Different traffic numbers between GA4 and Universal Analytics

One of the questions we tackled this week involved a difference in traffic between GA4 and Universal (Google) Analytics. Why were there different numbers between these two accounts?

There are many reasons we might see different traffic between the new (GA4) and conventional (Universal) Google Analytics. In this video we troubleshoot several possible reasons why the traffic numbers might be different. In the end we conclude with the reminder that these are estimates of traffic and not always “real” numbers.


David: So, Tricia, you had a couple of questions, which one do you want to go with first, the analytics one, or the dashboard?

Tricia: Yeah, the Google Analytics, did you understand what was happening?

David: I hadn’t really looked at it yet.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Let’s, let’s…

Tricia: So this is a week since I have sent this email, but I’ll look over this. So what this is doing…

David: Hello…yeah?

Tricia: I was looking through my client’s site and checking the GA4.

David: Right.

Tricia: To make sure everything was working good.

David: Okay.

Tricia: So what I’m doing is saying okay, this is GA4, and then this is UA, Universal Analytics. And they weren’t matching. And so, basically…so like, for example, I think…

David: Oh, I see what you mean.

Tricia: Yeah, they are not matching, and I’m like well, why? And it was more than one client.

David: So the first question is are you absolutely sure you’re measuring the same days?

Tricia: Yes, I did. Here at the bottom, it says last seven days, because that was a question I had. So I left these…

David: Well, it doesn’t say which seven days?

Tricia: The last seven, would be the seven before.

David: Okay. Okay.

Tricia: I mean, like I was doing it all and like sitting there, screenshot, go to the next one.

David: Okay, so that says May 20th. Okay, so this is May 20th as well. Okay. So we’re comparing the same time period. What’s this one? Oh, this is right now. Okay.

Tricia: And, yeah. So and then it was saying like, so right now then go back to the right now, it says two. And so I’m Marietta, and so what’s that?

David: Well, that’s some…this is you in Marietta and someone else happened to be visiting at the same time.

Tricia: But it was like weirdly…I kept flipflopping back and forth, and the UA kept only saying one.

David: So there is…I’ve noticed in GA4 there is a delay.

Tricia: Okay, okay.

David: So I wouldn’t be too worried. So first of all, I wouldn’t be too worried about the delay on real time. Like, I’ve noticed…

Tricia: Okay.

David: …doing real time, that sometimes there’s a little bit of delay.

Tricia: Okay.

David: It’s great way to kind of troubleshoot, but it can’t be definitive.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Second of all, yeah, okay, if we’re assuming same time period, May 20th to the 26th, May 20th to the 26th, so this says 94 users and that says…

Tricia: Seventy…

David: …seventy-nine users.

Tricia: …nine, yeah.

David: So, what I would check, just to rule out some things, are making sure the code is on every page of the website without exception.

Tricia: So I did this, I am not sure how I’ll do…because it…I may have used Google Tag Manager, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to check.

David: So then you need to make sure Tag Manager is on every page without exception.

Tricia: Check, okay.

David: Right, because, that could be…so now if…right now I’m recommending WordPress websites use the site kit plug-ins to add Tag Manager to the website.

Tricia: And then Tag Manager…

David: Then you log in the Tag Manager separate manage your analytics through Tag Manager.

Tricia: Yes. Yes.

David: Now, this assumes a couple of things. Number one, that your WordPress website is built right.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Because, I suspect the site kit plug-in relies upon the header file being loaded correctly on every page, and the lazy developer might take a short cut and might forget to put it on a page or two.

Tricia: So would possibly…could I check that with Google Tag Assistant, go into the pages?

David: Yes. That would be one way to do it. You’d have to go to every single page. You could also, and this transitions to your other question, look in the dashboard for referrals from your own website. So if you go into a website and you see that you are getting referral traffic from your own website, something may be wrong. Something may be fine, but something may be wrong. And that’s why in the dashboard, the weekly dashboard, one of the things to always look at it is, are you getting referral traffic from your own website?

Tricia: Okay.

David: So if you’re getting referral traffic from your own website, it could be that someone has spent more than 30 minutes on a webpage, and then clicks to another web page. Because remember from our Google Analytics class, the session starts over at 30 minutes.

Tricia: Thirty minutes, yes.

David: So that means, okay, you had such compelling content on your website that I read it in-depth, sat there and pontificated about it for a while, maybe I called your phone number, and then I clicked to another website, or web page on your site. That would be a new session.

Tricia: Yes.

David: So that could reflect as a referral traffic from your own website. However, if you’re always getting referral traffic from your home page, it might be that there’s a problem with your Google Analytics code on your home page.

