Direct Traffic in Google Analytics: Get Your Data Back

Reducing the amount of (direct) / none sessions in your Google Analytics interface is like peeling back the layers of a never-ending onion. Like cutting onions, if you do it for too long, burning tears are your only reward. Our mission here isn’t to attribute all of the customers that come to our site, it’s to get quick wins on your current marketing initiatives.


Just because we can’t completely peel back all of the layers doesn’t mean we have to give up before we start. Getting your data back means giving credit to the marketing efforts you’re already doing and improving how you measure the impact of the marketing you will do in the future, like running a an integrated digital campaign.

It’s immensely important to master these small details now, so that you can reap the rewards in the future. Invest some time into these tips to make sure your data stays fresh.

Tag Your Emails OR ELSE

If you’re sending out emails as part of your marketing efforts, you need to tag them with the appropriate tracking. Use a tool or do it by hand if you know what you’re doing, but make sure you’re tagging the right emails. If you’re sending one off efforts, no need to do it–unless you feel it’s important to tag your signature. But for email campaigns like autoresponders, monthly newsletters, or emails with new blog posts, you have to do it. I recommend using Google’s URL Builder to reduce errors. Here’s an example with the three most common tracking parameters.


Every time you forget to tag an email, an analyst sheds a single tear.

Find Referrals from Secure Sites

Sites like Hacker News are encrypted with SSL. You know what stinks about SSL? It usually blocks referral data. So if you’ve submitted your post to Hacker News or have earned links from SSL-encrypted sites, you may not be receiving that referral data. If you have control, add the tracking.

With news aggregators and content filters, you want to make sure that you understand what’s working and what isn’t. If you see a sharp increase in direct traffic, take a look at your Landing Pages report in Google Analytics. If it’s all directed towards a single page that you’re promoting, you may know what it is. Reporting on specific pages you are working on promoting (content grouping) will help you measure truer impact.

Have you blocked your Office IP?

Having your employees set their homepage to the homepage of your site is just fine, but all of those sessions really add up over time–especially for larger B2B businesses with less of a web presence. You want to make strategic decisions based on the behavior of your potential customers, not your employees. For companies that work heavily with third parties and partners, filter out their IP’s as well.

Assuming you are using goals as a measure of success, what happens when you have an additional 200 sessions each week on your homepage from inside your company? The default reports in Google Analytics will add those to the totals to calculate your conversion rate. If you average 2000 total sessions per month, this could be your reality:

(Example calculation assumes 20 employees x 2 homepage visits/day x 5 days/week = 200 sessions.)


That difference could be the difference in getting buy in for your next campaign!

Not only should you apply an IP filter in the View section of your Google Analytics Administrator tab, but you’re best off creating an “Advanced View” in addition to your default View. If you set up an additional View, you can incorrectly apply a filter over a short period of time and you’ll have the raw data to back you up. It’s extremely useful due to the second and third order effects that can occur with changes to Google Analytics settings. Everyone makes an innocent mistake once in a while, save yourself a headache and create an Advance View for all of your filters.

You may have trouble viewing this if you are not fully authorized at the Account level. If you can’t make that change, contact the administrator for access, or send them a request to apply the filter.

Speaking, Sponsoring Live Events, or Hosting Webinars? Annotate!

If your teams working towards building your profile as thought leaders, they likely speak at events of all sizes. Personally, I’m doing my best to educate young professionals and elevate the community’s expertise to a higher level through guest lectures at USF. It feels good.

But what happens when you go and speak? You hand out cards, show your name on the PowerPoint, and have 1-to1’s after the session is over. What do you think people do when they see your business’ name? That’s right buddy, they go directly to your site when they get home.

The sad part is that you can’t give them a tracking URL. If you hover over conference goers, demanding that they manually add UTM’s to your URL, you may get asked to leave. But if you’re seeing big spikes in direct traffic or have a relatively new site, add an annotation into Google Analytics on the dates that you speak so you can see if there’s significant bump. If you can, use a Bitly unique to that conference and link to a landing page on your site as well.

(ProTip: You should also try to segment by the city that the conference or event takes place in. Unless it’s being streamed as a webinar, that will help isolate your data.)

Add Google Analytics to All of Your Subdomains

In my experience, when companies add subdomains they always forget to add analytics to it.


The reason that adding tracking to subdomains gets forgotten is because it has already been added to the root domain of your site. We have to remember that subdomains are used for a reason: to implement third-party services like a store or account section, to apply custom stylesheets or javascript libraries, or change UI elements like navigation.

