Google Instant Page Previews Wreaking Havoc On Web Analytics

 

Google officially launched Instant Previews earlier this month and we are now seeing major issues from it. A Google Analytics Help thread and WebmasterWorld thread both have reports of the Instant Previews confusing the Google Analytics and other web analytics tracking.

The issue seems to be that when someone initiates an instant preview on the Google search results, some of the times, Google will do an "on-demand" fetch of the page, executing the JavaScript many analytics packages use. So the visits are coming from Google, but they are initiated by someone searching, mousing over your listing and seeing an Instant Preview.

This can cause inflations in your visits, page views, increase in bounce rates, conversion drops, and the list goes on.

John Mueller of Google made an unusual appearance in the Google Analytics Help forum to provide some help to worried webmasters and analytics users. John said:

This is John from the webmaster's help forum. We're working on a solution for this, to prevent Google Instant Preview on-demand fetches from executing Analytics JavaScript. I'm not sure about the timeframe, but I'll drop a note here when I have more to share. Thanks for your patience.

As you can see, Google is aware of the issue and they will fix it.

John went on to add, "If you are using other website metrics tracking solutions, it might make sense to also filter that user-agent out (the detailed user-agent is listed in the FAQ page)."

So if you see major changes in your analytics in the past couple weeks, this may be why.

Forum discussion at Google Analytics Help and WebmasterWorld.

Hat tip to Adam Sherk for spotting this and sending it my way.

Update: The Google Analytics blog posted an update saying they fixed the issue at about 6:30 pm (EST). Note, they will not be reprocessing the data, so if you want to clean up your data, you can learn how to do so over here.

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Comments:

Steve Johnston

11/22/2010 05:35 pm

Hang on a minute. It isn't an inflation. When an instant preview is initiated, the user views the page. Admittedly not in great detail, but registering a 'view' in Google Analytics is more representative of what's going on than pretending the searcher didn't have a sneak preview. Let's face it, that sneak preview has a similar effect to the first impression that is made on first arrival. If its a bug in the analytics code, its a smart one!

Ryan Hickman

11/22/2010 05:55 pm

I'd have to disagree Steve. It's not like every word of your content is legible in the preview. The fact that the other metrics in Analytics (bounce rates, conversion rates, etc.) are also being affected definitively makes this inflation.

Carly

11/23/2010 08:55 am

I think this might be where page design and the quality of the site might become more important. It is useful to be aware that instant previews may have an effect on analytics.

Gareth Rees

11/23/2010 12:42 pm

I'm with Steve. I'd rather know there was a preview of the site than not, especially if Google are working on a fix for the analytics.

Chris McGiffen

11/23/2010 02:14 pm

It isn't necessarily showing that your site has been previewed though: "Once you click the magnifying glass, we load previews for the other results in the background so you can flip through them without waiting." from http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/beyond-instant-results-instant-previews.html. That means that the user might not even look at your preview, it might just have been loaded in case they did.

Mick

12/05/2012 05:39 am

This is major issue that make most of people worried about this...but Google had done full work to resolve this issue as soon as possible

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