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Consultation with Schar Regarding Unexpected Data in their Analytics Property

I received a question from Andrew Schappert at Schar about some unexpected data that was showing-up in their Google Analytics reports.

Specifically, they had noticed a sudden appearance of traffic to unknown pages such as /schar/, /schar/i/, and /schar/j/ in their analytics reports. The corresponding pages (e.g. schar.gmu.edu/schar/) did not exist on their website, so they wanted to determine where this traffic was coming from, and whether the users landing on those pages were receiving “Page Not Found” errors.

We discussed this issue over the course of few days by phone and email. Prior to our initial conversation, Schar had set-up redirects on their website so that people landing on those pages would be sent to the Schar homepage rather than potentially seeing a “Page Not Found” error.

My initial thought was that this was perhaps spam traffic, but, upon looking at the sending source/medium, we noticed that most of this traffic seemed to be coming from legitimately set-up display advertising on websites like Foreign Affairs, Politico, WTOP, etc. Furthermore, the US states sending this traffic were primarily Virginia, Maryland, DC, etc. This seemed too accurate and relevant to be spam traffic.

After discussing this additional data with Schar, we determined that this traffic was from legitimate display advertising set up by Summit Media, a third-party contracted by Schar to assist with their digital marketing. These analytics hits were determined to be coming not from the Schar website (schar.gmu.edu), but from the stand-alone inquiry website set-up by Summit Media for Schar: learnmore.gmu.edu.

The inquiry website was using the same analytics ID number as the main Schar site, so the data from learmore.gmu.edu was showing-up in the main Schar analytics. The page paths they were seeing existed on the inquiry website, but not on the main Schar site, leading to the confusion. (The variations in the page paths were due to different versions of the inquiry landing page that Summit Media was testing on the inquiry website.)

I suggested to them that, in order to improve the organization of their analytics and increase the clarity of their reports, they could:

  1. Keep the analytics data from both websites flowing into the same GA property, and modify the view filters to include the full URL (including host name) in order to disambiguate the traffic from both websites, or
  2. Set-up separate properties for each website, and also potentially set-up a Schar roll-up property to combine them into a single property. This would give maximum flexibility for reporting.

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