The data marketing conflict that has gripped online advertising in the past 6 months is just getting started. Industry heavyweights like Google, Mozilla and Apple continue to take strides focused on giving users back control of their actions and privacy online. Now more than ever, website traffic clarity is important to SilverServers and our SEO clients. Real, powerful marketing choices are harder to make when your previous campaigns and audience makeups are slowly becoming harder to judge and manage.
What used to be a practice only engaged in by power-internet users, ad blocking and ‘untrackable’ browsing is becoming mainstream very quickly. When software giants like FireFox and Apple recently added built-in tracking protection to their offerings, small to large businesses alike cried foul at their sudden lack of access to large portions of user information they relied on. The argument between marketers and users about who accesses their data is not a clear-cut one. Many people are just fine with anonymous user statistics and behaviour analysis, but any trust they had with the online marketing machine has been worn thin by data breaches and misuse. How long will these stats stay anonymous? How much work does someone have to do to fill in the blanks? When data breaches happen most every week it seems, these questions get very hard to answer.
Apple and Firefox have taken notice and are intent on championing the issues of security and control when it comes to collection and use of marketing data. To win back their user’s trust, many companies are not just suggesting solutions for tracking, but are building them in to their future offerings. Tracking protection and ad blocking no longer require users to install plugins or otherwise take any action on many platforms, removing a large barrier to entry and opening the floodgates for concerned internet browsers.
For quite a long time now, users that review their Google Analytics stats should be used to seeing a portion of their visitors data marked as ‘(not set)’. As long as you’re filtering spam from your stats, these ‘(not set)’ visitors could previously at least be treated as a real visit. While we couldn’t group these visits into mobile or desktop mediums or get referral information from them, they still factored into many important stats.
While this issue definitely can be influenced or caused by your Google Analytics setup, including failed connections between your Analytics and Google Ads accounts for example, a large portion of the blame rests on the growing acceptance and implementation of anti-tracking technology. The biggest reasons you’ll see (not set) in your stats is due to issues out of you or your webmaster’s control:
• Your visitor is using an old/unsupported browser
• IP location/Geolocation failures
• Cookie blockers/deletion of cookies manually by visitors
• More visitors utilizing VPN services
• Ever increasing use of software meant to block ads and trackers
What happens when user visits are actively not being sent to Google Analytics? Nevermind ‘(not set)’ user information, new developments in script blocking and tracking protection are entirely stopping any data at all from reaching Google’s servers. Between this and the many stat spam attacks that are a daily routine, SilverServers advocates using multiple stat tracking solutions to ensure you get the best picture of what’s happening on your website. This concept is a long-held industry suggestion, but is now becoming more and more relevant everyday. With how easy it is to entirely block data from reaching Google’s servers, the accuracy and reliability of Google Analytics information is becoming increasingly suspect. At best, it should be a contributing source to your overall statistics picture of your site. At worst it requires a large amount of maintenance to try and keep your actions relevant and your information applicable.
Since March 2019, when Apple and FireFox really stepped up their tracking protection, Google Analytics stats have begun to drop across the board. If you keep a close eye on your stats, you should expect to see possible double-digit percentages of visitor/session traffic to drop in your reports over the next 6 months or so as these changes progress. These visitors are still actually browsing your site and interacting, their actions are just not being sent to Google’s servers. There is no real, ongoing way around this and no way for a webmaster or Google to stop browsers and operating systems from blocking these updates. The only reliable long term solution is likely to combine multiple sources of information and boil them all down into one powerful set of data.
To this end, SilverServers has begun building a separate, built in stat tracking system into our Paradigm CMS. Over the next few months, our statistics base will include this custom system, as well as integrations into Google Analytics and other Apache-log based stat tracking systems. Using multiple sources to build the picture of your website’s activity and opportunities will be integral to progressing in this new marketing landscape. Directions and habits need to change when it comes to analyzing your website’s impact on your bottom line. Users need to be respected and treated as the important potential customers they are without betraying their trust. Forging real relationships with your market audience will be the key to offering them a powerful trustworthy experience online moving forward.