Google Analytics is broken by default

Posted on Friday, 22. February 2019 in category Google Analytics. 3 min read • Written by

Arnout Hellemans

The default Google Analytics setup is broken.

Yes, it is, it really is.

What you should be looking at in terms of Google Analytics needs some tweaking from the start. It’s not only about setting goals or measuring events but also about changing the way things are being measured. Out of the box your Referrals or Direct might contain traffic from search engines and Direct might also include social shares, whilst Referral might include all your email campaigns. Basically if you don’t start by fixing this from the start or correct it so it reports more accurately from now onwards, you will worse than flying blind. You’ll think you have a picture of your audience, but it will be misleading.

Don’t you just love direct traffic in Google Analytics?

Direct traffic in Google Analytics is something I hardly ever see explained properly.
I can’t stress how important it is that Direct traffic is not what it seems so let’s start.

What is Direct traffic?

Basically Direct traffic is any kind of traffic that Google can’t put into any one of the other brackets.
The more technical definition is that when there’s no referrer data then it puts it into direct traffic. I often hear people say that Direct traffic is typed in traffic but actually it is very rarely purely this. In absence of any previous session referrer data and if someone types in the URL directly – yes Direct. But that’s the exception rather than the reality.

One of the largest cases that meets that no referrer rule is when somebody sends a link through some messaging app like Slack or Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger or anything pretty much that isn’t a classic browser-based source (non http) – it won’t have a referrer. As such when people click this they become direct traffic sessions in Google Analytics.

You need to be aware that this is happening and then you can start thinking about how you can fix this. If you fix this common scenario to track more accurately you get a better idea of what what Direct traffic is really is AND how your links are being shared in social chats.

Internal redirects or incorrectly set up redirects that lose the original referrer are also a big source of direct traffic.

So in my session at inOrbit 2019 I will actually be diving into (simple) solutions on how to properly set up your Google Analytics that will support your (data) driven decisions rather than mislead you with incorrect information.

Direct traffic is the bottom of the barrel of Google Analytics

Tips on UTM tagging

UTM tagging is extremely powerful to measure things and to put it into the right brackets in Google Analytics but there are things you have to be careful when using UTM tagging.

So let’s start with the basics: 

  • Make it all lowercase.
  • Think about what the source field, the medium field should be like it if it is a search engine or a paid search something it should be cpc if it’s organic if for instance google maps it should be organic but the source should be google-maps so with this way you can basically distinguish it in search console but also see it correctly within Google Analytics.
  • No Spaces in the UTM tags, just – instead.
  • Don’t use UTM tags for internal linking.
  • I’ll say that again: NEVER use UTM tags for internal linking. Just don’t. Ever!

An example of tracking organic google maps traffic.

Again, way more explanation and tips in my presentation at inOrbit 2019.

Tracking Social Sharing in Google Analytics.

So tracking organic social sharing in Google Analytics is an awesome thing in my opinion
The biggest trick is that you have organic sharing buttons but you’re not tracking them properly you can tag your sharing buttons so every shared url has the right UTM tracking parameters. This will give you insight into how a piece of content is being shared or how your product might be sent to somebody.
The other thing you can do in tracking this is actually UTM tagging your twitter cards cards and open graph URLs, as such you will be able to classify another part of the normally direct traffic.
This will give you insight on what kind of content resonates and is sent onwards to other people, but this is something that loads of companies are struggling with and without defining the original source these end up being reported as Direct traffic. But this can be avoided.

An example of tracking organic shares.

So if you want to learn more about this come and join me at inOrbit!

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