Feb 17, 2015

Google Analytics: Confused About Direct Traffic?

For those of you who recognise that ongoing success on your website owes a great deal of debt to tools like Google Analytics, the concept of Direct traffic will have no doubt produced a little bit of head scratching when trying to define exactly what it covers.

So what exactly is Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

  • Is it users who have entered a site URL direct into a browser? Yes.
  • It is users who have your site link bookmarked? Yes.
  • Does it include users who clicked a link from an email or eDM? Yes.

Google Analytics Direct Traffic Image

Or at a slightly more complicated level, any traffic where no GA cookie is being passed - a campaign ID for example - will be recorded as direct traffic.

It all appears to be reasonably straightforward, however, if you've ever explored Direct Traffic in Google Analytics, you may have had a difficult time resolving the volumes it represents.


Let's take a look at a scenario:

You publish a new page to your site, and before you've had a chance to market this content, it is recording direct traffic in your Google Analytics reports. You haven't sent an email, no-one has the page bookmarked, no email signature, and it's unlikely a user has keyed the page address directly into their browser.

What we're really looking to understand here is how the traffic got to our site. The most obvious solution is to review your Referrals sources. As I expect you've already pursued that strategy and come up with Full Referrer (direct) it may feel as though another door has been closed.

Google Analytics Direct Traffic Image

Add to that complexity the confusion around whether Facebook mobile/in-app traffic is actually being accurately recorded by your GA account - your site page opens in the FB app. Recall that feeling of outrage which occurred when Google announced their ubiquitous SSL search resulting in removal of in excess of 90% of your organic keywords from GA, and analytics is looking increasingly futile.


Is there a way to resolve this problem?

The short answer a resounding yes! And it's a very simple solution too.

Many years ago, Google released a simple URL builder tool, which has been migrated to the new Campaign URL Builder. This enables users to append URLs that will lead traffic to their websites, making it easier within Google Analytics to filter parameters such as Campaign Source, Campaign Medium and Campaign Name.

And in a few simple steps, you'll be transformed from (direct) and (none) to the ability to filter by Source, Source/Medium and Campaign. It's a great preventative technique against losing valuable inbound traffic data.

Recommended ReadingA Complete Guide to The New Google URL Builder – Prateek Agarwal

The steps to achieving this:

  1. Navigate to the Google URL Builder tool.
  2. Enter your landing page URL: www.bwired.com.au (for example)
  3. Enter into the relevant fields, your Campaign Source, Medium and Name - let’s use feb-2015-email for each. If you’re using this for display banner ads on networks other than google, this will serve the same purpose.
  4. Click submit and you’ll be rewarded with a URL that looks like this: http://www.bwired.com.au/?utm_source=feb-2015-email&utm_medium=feb-2015-email&utm_campaign=feb-2015-email
  5. Breaking this down, the URL is www.bwired.com.au
  6. For the sake of simplicity, all three fields have been labeled feb-2015-email
  7. Once you are recording inbound traffic from Facebook, twitter, blogs, news pieces or any other inbound channels where the fully appended link has been used, you’ll be able to check your Page level analytics and use a secondary dimension to filter by campaign, looking for the identifier: feb-2015-email

One downside to this approach that has been argued is that if the link gets shared to other social channels that the accuracy of the source becomes questionable. Think of it like this, if you post a link on Facebook and it gets shared across other social channels and generates a lot of inbound traffic, you can be reassured that the content you created was engaging well beyond the original purpose and placement.

Key Takeaway: The key with tools like Google Analytics is to continually challenge the way we think about using it and to seek new approaches for revealing information. Even simple strategies like the use of secondary dimensions aids in diminishing the ambiguity of most information Google Analytics is providing.

Want to know more about how bwired can help you mine and provide actionable outcomes from your Analytics? Contact the bwired Marketing Services department by calling 1300 750 262.

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