For any blogger that has taken a look at their traffic stats in their Google Analytics account, they will be familiar with the term ‘Direct Traffic’ which Google uses as a catch-all category of traffic that they simply cannot accurately measure the source of.
Sometimes Google Analytics cannot measure traffic sources for reasons like people typing the web address directly into their web browser’s address bar, or where they’re directed to a page from an offline source such as a link in a PDF document.
This simply isn’t good enough for you as you desire an understanding of your traffic sources, so you can figure out what sort of reader engagement you have, which traffic strategies to apply more focus to and which ones to dump like yesterday’s trash.
This is extremely important since this understanding determines the allocation of your time, focus and resources. This helps you to use your most precious resource – time – wisely and effectively.
You should always be looking to get better results (more output) from less work (less input). This is the essence of business leverage – it’s all about setting up smart traffic systems that reward you again and again for a one-time effort.
OK, now I’ve discussed the mindset elements of successful traffic generation, let’s get to business.
Before I did any custom link tracking using the Google URL Builder, my traffic was divided into the 3 main default traffic sources which Google Analytics divides the traffic into to help website owners understand their traffic sources. They are:
- Search Traffic
- Referral Traffic
- Direct Traffic
You can build customised links which look like this:
As you can see, the link contains tracking properties which assign the click within a source, medium and campaign within your Google Analytics account.
Let’s quickly have a look at the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ results of my findings.
[Click any of the images to quickly expand them.]
After setting up an additional campaign source which I called ‘social’, you can see that a lot of my ‘Direct Traffic’ and ‘Referral Traffic’ moved across into ‘Campaigns’ traffic. You will also notice that ‘Search Traffic’ increased over the period too which has little relevance to the findings I’m presenting in this article.
I predicted the shift of ‘Referral Traffic’ into the ‘Campaigns’ traffic segment before I even started the experiment since it was obvious that any Twitter traffic that previously fell into the ‘Referral Traffic’ category would now fall into the newly created ‘Campaigns’ category.
However, what I didn’t expect was for some of the traffic that was being recorded as ‘Direct Traffic’ to also move into the ‘Campaigns’ category. Since Twitter was the only place where I was using customised link tracking, I knew that the decrease in ‘Direct Traffic’ was due to Twitter traffic that was previously being recorded as ‘Direct Traffic’.
Of course, I still do not know why Twitter traffic was previously being recorded under direct traffic, however I suspect that the use of either custom URL’s such as ThePS.co (my own) or other widely used URL shorteners such as bit.ly or budurl.com are not tracked. Hits in your Analytics account that arrive from such URLs are usually from the site itself where your links are being published.
Allow me to show you this change another way. Check out the screen captures below showing ‘Direct Traffic’ from 1st July to 31 August, 2011.
The graphic includes a catastrophic loss of traffic due to a computer hard drive crash taking my laptop out of action for 6 days. This meant I could not drive traffic from Tweet Adder, which is my secret sauce for Twitter traffic. However, from the graphic below it is clearly visible that the ‘Direct Traffic’ went through the floor straight after I implemented custom URLs with link tracking using Google’s Link Builder tool.
Compare this with ‘Campaigns Traffic’ at the same time in the graphic below. Sure, some of the traffic below is due to the reallocation of ‘Referral Traffic’ and the remainder will be the ‘Direct Traffic’ that I’ve been demonstrating throughout this article.
OK, so what does this mean?
So I’ve taken you through my findings and demonstrated that what is meant to be ‘Direct Traffic’ is not always just ‘Direct’ traffic. It is simply a collection of visitors that arrive at your site which, for whatever reason, Google Analytics cannot track, so it puts it into the ‘Direct Traffic’ category.
This always made sense to me because it seemed to me that 2,000 – 3,000 people wasn’t coming to my site each month by typing “theprofitshare.com” into their web browser address bars. These kind of searches simply do not fit in with browser behaviour on the web. Whilst some people do this since they know Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox auto-completes based upon their browsing history, I really do not expect over a third of my traffic to be doing this. It’s a nice thought for a blogger’s ego, but it’s simply not the truth.
One thing to bear in mind is that when you publish on Twitter, that content is most likely syndicated in other areas around the web which use Twitter feeds gaining you additional exposure where visitors can click but Google Analytics cannot track. This can especially be the case if you use something like Yahoo! Pipes to create a customised RSS mash-up feed and then an RSS submission tool/service to submit your feeds to. Whilst Analytics will capture most of the tweets from Twitter.com, they cannot capture all the syndicated tweets on other platforms.
I hope you’ll create meaningful segments of traffic to help you understand your blog’s readership better. If you can set up custom segments using Google’s URL Builder in conjunction with Google Analytics’ Goal Conversions feature, then you’ll begin to build an accurate picture of what your most highly qualified traffic sources are. Of course this means better conversions from less traffic which has got to be a great thing.
What are your findings? Let us know in the comments below!
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To Your Online Success,
The Profit Share
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