I thought it’d be interesting to know what, if anything, can be gained by analysing Google Analytics data when combined with fetch and renders within Search Console – are we able to track Googlebot?…
What we already know about Googlebot
So far in 2018 various pieces of information have been gathered to paint a particular picture of Googlebot. I’ve included the key points below, which by now I think are pretty much agreed in the world of SEO:
Googlebot doesn’t “click around” when accessing your site – if you use a navigation menu with “onclick” JS functionality for example, Google may not find the other pages you link to (so it’s recommended to use ahref linking methods to be safe).
Googlebot doesn’t like URL’s with hashtag characters in them (which many JS frameworks use, such as Angular v1); so using these is not recommended (hashbang URL’s might be OK though).
Googlebot tries to detect whether content has to be rendered before doing so as it’s wasteful for them to render everything they find on the web.
Testing Fetch & Render with Google Analytics
I wanted to see what happened when I tried accessing my real-time Google Analytics report during a Fetch and Render request within Google Search Console on a website I’d only just created, which had Google Tag Manager/Analytics script added. I’d assumed that nothing would’ve happened – that no sessions would’ve been created within Analytics because it wasn’t a “real” visit (I realise many spam bots exist, and scripts which spoof UA script sessions, but I figured Google would’ve been different). To my surprise they were tracked – each fetch and render created 2 sessions. Here’s what I found out:
Googlebot was accessing the site from the US (as was expected), although the site is based/hosted in Europe and Google has many datacenters. Further specific location info wasn’t supplied within GA.
2 Active Users were tracked during the fetch & render. 1 user was tracked for just a fetch.
Session time appeared indefinite, or until a new fetch & render was requested.
Hostname traffic was originating from Google LLC (more or less confirming it was Google).
Approximately 50% of sessions were using Google Chrome browser, the rest were “not set”.
The specific version of Google Chrome was 41.0.2272.118 (confirming what we knew already).
Linux operating system were 50% of sessions too (using Chrome browser), the rest were “not set”.
All sessions were using a Screen Resolution of 1024 x 768.
When doing a fetch & render as Mobile: Smartphone, 1 mobile and 1 desktop session were tracked.
The mobile device used here by Google is a Google Nexus 5X (big surprise!).
Screen recording of the fetch and render / Real-time Analytics report
Confirming the version of Chrome used by Googlebot (note that “Googlebot” text above is a custom segment I created in Google Analytics).
Other things to note are again the Google Chrome browser version for desktop (41.0.2272.118) whilst for the Mobile crawler it’s a Google Nexus 5X. So using Google dev tools as a Nexus 5x, from Chrome 41 browser should be a good way to emulate how Googlebot for mobile really sees your website’s mobile version.
Screenshot showing the Mobile fetch and render request
Taking this further?
I realise all the above is relatively easily available within a site’s server logs, but to me it’s interesting to see that this information was also very easily accessible within Google Analytics. It also confirmed the version of Chrome browser used to access sites, as well as the mobile version used by Googlebot. Many SEO’s are keen to know if/when Google will start using a more modern version of Chrome to render their websites, and this could be one way to test this out as we move closer towards the mobile-first index (useful to those who can’t access server logs either) – but that depends on whether the fetch and render feature will match that as used by Google’s real WRS.
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