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.
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.)
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.