To check if the tag has been added, you can manually check or use the Tag Assistant Chrome extension. It will let you know if you have an outdated, misplaced, or missing code. You can even set it to always check a domain–perfect to set on your own site.

Track Social Media Clicks

There will always be new social networks that refer customers as direct traffic in Google Analytics. Currently Instagram won’t pass referral data. For a long time YouTube was the culprit. There will always be one…

Since Instagram doesn’t naturally embed links into comments, the only real location you need to track is the profile URL. Some suggest swapping it out for a Bitly or other URL shortener, while others say leave it as it is.

I usually recommend using the naked URL (read: no tracking or shorteners) across our client’s social profiles to send a trust signal to the user. But a good idea might be to test the Bitly over a 1-2 week period to gauge how many users visit your site during that period, and then extrapolate that over a month to gauge what percent of direct traffic is from Instagram. I don’t believe that this will give the true number, since the fear of URL shorteners is still out there, but it will give us a better answer than a shoulder shrug if a client asks about it.

In my initial tests across a client with more than 1,000 followers and strong engagement (~10% minimum per post), we saw a surprisingly small CTR from the profile link.

The question then becomes: does that matter? In our case, CTR to the website is a nice to have bonus metric, not a KPI. It’s more important for us to grow and engage the community. We also didn’t drive user to click the profile link to learn more. I like that tactic.

(Even so, do users often click through to the profile to get the link or would they rather just open up a mobile browser and search? That’s a question I hope to answer better over time.)

Final Thoughts

If you have the common issues resolved, then you can safely use direct traffic as an indicator for changes in your digital footprint or brand awareness. It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how hard you try, your data will never be 100% correct. There will always be new social networks, visitors from bookmarks, and new web apps that manage to wipe referral data. But when you mitigate the common issues with incoming direct traffic, you will begin to feel more confident about making strategic decisions based on your analytics data.

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Why Use Video in Your Marketing Mix

If 2014 wasn’t the year of video, then 2015 will be.

With video’s reach on Facebook exploding headed into Q4 last year, businesses that pay attention to their “insights” (derogatory air-quotes to be explained) will push video instead of text posts over the next few months. While this-post-type-is-killing-it-for-my-business  is not news, the fit into your marketing mix might be.

Marketing In Any Era

Marketers who have seen the latest iterations of social media and engagement-driven marketing will know better than to cannonball into video without a plan. In many instances, video is such an obvious choice–but it has too many variables to wrap your head around. I won’t advocate for the whole of video strategy as being simple, I will instead advocate for developing a simply strategy. (Hint: This is why to use video in your marketing mix.)

As far as storytelling for your brand, Brian Overbye of Just Peachy Pictures advocates for storytelling, but notes that there is a difference between a video and a story–sentiment I agree with whole-heartedly. Video for the sake of video is a cancer that gets relived with every platform. How can you make it not suck? How can you give it life? Too easy.

There are always business models that make sense. Media? Perfect! But if you’re here looking for answers for a media company then you are likely too late. Let’s look at some cases where it happens on a regular basis.

You Have (Next to) Nothing

Never be afraid of having nothing.

Every business begins as an idea and then evolve, video can be a great way to make that leap. You can use videos as a way to communicate your unique benefits to your potential customers. Does your site have traffic already? Focus on embedding the videos onto pages where your users are already going.

The greatest misconception in marketing today is that we need more users, more traffic, and more data points. What we really need is to master the users, visitors, and data that we already have. 

Okay, You Really Have Nothing

Don’t have site visitors or much of a budget? Use YouTube or Facebook video–they have huge distribution capabilities. As TechCrunch mentioned above, Facebook’s video reach is growing at a great rate. YouTube is already the second largest search engine in the world. Snapchat, Vine, and Insagram have used video as a key source of growth over the last 12 months. Cordcutters are multiplying. Video is just starting to mature.

There are plenty of ways you can optimize your videos to succeed–classic SEO tactics will get you to a point where you can hang your hat on a few thousand views.

Let’s Talk About Brand, Baby

There are two glaring components to building a brand though video, and an additional two on YouTube.

The first is the creative your use throughout your channel and your video. Never underestimate the power of  having consistent branding. As with soccer fans, establishing deep connections is what builds your brand–you better believe that you need to extend that consistent touch to your video. (As an aside: we’re note talking about growth yet. But growth comes first.)