Tricia: Okay.

David: And that you’re not…it’s not executing it, it’s not on the page, there’s a script conflict of some sort. And that means something’s wrong, and therefore it is not being tracked in Google Analytics. This is about a ten or so percent difference, so I’d say that’s outside the standard deviation, I would start to look at why one is not like the other.

Tricia: Okay.

David: But you also have to remember that there is a delay in these reports from Google Analytics. So whereas real time data comes as real time as they can make it, and there’s sometimes some weird delays, these reports that we’re looking at right now should be…well, could be a day or so behind. So one of the things I might do is go to like the acquisition report and put a time a week ago and compare a week ago in one, and a week ago in another, because Google Analytics takes one or two days before it catches up. So if you’re tracking yesterday’s data in Google Analytics, you could be off.

Tricia: Yeah, okay.

David: So if you put a week back and you compare a week ago with a week ago, and, hey, there’s always going to be some weirdness, like if you’re off 5%, okay, I can live with that, right? If you’re off 10%, like you are here, I start to suspect something weird might be going on.

Tricia: Okay.

David: And then you might be underreporting. In this case, it would like you’re underreporting in GA4, so that…you know, we’d have to investigate, how are we adding GA4 to the site? If we’re doing Tag Manager, is Tag Manager on every page of the site?

Tricia: Yeah. Okay.

David: Now, it could be that there’s something just different about how Google GA4 reports versus Universal. So for instance, there might be better bot protection in GA4 than in Universal. And so that might be what you are seeing.

Tricia: Okay. Yeah, what is that new thing coming out, GLB…something like four letters and it’s something about blocking certain stuff?

David: Yeah. So I think what you’re referring to is they’re moving everybody from the analytics.js to the G-tag analytics script, which is the GA4 script that can run Universal or GA4. And I think that’s what…because we’re having so much problem with referral spam at this point, that they’re really encouraging people to move to the new Google Analytics code. Tim, for your benefit, we’ve been struggling with GA4 for the last month or two. Our official recommendation at this point is don’t upgrade to GA4 yet. Make sure you use the exceptions and use Google Analytics Univesal, which is the old version. And if you create a new account with Google Analytics, it’s going to try to trick you into GA4, you need to resist the temptation, and stay in Univesal Analytics.

Tricia: But add the GA4, put the GA4 tag.

David: Yeah, go ahead and collect the data from GA4, but don’t…

Tricia: Use it for reporting.

David: Yeah, I won’t go on a side note here. But, alas, that’s what I would do to troubleshoot this.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Because this, I am suspicious that your code might be missing from a page or there could be some sort of conflict.

Tricia: Okay.

David: If after a while we can’t, and you know, I would go a couple of weeks back and look, or a larger time period and compare, and then see are…Google Analytics does say, and I wish I knew where it says it, but it says, we don’t offer promises that this is really the number of people visiting your website. This is about the number of people visiting your website, right?

Tricia: Yeah, okay.

David: So they’re estimating, and when you get into really large numbers, Google, you can exceed Google Analytics’ limit, and they will really give you sample sizes.

Tricia: Oh, wow. Okay.

David: Like, I’ve seen you know, we were estimating this based on 75% of your website traffic.

Tricia: Wow. Yeah.

David: Because the traffic, your website just gets huge traffic, and they can’t really promise you. So there’s a certain point where you just got to be like, “Okay, it’s close enough.” We’re really…one of the things I promote with Google Analytics is, we’re not really saying, 79 visitors, because we don’t know if 79 is good or bad. But we do want to compare apples to apples. And so when we compare apples, we could say 79 versus the prior week, okay, now we’re comparing that, 79 from organic versus 79 from Facebook. Okay, these numbers only mean something in comparison to something else. Because what is…is 79 good or bad? I don’t know. Right?

Tricia: Yeah.

David: But if we compare it…so as long as the comparisons are equally flawed, you still have valuable data.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And we’re still getting…

Tricia: Yeah.

David: But like I wouldn’t argue…I wouldn’t fall on the sword of whether we got 79 or 93.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Right. I wouldn’t be…I would just check and rule out potential issues, and hopefully those are some tips on how to rule out some…

Tricia: Yeah. Yeah. [inaudible 00:11:54]

David: And at the end of the day, you’re like, okay, I can’t find anything, everything seems to be installed, and I just go.

Tricia: Okay.

David: I would just…you know, if it was twice as many, then we start to be like, okay, yeah, something is seriously wrong.

Tricia: Yeah. Yeah.

David: But…

Tricia: Then I would…if it was double then I’d think I had something on there twice. But…

David: Yeah, exactly.

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