As an analyst, when using a platform like Google Analytics, my goal is to gain an understanding of how visitors are interacting with a website. I want to know the audience size, bounce rate, if visitors are new or returning and a long list of other metrics. These metrics allow us to not only understand the audience but to optimize the website so that performance improves, we see an increase in leads or sales, and the visitors are happy. So it would be very confusing if the data included metrics that were not provided by actual visitors. Unfortunately, this happens all the time because all sites experience bot traffic so it is important to understand if this bot traffic is impacting your data.
Wait, what are these bots? Bots, also known as spiders, are automated computer programs (not real visitors or people) that hit your website and look like regular visitors until you dig down to find details about them.
Two quick ways to check for bot traffic
The first area to look is the referrals section. If you look through the websites listed as referrals you might notice that some referral names seem a little odd and not ones you would expect to link to your website. Another way that you might be able to notice them is that they will usually have a bounce rate at 100%, zero seconds on the site, and only one page viewed. If you are still unclear, just Google the name and usually, you will find some indication as to the status of the referral page.
Another area that you can find bot traffic is when you dig into the direct traffic. Yes, bots and spiders can disguise themselves as direct traffic. They are a bit harder to identify but one way to start is by digging into the direct traffic to your homepage. Your homepage traffic is usually represented as a slash (/). The path to find this traffic is (Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels>Direct>/). You will also add a secondary dimension for “Service Provider”, here you will find names like Microsoft Corp and Microsoft Corporation. These are just two examples of a long list of potential bot traffic service providers. And like the referrals, a way to identify bot service providers is that they will most likely have 100% bounce rate, zero seconds on the site, and only one page viewed.
If you do find bot traffic and you would like to start excluding it, Google has made it very easy
Google has a checkbox that when selected it will exclude the bot and spider sessions in your site data. Google is able to do this because it uses a list of known bots which is continually updated to capture most known bots. Google learns these bots IP addresses and removes them from your data.
The bot traffic button is found in the Admin section of Google Analytics and only requires a simple check in order to start excluding the traffic. Path to the check box is Admin>View Settings>Scroll to the bottom and you can find it there.
If you do decide to select the box it is important to understand how this will impact your data
There will be changes in the data but the most important thing to note (in my opinion) is that the data will be more accurate and better measure true visitors to your site, rather than include site crawlers and other bots. Some changes in the data that you might expect are: a decrease in overall traffic and sessions on the site because you will no longer count bot sessions. But you might also see an improvement in bounce rate, time on site, and pages per session. There is a chance you will also see a shift in new vs. returning users because all of the referral bots are counted as new visitors to the site.
Steps before selecting the box
If you decide that it is best to start excluding bot traffic, it is recommended that you duplicate your main GA view and select the box in the duplicated view. Track the changes, see what is being removed and examine the differences to make sure nothing important is excluded. After a couple weeks, if you are comfortable with the bot removal, then you can check the box in the original main view.
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