The Answer to “Why Are All My Stat Numbers Different?”

When dealing with blogs, we track a lot of stats. To track the stats, we use lots of different methods to try to get the most accurate numbers – whether it’s StatCounter, Google Analytics, Compete, Alexa, Quantcast, or one of the many other stat tracking services out there. The pro (and the con) to using so many different stat trackers is that all of the numbers differ. Sometimes drastically. Here we’re going to break down how each of the stat trackers get their numbers and discuss possible reasons why they might differ.

In general, there are a couple of different ways for websites to track your visits – one is through extrapolating data based on web patterns they collect and analyze. Another is by directly measuring hits to your site.

Let’s look at the first scenario first. There are two major stat provider/analysis companies that utilize the collect & analyze approach – Compete and Alexa.

Compete.com says:

Compete’s clickstream data are collected from a 2,000,000 member panel of US Internet users (about a 1% sample), using diverse sources.

Alexa says:

Alexa computes traffic rankings by analyzing the Web usage of millions of Alexa Toolbar users and data obtained from other, diverse traffic data sources.

The way these two sites work is that they have a specific number of users who install a toolbar (or some other type of software) on their computer. The sites then use the toolbars to analyze the web traffic patterns of those users. Using that data, they extrapolate numbers to apply to the entire web user world. Here’s another way to look at it. Nielson ratings for TV shows are obtained by having a specific number of households having their TV watching patterns recorded. Nielson then applies those numbers and formulates the total number of people who watched a show, based on that sample group.

My general feeling is that while these sites might provide interesting demographic information or even comparison information, they will be far less accurate than traffic recorded directly from your website.

Next, let’s look at statistics providers that measure hits to your site directly. This is usually achieved by having you install a script into your web template. A couple of stat trackers that I use that fall in this category are StatCounter and Google Analytics. But even between those two, the stats delivered vary. Here’s a chart that shows a sample of Google Analytics numbers vs. StatCounter numbers.

Stats Comparison

StatCounter says:

When a visitor visits your webpage with the installed HTML and Javascript code, their anonymous details are sent to StatCounter to be recorded. Their details are gathered either from the counter the visitor loads from StatCounter, or an invisible image depending on your settings.

Google Analytics says:

Google Analytics uses a first-party cookie and JavaScript code to collect information about visitors and to track your advertising campaign data.

The next question is – if both StatCounter and Google Analytics measure traffic to the site directly – why are the numbers different? Here are some reasons that might explain the discrepancy:

  1. Google Analytics only tracks visitors who have javascript enabled browsers while StatCounter can track visitors regardless of whether the browsers are javascript enabled or javascript disabled. This alone would suggest that StatCounter will report more visits than Google Analytics.
  2. If a visitor returns to your site within 30 minutes of their last activity on the site, Google will count it as a new page view – not a new visit. StatCounter allows you to manually establish the idle time between visits. By default it is set to 30 minutes but can be changed to anything from 30 minutes to 1 week. So if the idle time between visits is set to 2 hours on StatCounter, and a visitor returns after 2 hours, StatCounter would count it as a page view while Google Analytics would count it as a new visitor. The difference can be addressed by switching the configuration in StatCounter to 30 minutes as well.
  3. BOTS! Google Analytics will not track visits from bots. StatCounter probably does count visit from bots.

What about AWstats you ask? While it’s appealing to have a stat tracker that measures direct server hits, my AWStats gives numbers that are much, MUCH higher than either Google Analytics or StatCounter. This is probably because AWstats will track server calls from bots and search engine crawlers, which will have a big impact on your numbers. (For example, AWstats reported almost 3 times more visits and 8 times more page views than Google Analytics for the month charted above.) I don’t believe that AWstats is as viable a tool for collection of web marketing data. (And it’s not anywhere near as user-friendly as Google Analytics or StatCounter.)

So which is more accurate? The answer is probably both. I suspect that StatCounter overcounts and Google Analytics undercounts and averaging the two might get you very close to the actual number. But unless you want to go through your actual server logs (which I honestly don’t want to do) there’s no way to know for certain. Both stat providers have pros and cons which we can go into in another post. But at the very least this should help explain why your numbers are different.

12 Comments to “The Answer to “Why Are All My Stat Numbers Different?””

  1. Crystal says:

    Then why are ALL of those above options at least 30-40% lower than my blog’s dashboard?

  2. Hi Crystal,

    We’ve done some digging and it looks like you aren’t alone in seeing higher numbers from Blogger Stats than other stat counters.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of documentation out there to explain how Blogger Stats gets its information or visits, so it’s difficult to know for sure why the numbers are higher.

    It does seem like the general consensus is that Blogger Stats aren’t as accurate as say Google Analytics. Until there is more information, I’d definitely recommend keeping additional stat counters on the blog.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Alex Vallejo says:

    Great info here. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for this post. I’ve been noticing a 30 to 40% difference between WP Stats/Statcounter (which are similar) and Google Analytics/quantcast (which are also similar). I agree with your conclusion that one probably overcounts and the other probably undercounts.

  5. I’m inclined to disagree. I’ve been using statcounter for a while but since my site has recently grown in size, I’m seeing that stat counter misses about a third of my traffic. I confirmed this by going into my raw server logs.

    I first noticed this when I started seeing hits on other counters but nothing in the came from section. So I started comparing the hits across the statcounter categories. It will record the hit in some places but not record the hit in others. After seeing all this mis-counting I went to my raw server logs that record everything.

    I found legitimate hits that statcounter was not counting. I’m currently looking for another counter.

  6. clazcons says:

    My WP blog is getting about 135 pageviews as per Alexa while WP stats shows only about 30 pageviews on average. Can anyone explain the sharp discrepancy between the two and suggest which one is more reliable?

    • Alexa is incredibly unreliable. It only tracks visitors who have installed and are using the Alexa toolbar, which means if the majority of your visitors do not have the Alexa toolbar installed (which most don’t), those numbers will appear much lower than actual numbers. I definitely recommend installing a third-party tracking system, if possible, such as Google Analytics or Stat Counter to supplement your WP blog numbers. Alexa, Compete, and other sites that do not have any tracking cookies or scripts installed on your site can only “guess” at your traffic based on a small sampling.

      • clazcons says:

        Thnx. So, in that case WP count should have been much higher than that of Alexa. What is happening is exactly the opposite. What could be the reason? Does WP count discount something crucial in the stat algorithm?

        • clazcons says:

          Ok, a slight correction here. In fact, as per your explanation the actual pageview should be even higher than that indicated by Alexa. Thus, the aforementioned discrepancy gets even sharper. So, what’s your call on the WP stats?

  7. Ian Eberle says:

    I use Incapsula and the data says that my blog gets 21,000 page views a month. Google AdSense says 24,000… But Google Analytics says 8,000. Why is this? I’ve been considering upgrading to Alexa Pro to get their advanced tracking instead of using Google Analytics to see if there’s any difference.

  8. Thanks for this. I’ll create an average of the two when I am trying to figure out ‘real’ stats.

  9. Great! I have search for this topic on Google and found this article. Thanks for sharing the differences in easy and transparent format, easy to read. I use GA andStatCounter and it looks like BOOTS make the huge difference in figures. Best, Goran

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