Google Analytics/Webmaster

Google Analytics/Webmaster

A core issue with measuring social media is that due to the way that traffic migrates around the web, there are lots of situations where we lose referrer information and those visits end up being labeled as 'Direct' inside of our analytics.

If a visitor has come to your site previously, Google Analytics will simply apply the same referral information it had for their previous visit, which it retrieves from the UTMZ cookie it previously saved on the visitor's browser. But, if there are no cookies, Analytics has no information, and buckets the visitor into Direct.

Google Analytics/Webmaster

Obviously, this is problematic; 'Direct' is supposed to represent visitors who bookmark or directly type in our URL. These users are accessing our site through a shared link, and should be counted as referrals. Thankfully, we have some tools at our disposal to combat some of these scenarios, most notably campaign parameters. But campaign parameters only help with links that you share; what about when a visitor comes to your site and shares the link themselves? These visits can cause serious problems when it comes time to analyze your data. For example, we offer Google Analytics & AdWords training. Most of our attendees are sponsored by their employers. This means they visit our site, scope out our training, and then email a link to a procurement officer, who clicks through and makes the purchase. Since the procurement officer comes through on the emailed link and has never visited our site, the conversion gets bucketed into 'Direct / None' and we lose all of the visit data for the employee who was interested in the first place. This can compound into a sort of feedback loop - the only data we see would be for individuals who buy their own tickets, meaning we might optimize our marketing for smaller businesses that send us less attendees. In other words, we'd be interpreting data from the wrong customers. Imagine how this kind of feedback loop might impact a B2B trying to generate enterprise-level leads - since they'd only see information on the small fry, they could wind up driving more of the wrong kind of lead to their sales team, and less of the right kind.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the most common situations where this kind of erroneous attribution occurs are:

  • When a user clicks an untagged link inside an email
  • When a user visits from a mobile application
  • When a user clicks a link shared to them via an instant message