Google on How Instant Pages Affect Analytics

    June 15, 2011
    Chris Crum

Yesterday, Google introduced Instant Pages (among several other things), which is a new upcoming feature of Chrome that will instantly load a search result, when Google is confident that it is the one the user is going to click on. It does this by “prerendering” the page, or starting to load it even while you’re still on the results page, so it appears much more quickly when you actually do click on it.

The above video demonstrates this, and shows how much faster it can be compared to when you’re clicking from a normal Google search. It’s an impressive concept, but it has raised a few questions regarding analytics. Google told WebProNews a little about how it works.

We had a good question in the comments of a previous article we ran on Instant Pages. AL wrote:

I am wondering if this is going to impact our site analytics. If they retrieve the entire page – html, images, etc… – then would they not also trigger a visitor in our analytics, whether a visitor does or doesn’t visit our page?

If so, that would skew even the most basic of KPIs, including bounce rate which could be a ranking signal.

Another reader, Nick Stamoulis, added:

That’s a really interesting thought. Since the page is pre-loading, does that get recorded as a visitor? If the user doesn’t click on the link, will that impact the bounce rate?

As we had not seen Google address this directly, we reached out to the company to get some more insight. A Google spokesperson tells WebProNews:

Most website analytics solutions assume that one page load is equivalent to one user “impression,” or page view. Although only issues the prerender hint when it is confident that it knows where the user will click, in some cases it will mispredict, resulting in a page that has appeared to load but was never actually shown to the user.  Although this will happen relatively rarely, in some cases it is important for the webpage to know.

Chrome has implemented a new API called the page visibility API that, among other things, allows websites to detect when they’re being prerendered. You can learn more about that API at our Using the Page Visibility API article.

Analytics and advertising solutions will have to be updated to take account of prerendering via the page visibility API. In most cases the end site owner shouldn’t have to make any modifications to his page; the 3rd party will simply make a minor change to the javascript that is pulled into publishers’ pages. You should check with your analytics or advertising providers to check if their scripts are prerendering-aware.

Interesting, and helpful to know. I’m assuming that most major analytics providers will adjust accordingly, but it is definitely something to be aware of.

The Instant Pages technology is currently in the Chrome Dev Channel, and will be rolling out in Chrome beta this week, with stable and mobile releases coming in the coming weeks. Today, Google’s first Chrome OS Chromebooks became available for consumers.