Analytics has become useless

07 Dec 2016

Heads Up Before August 2018 Saber was known as "BugMuncher", so you'll see the name BugMuncher instead of Saber throughout these older posts. You can read more about the name change here - BugMuncher rebrands to Saber.

When I first started working full time on BugMuncher, the first thing I’d do each day was log in to Google Analytics and see how the site was performing. Now, a little over a year later, I look at analytics less than once a week.

This is because analytics has become useless.

I never made a concious decision to check analytics less often, it just happened naturally over time. As I found less value in analytics data, I had less reason to check it every day.

What were they looking for?

The downfall of analytics happened so slowly I didn’t even notice. It started with search term not provided.

In the last 30 days, over 97% of all organic search traffic to BugMuncher hasn’t provided the search term. I don’t have a problem with this, I believe in online privacy, but it does make this part of the analytics data pretty useless.

Ghosts in the shell

Next came the ad blockers, many of which also block third-party analytics scripts. This means the analytics software has no idea they were ever there.

I didn’t realize just how common this was until I started using Heap Analytics as well as Google’s offering. When a new user signs up for a free trial of BugMuncher I send an event from BugMuncher to Heap. As this all happens server to server, ad block has no effect on it.

If a user has been blocking analytics this sign up event will be the only thing showing in their Heap profile:

By comparing the number of sign ups tracked in heap, to the number that don’t have any other events, I’ve calculated that 23.7% of all BugMuncher’s users are blocking analytics scripts.

Again, I don’t take issue with this, I use an ad blocker myself, although I do white list a lot of sites. But when nearly a quarter of all visits to BugMuncher’s website are never even seen by analytics, its usefulness must definitely be called into question.

Spam spam spam spam

Of course, the final nail in the coffin was spam. It started for me about a year ago, when I noticed referrals from unexpected places. When I visited these sites, there were no links to BugMuncher anywhere, and the sites themselves were always trying to sell some scammy shit.

Fighting spam always becomes an arms race. I’d start adding rules to Google Analytics to filter out the spam referrals, but the spammers just improved their bots to work around these rules.

The referral spam problem has steadily become worse. In fact 5 out of my top 10 referring sites from the last 30 days are either spam referrals, or a direct result of spam referrals, accounting for 88% of my referral traffic:

The sites highlighted in red are spam sites themselves. The lifehacker.com one is particularly clever, as it’s not actually lifehacker.com, but lifehacĸer.com, the ĸ is a symbol from the Russian alphabet.

This particular spam attack has been so clever and prolific that it’s been written about on Reddit and Vice, causing the spammer to spam people with links to those posts as well, which is why they’ve been highlighted orange in the image above.

Today I decided to log into Google Analytics for the first time in a while, and I was greeted with a form of spam I’d not seen before. Spammers must have noticed that the default page on Google Analytics shows the top languages, and and decided to capitalise on that:

For fuck’s sake, enough is enough! It’s got to the point where the only thing I actually use Google Analytics for is counting how many unique users hit BugMuncher’s homepage so I can calculate the conversion rate for my monthly income reports.

So I’ve decided I’m giving up on analytics, early next year I’ll be rolling my own simple method for counting unique users, and completely uninstalling Google Analytics from BugMuncher.

You could see this as a win for the spammers, but if I don’t have Google Analytics I’ll never see their shitty links and messages, so really I win.

- Matt


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