for post exposure.

If you want to be depressed, look at the page insights for each post and see how many people actually saw your update.

A Simple Explanation of Edgerank

The algorithm for Edgerank, like Google’s search engine algorithm, is constantly changing.  However, the basic principle is, the more people engage with your update, the more of your fans Facebook will show it to.

For example, say your business Fan page has 2,000 fans.  When your post is first post, it may only display in the newsfeeds of 100 of your fans.  If people interact with it, either by liking, commenting, or sharing, Facebook will display it to more of your fans.

The next status you post will start out with a greater reach than the one before.

The secret to winning is constant, consistent management.  ~ Tom Landry #consistency #winning #success http://legacymarketingservices.com

Consistency is Key

However, the opposite is also true.  If you post sporadic or inconsistent updates, the number of fans your post is exposed to will drop dramatically.

It is important to be consistent.

Use Images to Build Engagement

One of the things that I’ve done on the fan page for the site I mentioned above is use creative quote graphics in daily updates.  For that page, those types of updates get the best engagement, even above video.

The interaction from those updates builds up the overall engagement for the page so that when new updates from the blog are published on the Facebook page, the post gets a broader exposure than it would have normally.

Researchers at MIT have discovered the same thing:

Whatever type of image you use, it’s a fact that posts with images get more responses — more likes, comments and shares. Hatch recently tallied a month of posts on the MIT Facebook page, ranked from most- to least-talked about. Of the top 20 posts, 70 percent had photos. Similarly, on Facebook, the engagement rate is 37% higher for posts with images.

Social Media Creativity Made Easy

If you don’t currently have someone managing your social media campaign, you may be thinking, “I’m not creative.”  That’s okay.  There are options, and here is one of them.  We’ve put together social media image sets that incorporate inspiring quotes to encourage interaction from your followers.  When you purchase a set, each image is watermarked with your brand so that regardless of where it is shared, your business or website name is mentioned.

It is social media marketing made easier.  We can’t make it any easier unless we do it for you (which we can do that too.)

Get Yours Today

 

Press Releases and Social Media

Press Releases and Social Media

While the core goal of any small business marketing effort should be developing and deepening client relationshipshow that is accomplished is constantly changing.  New competitors move in, old customers move out, new markets develop, and new media emerges.

This is especially true when it comes to anything related to online marketing such as  local listings, search engine rankings, social media, online video, etc.  I can’t tell you how different my promotion routines are from just six months ago, let alone last year.

As the saying goes, “One thing you can always count on is change.”

Taking the Old and Blend with the New

Just because there are shiny new promotional toys in social media such as PinterestGoogle+, and Facebook, it doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon the tried and true methods of traditional publicity.

A perfect example of how to blend old with new media is combining social media exposure with press releases.

Before the control of news dissemination was wrenched out of the hands of the traditional media outlets such as newspapers, radio, and TV,  press releases primarily served as a method to try to generate enough interest in reporters to publish a story in their publication.  The decision to publish was in the hands of the publication itself.

However, after the explosion of online publishing and the maturation of search engines that could not only index massive amounts of pages and information, but also quantify and categorize it into (mostly) relevant results, the power in publication has shifted.

Now, not only can a business use a press release and be ensure that it will get exposure online, with careful strategy it can also ensure that it gets in front of the eyes of interested consumers.  It is not dependent on a particular news outlet for exposure.

Using Social Media with Press Releases

Beyond the multitude of opportunities for online publication of press releases, social media networks can also serve as an additional source of exposure. There are two ways social media can bolster your business awareness.

The first is by exposing your information to different segments of your market.  Each social network has fanatics that will use that platform as their primary source of information.  Some people do their research on Pinterest, others on Facebook.  If your news release is not circulating on that site, the odds are that segment of consumers won’t see it.

Social media marketing allows you to publish where your audience hangs out.

The second way integrating a press release with social media benefits your business and company web site is by providing social proof.  Put more simply, in Google’s eyes, social proof confers authority.

Social as Links

One primary factor determining search engine rankings (beyond on-page content and on-site structure) has been links to the site or page.  Those links from other web sites (also known as “backlinks”) are seen by search engines, and Google more so than others, as “votes” of authority for that site.

For the past year, there has been a lot of discussion and intimation by Google that social would begin to factor more heavily into the search algorithm.   The impact of this has especially been seen in the past six months.

Change Continues

Yes, change continues, but you don’t have to let change completely upset your apple cart.  Find ways to take the best of the old and strengthen it with the innovation of the new.

Updating LinkedIn Company Pages with Hootsuite

Updating LinkedIn Company Pages with Hootsuite

LinkedIn is a social networking platform designed to connect people on a business level.  Job seekers can connect with company contacts. Businesses can publicize their job openings and recruit qualified candidates. Professionals can connect with others in their field.

There are many ways that LinkedIn can be used to establish yourself in your industry.

As with any social networking platform, one component is status updates and connecting with your contacts.

