Alright, I know I don’t talk shop too much on LBTL, but the time has come, because if you’re a blogger, you do not want to be making the mistake I was. Picture me, on my first family vacation in ten years, crying in a bunk bed – that was my reaction to all this. I’d just reached a huge milestone, only to find out that my Google Analytics had been misreporting for months, and the victory I was celebrating hadn’t actually happened. I was devastated, and I don’t want anyone else to feel how I did, so today, we’re talking about the blogging mistake you could be making – especially if your bounce rate is weirdly low.
Flashback to January…
I was so, so stoked to finally reach over 100,000 pageviews in a month for December, and excitedly posted in Melyssa’s subscriber Facebook group. (Which is one of the realest and most helpful groups I’ve ever been in!) The feedback I got was incredible – one thing I love about blogging is how sweet and supportive the community tends to be. I was fielding questions, offering advice and support, and I ended up linking to a post (now down – you’ll understand in a minute) that had my exact stats listed.
To be honest, I felt like a rockstar. There are plenty of people with tons more pageviews, but it was a big win for me and I was feeling good. My parents have always been supportive but skeptical of my blogging, and my dad was seriously impressed – I was on cloud nine. Sure, in the scheme of things it wasn’t the biggest achievement, but I was looking at all my hard work in the past year and thinking:
I built this. I worked hard and it paid off and I built this.
And then reality hit.
Turns out, I had a problem.
One of the super-helpful bloggers in the group pointed out that my bounce rate was really low. I was proud of that – I though it meant I was writing absolutely exceptional content. But my bounce rate had literally not been over 5%, and if you know anything about analytics and industry standards (I didn’t!) you know that, especially if you’re getting 100,000 pageviews a month, that just doesn’t happen.
She suggested that maybe my tracking code was installed twice, and I got a sinking feeling in my chest. So sitting on my aunt’s porch, in sunny Boca Raton, I started combing through my analytics. Even on slow days, there wasn’t a single page that had been viewed once – everything had been viewed twice. I borrowed a phone and visited three pages (old, old posts) that I knew hadn’t been visited yet that day. All of them appeared in GA as being visited twice, and I knew I had a capitol-P Problem.
My stats were inaccurate.
I. Was. Devastated. Keep in mind that I’d just reached a pageview goal I’d been striving towards for over a year, and felt like all my efforts were finally paying off. After working hard for what seemed like nothing, and blogging in the shadows of the big names of my niche, this felt like stepping into the light. And it was a lie.
I poked around in my backend a little and realized that my Google Analytics plugin didn’t just make my GA graphs available in my WordPress dash, it inserted the tracking code. I’d manually installed my GA tracking code in my header about two months before I installed the plugin, and I’d never taken it out again – there was my double-tracking.
I knew for a fact that my pageviews had all been doubled. I had achieved only half of what I was celebrating. And because of that, my bounce rate of around 1.5% was actually my plugin’s margin of error – no one bounces if you count every pageview twice. I fixed my plugin that night, went to bed, and spent the next day resolved not to check my stats until a full 24 hours had passed.
Checking again was like a bad dream.
My pageviews were slashed, it was like being set back months in a single day, but you know what really killed me?
My bounce rate skyrocketed from 1.5% to over 90%
I’m super embarrassed to even say that, and one of the reasons I held off on making this post was because I didn’t want to admit it was so high! I was in the middle of a viral surge, which will always up your bounce rate, but that’s only part of the problem. Since I had inaccurate stats, I had no idea my bounce rate was so bad, and so I’d taken no steps to fix it – this had probably been going on for months.
That was the part of the story where I sat on a bunk bed and cried my eyes out while my family laughed and enjoyed the warm Florida breezes a room away.
My dad – who had been so proud – was the one who found me, and he told me exactly what I needed to hear:
Meg, this isn’t worth crying over.
Yeah, my stats weren’t what I thought they were and my bounce rate sucked. But knowing that my bounce rate sucked was the first step to getting it under control. Knowing my stats had been wrong didn’t change anything. They’d been wrong a long time. But now I have accurate information, so I know when I make mistakes and how to fix them.
It gets worse…
Then the mortification hit – I’d been publishing monthly review posts, each one showcasing the inaccurate stats, and I’d just made a year-in-review post celebrating the 100,000 pageview milestone. None of the posts were particularly popular, and I mostly wrote them to keep track of things for myself… But they made me feel like a lying, good-for-nothing fraud.
I set those posts to private once I got home. I’m still not sure that was the best course of action. I stand by the advice on better blogging I gave in each of them, even if the results weren’t exactly what I thought they were. But I couldn’t think of a strong enough disclaimer to explain my mistakes, and frankly, I’m still kind of embarrassed.
So why publish now?
Right. So you guys get that this was a low point for me, and something I feel pretty awful about, so why am I telling you all the gory details? I ran into another blogger with the same problem earlier this week. And I helped her fix it. That felt awesome.
I know how watching your stats plummet in response to fixing your code feels: not good. But letting it go on for months? Only gonna make it worse. So, even if this post helps just one more person, it’s worth the public embarrassment.
How to know if your site is affected:
I’ll say it extra-loud for the people in the back, check your bounce rate. Like, right now. Do it. Your bounce rate is the % of visitors leaving your site after only looking at one page, and averages range from around 30%-75%. Under 30% and you’re doing exceptionally well. Under 15% and you start looking really sketchy. If you’re in the 1-3% range like I was, your code is almost certainly double-installed (or otherwise malfunctioning).
Check your “pages” metric in GA – if you don’t have a single page that’s been visited only once, you need to start getting worried. I tested by visiting a few pages that hadn’t been seen yet that day – and I borrowed a phone to do it, because Google Analytics didn’t count my own pageviews. The same method should work for you. Try a few, just in case, and make sure they’re only showing up as one pageview in Google Analytics.
To be clear, I’m not very code-savvy. If you’re having general GA problems and want advice, you’re going to want to find someone else. But if your site is showing these signs, check you headers, footers, and anywhere else you might have installed a GA tracking code and make sure it shows up once and only once – for your own sake.