Understanding Google Analytics, Part 1: Traffic Sources
This is “Part 1” of a 4-part series on getting the most out of Google Analytics. In this series — called “Understanding Google Analytics” — I’ll address the following areas.
- “Part 1: Traffic Sources”
- “Part 2: Content, User Actions”
- “Part 3: Conversions, Outcomes”
- “Part 4: Underutilized Features”
Traffic Sources, Marketing Channels
At the “Traffic Sources” section in your Google Analytics account, you can see how people found your site. By default, you will see three sources: Search, Referral, and Direct. You can evaluate the effectiveness of each source.
- Search. This is traffic from search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. This report also lets you see the breakout between organic and paid search traffic, including AdWords, keywords and campaigns.
- Referral. This source lets you see which domains and pages are referring traffic to your site. For example, if you are an automotive service company and one of your suppliers links to your website as a dealer, it’s likely one of your referral sources will be that supplier’s website.
- Direct. These visitors are those directly typing in your URL or coming to you from a bookmarked page. For example, when you come to Web Marketing Today by typing “webmarketingtoday.com” in your browser, you have become a “direct” source in our Google Analytics account.
Knowing the difference between sources, you can benefit from that information by investing some time and effort. It will pay off.
Most business owners and marketers are driving traffic to their websites through various sources, including:
- Paid search;
- Display ads;
- Social media;
- Offline — i.e., radio, newspaper, television.
Utilizing what you see in the different traffic sources can be beneficial to your bottom line. By being proactive you can gain full visibility for these campaigns and channels. Much has been written about campaign tracking and tagging — see “URL Tag Planning – Channel and Campaign Segmentation in Google Analytics,” a blog post on that topic — so I won’t go into the details here. Instead, I’ll focus on key points to help you capture clean and comprehensive data to make better marketing and business decisions.
Know Your Channels
Whether your traffic is coming from email, paid search, social media, or elsewhere, it’s important to know where visitors are coming from and why. Often your marketing campaigns provide your visitors with several different ways of coming to you site. By monitoring each of these sources, you’re able to see what is working, and what’s not.
You can track offline-marketing efforts by using vanity URLs, promo codes, or some other unique identifier. It is important in these cases to add parameters to your URL so it can be tracked through Google Analytics.
What to Avoid
The list of potential traffic sources is extensive. The basic premise here is to plan in advance to track your campaign performance. Don’t wait until afterwards, otherwise you’ll have some aggregate — and mostly useless — metrics.
When naming your campaigns and sources, stay away from generic names such as “Campaign 1,” “Campaign 2.” Create a meaningful name for each traffic source and campaign. That way you’re able to refer back to it when monitoring, and easily remember which campaign you’re tracking. For example, you could use “Promo Code: 0512” for the discount coupon campaign running during the month of May 2012.
In analytics, the last traffic source used is the one that typically gets credited for the conversion. But oftentimes, the visitor has had other interactions with your brand and website. So how do you know which marketing sources were utilized? The “Multi-Channel Funnels” reports in Google Analytics can give you the information on how your marketing channels work together to create sales and conversions. This report tracks the sequences of interactions — including paid and organic search, social networks, email newsletters, custom campaigns and more — within the 30 days leading up to each conversion. To learn more about how to set this up, read “Setting Up Multi-Channel Functions” on the Google Analytics website.