In another tutorial, I share how to automatically publish a blog post or article from your site onto LinkedIn. However, you may want to publish a link to the post again later on or publish other status updates.  While you can do this directly from your account on LinkedIn, most of us have other things to occupy our day rather than sitting on a social site.

It was previously possible to link your Twitter and LinkedIn profile. Any Twitter status updates would automatically display on your Twitter profile as well.

However, this did not solve the problem of posting updates to your company profile.

Regardless, this integration was recently discontinued and is no longer possible.

So what is the solution?

Whenever possible, I try to create a situation where I can publish once and promote on as many networks as possible with a single click.

I like integrated solutions.

My business social network accounts are part of my content schedule.

The service that I use to manage this schedule is Hootsuite.

Fortunately, Hootsuite announced their addition of LinkedIn Company page updates just prior to the announcement that the Twitter and LinkedIn integration was discontinued.

Updating LinkedIn with Hootsuite

  • LinkedIn Profile
  • LinkedIn Company Page
  • Hootsuite Account

Add LinkedIn Profile/Company Page to Hootsuite

  • Click on the Getting Started Tab
  • Click on Add another Social Network
  • Select LinkedIn
  • Click Connect with LinkedIn

Once you have imported your profile and company pages, you can then post or schedule updates.

Posting an Update to a LinkedIn Company Page

  • Click in the Compose Message box
  • Select the profile/page you would like to post to.
  • Either click “Send Now” or click the calendar icon to schedule posts in the future.

To include a link, paste it into the “Add a Link” box and click “Shrink Link.” Any clicks on the link will then be tracked in the Hootsuite reports and analytics.

By using Hootsuite, you can integrate your LinkedIn profile and company pages with your business content schedule easily.

Try a 30 day free trial of HootSuite.

 

Why Businesses Can’t Rely on Facebook for Free Promotion

Why Businesses Can’t Rely on Facebook for Free Promotion

Promoting your local business used to be fairly straightforward.  Fifteen years ago, marketing a small business most likely looked something like this:

  • Put an ad in the yellow pages.
  • Print some business cards.
  • Put a couple of flyers together.
  • Put a sign up.
  • Network with prospective customers and local businesses and ask for referrals.
  • Run ads in the local papers occasionally.

This has dramatically changed in the past decade and social media networks are frequently used as the main conduit of connecting with customers online.

One of the most frequently used social networks for businesses is Facebook.  The ability to create a page for your business and the potential and ease for your customers to spread the word about your company and services is hard to beat.

The problem arises when that Fan page, on a platform and space paid for by another for-profit business, is made to be the main online funnel for your business.   Last week I talked about stewarding your assets and building and nurturing your customer list.   The goal should be directing those fans and Facebook audience into a medium that you control such as a newsletter subscription, signing up for an account on your web site, subscribing by SMS, etc.

The Impact of Facebook Fan Page Changes

So what happened with Facebook?

Obviously if you use Facebook at all, you’ve seen the new Timeline.   As a user I hate it, but the layout itself isn’t the biggest issue for company or brand pages.  The three biggest Facebook page changes that affect businesses are:

No More Welcome Pages

Before the change, if someone who wasn’t already a fan went to the Legacy Marketing Facebook page, they would have landed on this page.  The option for directing new visitors to specific information was very cool.  In addition, you could create menu links for your page that appeared in the left column.  Those are now also gone that have been replaced with . . .

Horizontal Info Icons

Instead of having the ability to direct new visitors and create items in the Page menu, now there are customizable icons that are display in the information bar.  Customizable to a point.  While you can add icon links to custom pages for your Fan page, only three will display in the information bar (there are four total, but the photo icon cannot be moved.)  A visitor would have to click the “more” arrow to see any of the additional icon links.

So you have to choose which three you want to spotlight at a time.  This is an example of the custom icons we created for the recent March of Remembrance.

facebook icons

Fan Page Update Throttling

The most serious change, the one that will have the most impact, is that Facebook has begun to throttle the number of fans that see your status updates.  If a fan hasn’t interacted much with your page, the odds are your page update won’t show up on their newsfeed.

Kind of defeats the whole purpose doesn’t it?

Your purpose anyway.  It’s great for Facebook’s business model because then they can sell you more exposure through their Reach Generator.

So the question is, is your online marketing and Facebook campaign building a customer base for your business, or are you creating a distribution channel that Facebook controls access to and will charge you for the privilege of reaching?

 Update 6/14/2012:

As I was writing this post yesterday, apparently George Takei was also venting his frustration on the changes to the visibility of fan page status updates.  Mashable has a story on his comments as well as Facebook’s response.

Update 7/10/2016

Over the past four years, this trend of limiting free exposure on Facebook has only increased.  Why Facebook has implemented other business promotional tools during that time, the latest change to the page and timeline layout has limited exposure to anything other than recent posts.  While Facebook continues to rise in useage, actual engagement rates have plummeted.

Contact Us to Discuss Marketing Options for Your Business.

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