Why does AWStats show different numbers than Google Analytics?

Some customers who track visitors using AWStats (which we provide) also use Google Analytics, or other software that tracks statistics like a WordPress plugin.

These systems have a similar purpose, but measure things in different ways. Because of that, they can show different numbers. It’s important to understand what each is capable of tracking.

What’s the difference?

AWStats examines our Web server logs and counts every “hit” to any URL on your site. This includes “hits” to “404 not found” URLs that don’t exist and “hits” to URLs that aren’t Web pages (such as images, audio, and video files that are hotlinked from other sites). It calculates “unique visitors” by checking whether the IP address of the hits is different.

On the other hand, Google Analytics, WordPress plugins like “JetPack”, and similar systems only count “hits” to working HTML pages that you’ve added certain JavaScript code to. For example, they can’t normally count “404 not found” pages, or hotlinked images, or connections from browsers with JavaScript disabled, or visits from “spam harvesting robots” searching for email addresses on your pages. (Of course, if you’re interested only in human visitor behavior, that can be a blessing.) Google Analytics also calculates unique visitors differently: it uses a “cookie” on the visitor’s browser to see if the same person visits twice, even if they use different IP addresses.

Each of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses. If you have a large number of visitors to your site, the differences will often disappear into the noise. But if your site has a small number of visitors and some of those “visitors” are requesting URLs that Google Analytics or other systems can’t see, the difference can be fairly large in percentage terms.

If you care about the difference, you need to think about what each is measuring and use the system that comes closest to what you care about. For example, if you’re trying to count how many people have viewed a PDF file on your site, AWStats will probably be more accurate than Google Analytics. On the other hand, if you want to know how many humans interacted with a certain page and you want to try to eliminate “bots” from that calculation, Google’s approach may be more accurate.

If you’re a technically advanced user and want more details about the raw data used by AWStats, you can download and view the original web server logs yourself. The logs include every URL request, so you can see how AWStats is calculating the data.

We’re also occasionally asked if we can explain exactly why Google Analytics or another third-party service calculates a certain set of data differently. We can't answer that, unfortunately, since we can’t see what they're doing and they don’t reveal the details. You’d have to ask them about the difference.