Analytics Mysteries: Unusual Web Traffic from Kansas

Website analytics provide a ton of information – from how many people visited which page, to how much time they spent there, to what device they used. It’s easy to assume all those analytics are going to paint a clear picture. But the reality is, analytics can present some very gray pictures for brands.

These digital ecosystems can be a very noisy place, creating complex questions, and sometimes digital marketers need to be creative to find answers. But if you take the time to listen to the numbers, you will hear a fascinating story. Here’s one we heard.

What do Google Analytics and the Wizard of Oz have in common?

When a few different hyperlocal clients started to see a sizeable share of traffic coming to their websites from Coffeyville, Kansas, a city of 11,000 people on the Oklahoma border, it posed an interesting question: Why? With two of these clients in Texas and another in Illinois, this was not just a one-off. Was this just a bug with Google Analytics or bot traffic coming to the website?

In one case, a client only wanted to target people in the DFW metro area. Another case involved a small dealer in Illinois that only targeted ZIP codes near their retail locations. Neither client was advertising to audiences anywhere near Kansas. Yet in a monthly report, Coffeyville appeared in the top 10 cities for both clients.

“Neither client was advertising to audiences anywhere near Kansas. Yet in a monthly report, Coffeyville appeared in the top 10 cities for both clients.”

First, we checked to make sure the geotargeting parameters were set correctly; they were. Next, we thought it could be fraudulent traffic or mobile users, but the Coffeyville traffic was coming from channels and devices across the board.

We had to do more digging before we discovered others who had noticed the same issue with mysterious Kansas traffic – including one marketer based in the U.K. We finally stumbled on an answer in a 2006 article in WIRED about a quirk of Google Maps.

The Man Behind the Curtain: Location Defaults

It turns out that Google Analytics calls Kansas home, in a matter of speaking. When Google can’t detect a user’s location – for instance, if they have adjusted their privacy settings to hide it – the software will default their location to the geographical center of the conterminous United States, which Google Maps API pins at Coffeyville, Kansas. Those web visitors aren’t really in Kansas; Google just isn’t sure where they are.

So if you start seeing web traffic from a small Kansas town outside your geographical audience, don’t assume you’re wasting ad dollars with poor targeting – it could just be a quirk of the software.

Got your own analytics mysteries or targeting issues? We can help.

Tags: Web & Digital, Media Planning & Buying

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