There’s a lot of debate on this topic on SEO forums around the web, and there has been for quite some time. Google Analytics is without a doubt a great tool with lots of features and great value for any marketer. However, it has some drawbacks, and there’s always the chance that it could have an effect on your search rankings. So let’s look at the arguments and see where the might fall, shall we?
What I’ve done below is presented claims, all of which I’ve seen in some form or another online, in an easy to digest sentence. Below the claim, I’ve deconstructed it to see how it may or may not be true. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to believe me, but let me just say, you probably should. Why would I lie to you?
Here are some of the claims (and myths) surrounding Google Analytics.
This one doesn’t have any basis in fact, but is a bit of a conspiracy amongst the nuts out there. They figure that Google is powerful enough to give preferential treatment to the people who use their software. You’ll often find the same people making similar claims about other Google services. “If you use Google AdSense, your ranking will go up.” “If you’re using a Gmail address tied to your site for Google Drive, Google might bump up your site ranking.” “Using YouTube, a Google company, will boost your search rankings.”
The fact is, all of this is pure conjecture. There has never been any direct evidence that implementing Google Analytics without any other intervening factors increases ranking. It’s easy enough to test, even. Any site with a relatively static userbase or traffic numbers can install or uninstall Google Analytics, as the case may be. Do nothing else; don’t cease or increase ads, don’t make changes to content production or link hunting, don’t make any other change at all. Wait a week or two, then check your rankings. Did they move, up or down? My guess is no, they won’t have changed at all. At least, no more than the typical fluctuations over that time frame would cause.
There’s also a bit of an anti-trust issue here. If Google were to use its massive search presence to preferentially reward users of its own software, it would create a monopolized feedback loop. It’s generally in violation of some competition laws, and while Google may be big enough to get away with just about anything, there’s absolutely no reason why they would want to. They earn more goodwill, they gain more dedicated users, and they grow better as a company simply by providing an excellent product and letting users discover how excellent it is.
Google Analytics is a script, and scripts take some time to load and run. It doesn’t matter how optimized the script is, it’s always going to take longer to load and run that not having a script at all.
Google uses page load times as a search ranking factor. This has been a confirmed fact since 2010, which you can read about in their original announcement on the Google Blog. The idea behind this announcement is to incentivize speeding up sites for slower users and, of course, generally making the web user experience better. Since an increasing number of users are browsing by phone, this also saves on mobile data, decreases mobile load times, and makes mobile browsing that much easier. Of course, back in 2010, Google wasn’t as focused on making mobile experiences great, but it was still probably on their radar.
It stands to reason, then, that Google Analytics would slow down a site. That slow down would be recorded by Google’s spiders and by users, and would result in a lower search ranking because of it. Additionally, users might increase bounce rate because of slower load times, and the increased bounce rate might further hurt your search rankings.
To quote directly from Matt Cutts and a Google video:
Matt Cutts, “Will using Google Analytics have a negative effect on my ranking?”
This one sort of piggybacks off the previous claim. The idea is that if they know that their script slows down a site or causes one or another drawback, they want to counteract that effect by giving sites a small amount of benefit in exchange. If you get -.01 ranking for using Google Analytics, they give you +.01 ranking for using it as a way of compensating. If you minimize the negative impact, they don’t record it and adjust the benefit, so you make out ahead.
There are a couple of good arguments against this as well. First of all, it’s a slapdash solution that doesn’t really make sense. Why would Google give a penalty rather than find a way to make the negative simply not count against you? It’d be more precise that way.
Secondly, as mentioned in the previous claim, Google did exactly that. The made the drawback not actually effect either users or their own site speed readings. As such, they have no reason to give any bit of compensatory preference to sites using Google Analytics. Claim busted.
This is a bit of a tin foil hat claim. The idea is that some sites, particularly those using vaguely exploitive techniques like link buying, private blog networks, or something Google disapproves of like affiliate marketing, are going to be hiding what they’re doing from Google. They’re getting their benefit and they’re striving to hide where it comes from.
As such, installing Google Analytics would give Google a window into your site, and that window would reveal details about incoming links, about traffic sources, about site ownership, and other details that Google could then use against the site. They “catch you in the act” so to speak, and take action to penalize you.
The primary argument against this claim is that Google is already harvesting all of that data from public sources. They don’t need an eye in your site to analyze the traffic going to your site, because they’re the ones referring a lot of it to begin with. They don’t need to look at your incoming links from Google Analytics; where do you think Google Analytics pulls the data from? Google’s index already has all of that on hand. You’re not giving them access to anything they don’t already know.
This claim is an interesting one. The idea is that Google is a giant in the industry, striving to become used in every way shape and form by everyone in the world. It’s already quite close, given that services like Gmail, Google Maps, Google search, and Google Drive make up huge numbers. YouTube and other Google-owned services add to the impression that Google is quite literally unavoidable. Even if you personally don’t use them, you’d have to use a script blocker at all times and in all locations to avoid being tracked by other people using Google Analytics.
The claim, then, figures that Google actually finds it suspicious for a site to not use Google Analytics. They figure they have the best program for analytics in the world, so why wouldn’t anyone use it? They must be hiding something!
Again, though, Google can’t do this for fear of anti-trust lawsuits. On top of that, though, they aren’t all that ubiquitous globally. The English-speaking world is pretty dominated, but other cultures and other languages have a harder time of it. After all, if you’re speaking Romanian and you own a site, you don’t want to use Google Analytics in English. I’m sure there are some languages Google doesn’t have translations for.
This is a point in Google’s favor, potentially. The claim here is that Google Analytics has to be installed on every page of your site that you want tracked. You can then install it on pages that don’t have links pointing to them or any other way of being discovered. Google can see that it’s tracking data for a page that isn’t in its index, and can then index that page. They can give you additional ranking for that page and for your site as a whole, because that page gives you additional benefit. On the other hand, if the page is spam you were trying to hide, you could be penalized for it. Though, there’s no reason to have spam on your site and hide it, since the entire point is that you’re trying to game the search results with it.
While this does have some minor potential, the reality is that Google’s web crawlers are already doing a fantastic job. They don’t need to pull from Analytics to find your pages. Ideally, they’re checking internal links on your site, your RSS feed, and your sitemap. If you legitimately have nothing pointing to a page and no way for it to be accessed outside of a direct link, any value you get from the page would be counteracted by the lack of good SEO practices keeping it invisible.
This is the final claim and, frankly, it’s the only one with truth to it. The idea is that Google Analytics is, well, an analytics program. It’s there to give you data and insight into your traffic and your links. It gives you information, more than it has any effect on your results themselves.
What matters is not the tool you use, but what you do with it. When you take the data it gives you and make improvements to your site, you’re boosting your search ranking. You can make better, more accurate changes with Google Analytics data on hand than you can without it. Now, this applies to any analytics program, not just Google Analytics, but it is certainly true. Having information and acting on it gives you an advantage over people who don’t have that information to act on.
Fantastic article, I learned a lot. Question though, are you sure the slow downs due to Google Analytics aren’t more significant? I’ve tested this and seen some major slow downs with their code installed. Could be an isolated issue on my end, though.
What about bounce rate and time on site ? Many SEO argue that they are 2 ranking factors among the most important… But how could Google know these metrics accurately without having your website on Analytics ?