How to understand your Google Analytics​

What’s the really good thing about the web? You can put up a website – a brochure  for your products, brands or services – and the whole world can beat a path to your door. 


As it turns out, putting up the website is the easy bit. Getting people to visit it is harder. There’s a free tool out there from Google that will help you out. It’s not a silver bullet. It won’t automatically send people to your website. It will tell you who’s coming and where they are coming from. You can build on that and get more people to come. It’s called Google Analytics.


Some people love it, some people hate it, but when it comes to digital marketing the data crunching has to be done if you’re going to hone your strategy and spend your hard-earned marketing budget wisely.


Are those magazine ads, editorials and reviews working for you? Is it worth using Facebook and Instagram Ads? Should you enlist the help of a PR company? Why does your site need a blog?


The first place to start is with your existing data. Whether you use Google Analytics or another web traffic monitoring tool it can unlock insights about what’s working well and what’s not in minutes enabling you to draw a line in the sand, benchmark and move onwards and upwards. When used properly, you can see trends and find out where to focus your digital marketing efforts.


But we need to start with the basics. In this, your first instalment of business insights from FSTV, we’re talking about direct and organic traffic sources which are two of the acquisition categories (how you get your site visitors) that you’ll find in your analytics reporting tools.



Here is a breakdown of common acquisition sources:


  • Organic Search. This includes traffic that search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing) send to your website from search results.  Organic means that a search engine includes your website in search results “organically” (or because it is a good match for the user’s search), and not because you paid for it.

  • Display. Display traffic is the traffic your website gets from display ads and can be made up of any number of traffic sources as long as the medium of the traffic sources is one of the following: display, cost per thousand (cpm) or banner.

  • Direct. This usually means that someone accessed your website directly, either through typing in your website’s URL or via a bookmark. Depending on your email marketing tool, traffic from your email marketing campaigns can also be categorised as Direct.

  • Social. Traffic generated through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

  • Referral. Visits through any websites that link to your website or “refer” traffic to you would count as a referral.

  • Email. Visits through links in emails which are categorised correctly (for example, Gmail or Yahoo Mail).

  • Paid Search. Unlike organic search, paid search is exactly that – you pay search engines’ ad networks like Google AdWords or Bing Ads to send traffic to your website.

  • Other Advertising. Traffic generated from any other form of paid advertising that Google Analytics recognizes.

  • YouTube. You can set up Google Analytics to track traffic specifically from your YouTube channel.

Let’s explore the main two acquisition sources, Direct and Organic traffic in more detail. 


Here’s what you need to know and how you can avoid the data duping you: 

What is Direct Traffic?


Direct traffic is defined as visits with no referring website. These are the people who enter your URL into their browser or find you via a bookmark. However, these statistics can sometimes be complicated for these reasons:


Employees. If your employees visit your site regularly and do not have their IP filtered from appearing in your web analytics results this could drive up direct traffic data. Try to ensure your administrator filters out company employee IPs from your web analytics platform.


Clients. If you have a customer portal or membership login on your site this can have an impact on your direct traffic results. This viewing data is still important to analyze but it’s worth setting up different views within your analytics platform so that you can view ‘true’ web analytics separately.


Emails.  If your email tracking is not set up correctly it’s common for email clicks to appear as direct traffic rather than as a referral or email acquisition. You can usually see if this is happening because you will see spikes in direct traffic activity that correlate to your email campaigns being distributed.


Mobile traffic. Desktop devices use common browsers whereas mobile devices frequently use sites that are de-indexed. This means that data that should be classed as acquired via organic search appears as direct traffic in your analytics. This is one to keep an eye on, but it is likely to be resolved on analytics platforms as the analytics platforms are updated to match the increase in global mobile usage. 


Mobile apps/desktop software: Apps often do not categorise traffic in line with web analytics monitoring and instead of listing them as referral traffic, they will mis-categorise these visits as direct traffic. 


Secure (https) to non-secure sites (http): The majority of sites are now securely hosted, as indicated by the “https” in their URLs. However, any traffic going from a secure site to a non-secure site does not pass referral information, therefore these visitors will also be classified as direct traffic. Ensure your site is secure by setting up a third-party SSL certificate.


What is Organic Traffic?


Inbound marketing and content marketing strategies strive to increase organic traffic. These visitors discover your site through search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.


Organic traffic doesn’t stand alone, it can be influenced by the Google Display, Smart and Search Ads that are going on around it. This is how advertisers make their money, they want users to look at paid search results which is why they are often displayed alongside organic results. 


Organic traffic is mostly driven by Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), the better you rank for competitive keywords and authority rating, the more organic traffic you’ll entice. Websites that consistently create content that’s optimised for search (seeded with relevant keywords and trending topics or themes) will see a progressive rise in organic search traffic and improved positioning within search results. Unfortunately, getting the right keywords in place isn’t a one-off job. Keywords and trending topics should be reviewed every month to ensure your business isn’t missing out on the competitive edge or overlooking an opportunity to develop strong content.


Through web analytic platforms like Google Analytics you can track individual blog results, so you can weigh up the effort of creating the content against page visits and, if you’ve got targets set up you can even track the correlating sales successes.


Take away tips:


  • Make sure you review your web analytics data once a month and use the findings and observations to shape your quarterly marketing strategies and budget allocations.

  • Set yourself an organic search result Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to hit every six months. Remember to set aside a time to review the data and remember the key to content marketing is to keep testing, adjusting and evolving. 

Free Resources to support your business:


Analytics Academy – helps you learn about Google’s measurement tools so that you can grow your business through intelligent data collection and analysis.


Don’t know where to start? 


Request a digital marketing report from our team, email


What’s inside: 


12-month review of your company’s digital marketing activity

Competitor review

Market traffic insights to identify opportunities to develop your content strategy

Keyword benchmarking report

Trending content themes and ideas

Recommendations based on your company’s digital strengths and weaknesses.



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