The second core brand element is the story you tell. Your brand has to be telling an overarching story that is connects the problem you solve with the people who need it. I really identify with the story that Florida Poly is telling. Their video is a beautiful example of this:

human being mascotNot only do they let their students literally tell the story, they’re letting students be a deciding factor in the history of their University mascot. Let’s just hope it doesn’t turn out like the last time I heard this happening. (Pictured right. Someday I’ll finish Community. Someday.)

The additional elements are specific to YouTube, the first being the way you build out your channel. Most channels have a customer header image and an intro video. The depth of channels is approaching the depth of a website build, with noteworthy analytics and easy to implement annotations for engagement and growth. It’s awesome. But tying all of these together is part of the story you tell with your brand. It could be how you drive users to playlists–maybe your brand shows customers how-to in 10 video segments. Maybe your videos are part of a weekly or continuous segment that users will roll through. (Heh, we all wish.) But all of these decisions are part of your brand and the way you connect with your customers. Every touchpoint with your customers says something. Do long how-to playlists convey something different than 6-second tips through Vine? Claro!

The last component of building a brand on YouTube? The production quality of your actual videos.

YouTube has not been fuzzy, vertical camera-phone uploads for a few years now. There are lots of fantastic examples of brands being built before our eyes on YouTube. What begins as a cooking show in your home kitchen turns into a guest appearance on Jamie Olver’s channel. Isn’t that how we build a brand? By getting in front of new audiences? You bet

Donal Skehan, Irish lad, cooker of things:

(This man has a mortar and pestle and he’s not talking about the Elder Scrolls series. Legend)

The beauty of the latest platforms in digital media is that they function as a way to build your audience and build your brand. Facebook is pushing video reach and native video more than any other ad type. Twitter just enabled native video across all users.

2015 will certainly be a year of video, but don’t hurt yourself by looking back on it that way. Make video a part of your strategy if it makes sense, and work towards connecting with your audience through it if that’s what they want.

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WordCamp Orlando 2014 Recap

I went on a mini conference kick to close out 2014, making it to BarCamp in Tampa and in Orlando before arriving at my first WordCamp Orlando in early December. Thankfully, it took place at the UCF Rosen Campus and not all the way on the main campus–saved me about 30-40 minutes of driving each way. The campus is amazing, though not quite as amazing as the BarCamp Orlando setting, and the setup that the WordCamp Orlando team had was awesome. I came a little early before catching up with Bryan Hyde, so I had a chance to take in everything and gather my thoughts with some terrible D&D coffee.

David Laietta set everything up and was a good emcee for the event. We went to his Q&A in Tampa this fall and it was clear that he knew the speakers and the event really well.

Getting the party started at #wcorl #wordpress #wp #ucf

A photo posted by Brian Swanick (@everythingswan) on

After we caught the keynote, we ended up taking a break from the event to catch up and visit the sponsors. Some big-time sponsors were there and gave me some good knowledge to bring back to the office, namely WPEngine. I’ve been looking into CDN’s more and more as clients scale up both their traffic and the visuals on their website, so it’s important for us to keep their site speed optimized as SEO’s. Also, every vendor had ridiculous swag; I came home with a WD-40 pen, some wicked orange socks, a USB AC adapter, and two tees.

Panels at WordCamp Orlando 2014

Perhaps my favorite panel/talk of all my events this year was between Andrew Norcross and Mark Jaquith. Discussing the business of plugins, it was probably the least likely discussion to trigger my interest purely based on the topic. But I found it particularly interesting to hear how developers do business, admittedly they don’t like the marketing and sales side of it, and the learnings they had were very real. Not your average bullshit session from people who talk and don’t walk.

Plugin panel was the best of the day so far #wcorl #wordpress

A photo posted by Brian Swanick (@everythingswan) on

Feedback on #WCORL

I may be in the minority, but I think events need to be condensed down to one day. It’s great that we get a day off on Friday to make it to day 1, but I would rather knock everything out in one day so I can come in Monday and feel good about my work. I almost think there’s a lack of congruence between the conference and the type of people it serves. I’d expect the crowd to be mostly freelancers and members of a development agency, which means that time is money. And money is your rent. When you work in-house, assuming you have buy-in from your team/superiors, you have a little more flexibility with your time and expectations.

All in all, WordCamp Orlando 2014 was great, even for a non-developer.

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