Google Analytics is the most common analytics platform out there. Because of this, GA, as it is affectionately known by those familiar with it, has had a leading role in identifying the types of traffic to a website and how they are measured. Google Analytics shows 5 primary types of channels of traffic: Direct, Social, Organic, Paid, and Referral. There can be other channels present (ie. email) if tracking has been established for these channels.
To reach the traffic report broken down by medium, you should follow this path in your Google Analytics account: Home>Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels. Google defines Direct traffic as URLs that people either type in directly or reach via their browser bookmarks. GA relies on a code that is usually placed in the header of your website which tracks the referring site user clicked on to reach the site.
We saw the amounts of Direct traffic increase dramatically in 2012/2013 as the use of mobile browsers and browser privacy settings became more prevalent. The reason for this is that GA began to place all the traffic for which the source could not be recognized under the “Direct” channel. The numbers on direct traffic for most of our clients are continuing to grow because:
- The increased use of privacy and security plugins in users’ browsers, thus more traffic is stripped from the organic and referral channels to be placed in the Direct channel.
- Tablet and mobile devices (ie. Safari in iOs6 and above) are not reporting the traffic source, especially for organic traffic, making mobile traffic difficult to track. Studies show that iOs, despite losing significant market share to Android, still represents approximately 30% of the mobile browsers currently in service.
- The current popularity of QR codes has added to direct traffic because QR scans show up in GA as Direct traffic.
How do you minimize this trend? Unfortunately, only partial solutions are currently available. Email marketing, social media posts, and paid campaigns can be tagged using Google Tag Manager and UTM codes, and Google Paid campaigns can easily be added to GA by following the path here: Admin>+create property>Google Ads Linking.
Google Analytics will continue to create a challenge in identifying and reading between the lines to identify direct traffic v. organic traffic v. mobile traffic from the sources outlined here. Use common sense and follow the trend of direct traffic v. mobile traffic overview (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Overview) v. mobile traffic by device (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Devices) to see if the trends match. Over time, patterns will develop that will help to fully outline the success of organic placement in mobile SERP.
Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO and Digital Director for Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa, California Online Marketing and SEO firm.
Is Google Analytics full of bad news? Is your online branding campaign in crisis due to declining traffic? Don’t panic, here are some things to look for when identifying potential issues that may be negatively affecting your SEO or Website traffic.
- Look In Google Analytics. Compare year over year and current period versus 6 months ago to identify whether this is a short term trend. Look for traffic spikes upward that may have skewed results in the past comparison times. Seasonality can be a factor, as well as Holiday schedules. Look in Google Analytics under Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels to identify the exact traffic source that is declining. If it is organic traffic that is declining, look at Behavior>Site Content>Landing Pages in Google Analytics to see declines in specific entry pages to the website. If the drop is consistent across the board, look in Google Webmaster Tools for Manual Penalties. Look in SEM Rush or another SEO Management Tool to look for toxic links or on page defects like mixed content and slow load speed that can affect traffic. If the decline is with specific landing pages, and therefore, specific keywords, look for declines in your rankings for the keyword streams in search engine results. It is important to run diagnostic tools on your pages to understand if this is do to something that you need to fix, or whether your competition is catching up and passing you. The first step is to make sure that the tracking code on each page is in place and functioning. You may check this by using the Google Tracking Code Checker. Either way, be prepared to make site corrections, bolster SEO efforts and perhaps even design paid campaigns to make sure that you stay in the search results mix for the keywords that are vital to your business and your brand.
- Review Recent Website Changes. Have you eliminated content? Has something been done to affect the indexing of your pages? Google Webmaster Tools will help to answer those questions. Go to crawl>crawl errors in in Google Webmaster Tools to Crawl and look for significant errors in crawl errors and 404s. Go to Google Index>Index Status and see if the number of pages indexed has decreased. Again, a website diagnostic tool like SEMRush can simplify this task for you. Also look on SEMRush or similar for duplicate content that may have accidentally been added to your site. The best way to do this is to look for Duplicate Titles and Duplicate Meta Descriptions.
- Changes in Google Algorithms. I can hear all of you saying now-“shouldn’t you have mentioned this first to save me all of the work in Analytics, Webmaster Tools and SEMRush?” Short answer is “nope” for 2 reasons. The first is that many of the issues discussed here will help your rankings in the face of updates anyway, so you have not wasted your time, and second, if you have been practicing good SEO practices all along, like I know all of you have been doing, then you are unlikely to get penalized by an algorithm update. If none of the other diagnostics suggested here present an answer, by all means, search the internet tirelessly for news of a Google Algrorithm update/change/modification. The problem is that most algorithm changes are not easy to decipher because Google is not clear about what specifically they have changed. It can require many hours of trial and error to understand the exact nature of the change, so going back to the basics of white hat SEO is the most direct path to maximum compliance with all Google Algorithms. The only certainty is that Google will continue to update its algorithms. If you optimize your site with the intent of being the best response to a search for your keyword streams instead of trying to spam the system to gain an unfair advantage, you will most likely be immune to Google Algorithm Updates.
Conclusion. Organic Search Engine Optimization and effective paid advertising campaigns have become more difficult and complicated with each passing year. Successful business owners have a defined message that they want to share with their potential customers. It is not hard to understand why an initial meeting is so important for a professional services business, or why a storefront is vital to the success of a brick and mortar retail store. Many businesses neglect their websites and the impression that they make. You do not only need to impress potential customers with your website presence, but you need to show Google and the other search engines that you provide the best information and resources for a potential customer looking for the goods or services that your business provides.
Eric Van Cleave is CO-CEO and Digital Director of TIV Branding, a Santa Rosa, California Branding Agency.