Web Analytics

Google Analytics: Understanding Traffic Sources

Posted by Arden Kaley on June 1st, 2012 at 8:34 am

Traffic Sources identify where your visitors come from. The following blog post goes through each medium through which a visitor can arrive to your website. This blog will cover an overview as well as custom tracking codes.

Traffic Sources > Sources > Direct

Traffic Sources1

The direct traffic report, because it is comprised of all visitors coming directly to the site, shows you a list of the landing pages people entered the site through. This could be that they had saved the URL in a bookmark, or was given the URL through a friend or coworker and then directly typed that URL into their browser. The deeper the page is in the website, the more likely it was to be a shared or bookmarked link rather than something they just remembered.

Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals

Traffic Sources 2

In the Referrals report, we see each of the referring sites that send traffic. In some instances, you will see your own site as a self-referral. Please see my additional post on self-referrals here: link to previous blog post. Aside from the self-referral, we can see the other websites that send traffic to our site. When we click on these sources, it opens up the Referral Path.

Traffic Sources 3

This is showing you the exact page on that website that sent visitors. So on r2idnn.com, the Freebies/Free-Modules page sent nearly all visits to openwebstudio.com. And if I want to know what that page looks like, I can simply click on this image icon on the right of the Referral Path, and Analytics will bring a pop up of what that page looks like.

Traffic Sources > Sources > Search

Traffic Sources 4

Next, Google creates a sub menu for Search visitors showing first the overall of all search and then breaking out organic and paid. This site is not sending paid traffic to this site, so you’re not seeing any paid data in the screenshot, but if we were, you would see a second line item for paid on this Overview tab, and then all the paid search visits under Paid. One common question that comes up is why does (not set) appear as a paid keyword – this simply means that this visit was not attributed to a specific keyword. This happens as a result of incorrectly linked AdWords and Analytics accounts or the use of banner display ads. You can add a secondary dimension under the Paid report (Campaign or Ad Content) to help narrow down the problem. You can also look up in the Advertising section for more information as well.

Traffic Sources > Sources > Organic

Traffic Sources 4

With organic search visits, you are probably seeing an increasing number of keywords as (not provided). About six months ago, Google decided that it was a privacy infringement to show the search terms of visitors who are logged into their Google accounts. Therefore the (not provided) began to appear. For example if I were to do a Google Search for “open web studio” while logged into my Google account and then click through to this website, my search would appear as (not provided). Although we cannot see the actual search terms, we can infer different characteristics about the (not provided) audience. The article does a great job of explaining how you can do this. Essentially, he says that you can look at the behavior of people from keyword (not provided) and compare it to the behavior of other segments you already know to help understand this audience better.

So beyond the (not provided) when you’re looking at the organic search results, you are looking at the actual organic search queries that visitors typed into their search bars which led them to your website. For a lot of clients, branded search (looking specifically for the company) dominates the search keywords. However, non-branded search (queries that contain no reference to your company) is what we’re hoping to gain. We want people who have never heard of your company to search generally for your product or service, see your page, click through to your site, and then eventually become a customer. So benchmarking and monitoring the increases and decreases in non-branded organic search visitors is essential to understanding how well your SEO efforts are working.

To do this, click on the advanced button next to the search bar. Here you will get the ability to create a very specific set of parameters to search with.

Traffic Sources 6

Once I have my advanced search narrowed down to exclude all the queries I associate with my brand, I’m going to want to save this advanced search for future use. To do this, I’ll need to make an Advanced Segment which uses this same advanced search string and title it “Non-Branded Organic Search.

In the top, simply click on Advanced Segments. On the left, you’ll see a list of standard segments that Google Analytics already creates for you. We are creating a custom segment so on the right, select New Custom Segment. You’ll see that we get an advanced query the same as we did when we used the advanced search in the organic search report. We’ll give the segment a name “Non-Branded Organic Search” and then add in our parameters to exclude all the branded terms and keyword (not provided) visits. You can now not only view non-branded organic search terms in this Traffic Sources report, but you can use this segment across all reports to view visitor behavior from “Non-Branded Organic Search.” For more answers on creating Advanced Segments, read Google documentation here.



Traffic Sources > Sources > Campaigns

Finally, there is the Campaigns report. This is where you would see any custom campaigns that you were running. Now, how does Google know where to put these? That’s where the custom tracking comes into play. If you haven’t found this yet in the Google Analytics Help, you’ll need to bookmark the URL Builder, which will allow you to create custom tracking URLs for any inbound link you are putting out there.

I cannot express enough, in order to have clean data and really understand where your visitors are coming from you MUST use this URL Builder. Anytime your digital marketing assets, such as banner ads, emails, tweets, etc. or even offline marketing assets, such as billboards, postcards, print ads etc. include a link back to your website, I suggest including a custom tracking link so that you can see exactly how many people come from that link.

When you use these Tracking URLs, visits will start to appear in this Campaigns tab, in addition to Paid Search campaigns you are running, so that you can begin to understand what marketing campaigns are proving most valuable to your organization.

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