What is the Coffeyville Effect and Why Does it Happen?

/ Thoughtspace - Marketing Data and Analytics, Marketing Measurement

Coffeyville, Kansas

Have you ever seen an excessively large amount of US traffic supposedly coming from Coffeyville, Kansas in Google Analytics? This specific geolocation may even contribute the most amount of sessions worldwide. It is known as the Coffeyville Effect. 

What is the Coffeyville Effect?

Even though you may not be targeting Kansas, internet users who enable IP masking tools will report their location back as the exact geographical center of the U.S. which is Coffeyville, KS. 

This effect can also happen with some mobile devices that report back incorrectly or as “unknown”. 

Analytics and Ad Serving programs will often attribute those unknowns to Coffeyville. An example of this that you might have experienced is when your phone’s location service (such as on Google or a weather app) estimates you are in a city several hours away when you are connected to mobile data instead of home wifi. 

Is Google the Problem?

Google Analytics provides a number of geographical dimensions, such as City, Country, Continent, etc. The values for these dimensions derive automatically from the IP address of the hit. The Coffeyville Effect occurs when a location is not accessible by the data.

Google sends the IP addresses of traffic sources to a third-party data source to determine the location. If the third-party source determines the record of the visitor location is accurate, Google Analytics populates the fields with the location data. If the third-party source cannot find the location, the value of the corresponding fields will register as “(not set)” and then assigns the default location to the center of the US.

When Coffeyville, Kansas pops up as one of your traffic sources, it’s likely that this is the fault of one of the third-party data sources that Google uses, rather than Google itself. Unfortunately, Google does not disclose these data sources.

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