One of our clients’ sites had a sudden drop in traffic from London. After the 25th of February, all London traffic – paid, organic and direct – had dropped by nearly 45%. There wasn’t an obvious reason. There hadn’t been any changes to the PPC campaigns or search rankings. It didn’t look seasonal; there was nothing similar in previous years. Google announced that it was updating location targeting in AdWords earlier in February, but the list of affected locations didn’t include London. The site’s total traffic had increased slightly, so why would London’s be down?
After a little while cross-referencing half-term dates and glaring at search term reports, I looked to see if any other towns or cities had been similarly affected. And while London’s traffic had nearly halved, that Kensington’s traffic had increased by over 20,000%. Lambeth was up by over 140,000%.
For those unfamiliar with London’s geography, here are the same places in the map view from AdWords:
Other areas within London such as Sutton, Potters Bar and Croydon had similar increases in traffic.
It seems that Google has been redefining London. Or rather that it has become better at recognising which district a visitor is from; Kensington, Lambeth and the other areas were not new to Analytics, but only had a handful of visitors recorded before the 25th.
What does this mean? It’s a reminder that location names are ambiguous. Ignoring cities of the same name outside of England, ‘London’ can refer to Greater London (which covers over 1,500 km2), the City of London (a mere 3km2), or something in between. It apparently means something else to Google. This isn’t all new; the London district of Teddington has been separate since August 2007. And it’s not just London; Edgbaston, a district of Birmingham, has been separate since 2009.
If you want to monitor traffic from an area in Analytics, you need to make sure Google has the same idea of where the area is. Same for targeting an area with an AdWords campaign. And you need to keep an eye on the data in case it’s not the traffic which is changing, but the area you’re looking at.