Almost all of our clients have experienced drastic spikes in traffic from time to time. Whether those spikes came from getting some love from the media, a big promotion, or (yikes!) a scandal, one thing is for sure, those spikes in traffic can really skew your analytics.
Whenever we dig into our client's analytics, one of the first things we look for are any outliers - events that may have caused large, random spikes in traffic that tend to skew what the actual numbers are saying. When these large spikes in traffic occur, it can provide a false sense of success. Your traffic may be up 10, 20, 30%, but not necessarily because you're suddenly receiving more qualified leads. It's always important to look into why these spikes occured, and to take those spikes into account when comparing apples to apples. Conversely, those big spikes inflate your data for one month, and then the next month all your stats look like they are way down. Panic ensues.
Recently, a large client of ours had a blog post go viral. The story was originally published across the web, including places like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. So, they took advantage of the moment, wrote a blog post, (since they knew it was currently a very searched topic), and as a result received several thousand more website hits over the course of 2-3 days. Those 2-3 days were enough of a spike to skew their entire year's worth of website traffic data. When we reported a rather large year-over-year increase in traffic, we actually had to go back and account for that spike, so that the data was more representative of how the website was actually performing. It really impacted everything from visitors, to time on site, to bounce rate, and even the geographic footprint that we were used to seeing from the site.
Needless to say, Google Analytics can show you the big picture of how your site is performing, but it is imperative that you have the skills to be able to do the math, drill down, and figure out what the numbers are actually telling you. It helps to be a little bit Bill Nye, a little bit Stephen Hawking, and a dash of Indiana Jones.