Digital Marketing Stories SEO

New Findings: This Type of Direct Traffic Is Unquestionably Organic

I’m Adam Dince, Director of Earned Media at Deluxe. I lead a team of marketers that is primarily focused on our non-paid marketing channels.

Why Understanding Earned Media ROI Matters in the First Place

In all honesty, while I believe that paid advertising is highly effective when done right, I’m a bigger believer that earned media provides the best long-term ROI.

However, as you well know, it’s hard to tie top of funnel organic content and organic social to revenue. And channels that drive the most revenue usually get the biggest share of the marketing budget.

This is why SEO is so important to my team. Whether you call yourself a Web Presence Manager, Inbound Marketer, Earned Media Marketer—whatever, SEO reporting is key to funding other non-paid marketing strategies.

Whether you call yourself a Web Presence Manager, Inbound Marketer, Earned Media Marketer—whatever, SEO reporting is key to funding other non-paid marketing strategies.

When I started building the earned media team at Deluxe in 2012, my first objective was to form a world-class SEO practice. After major e-Commerce site overhauls and full SEO strategy implementation across multiple owned properties, we experienced massive boosts in rankings, organic search performance and assisted attribution.

The Puzzle: One eCommerce Site Wasn’t Delivering Expected Organic Traffic & Revenue Contribution Percentage

However, one of our core eCommerce Sites was still lagging. While we hit our traffic and revenue forecasts, our percent of total traffic and revenue barely cinched forward. I couldn’t understand, why after throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the obstacles we had, we didn’t see the traffic and revenue contribution % lift I’d expected. We:

  • Remediated most of our technical debt
  • Optimized our web page templates
  • Broke out our I/A to be more relevant for the keywords we were targeting
  • Implemented Schema.org where applicable
  • Optimized our content
  • Improved internal linking
  • Worked seamlessly across teams to optimize our UX, creative and tech

And so much more.

I couldn’t understand, why after throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the obstacles we had, we didn’t see the traffic and revenue lift I’d expected.

I analyzed the performance data inside and out.  I ran every report, tested every hypothesis and still no silver bullet. I spoke with industry friends who said that the numbers didn’t make sense and that we should be doing much better than we were. Then came along the Groupon study that discovered 60 percent of their direct traffic was actually organic search.

What We Found: First Visit Direct Traffic to Long URLs Must Be Organic

I’d often asked the question, “Why is our direct traffic and revenue so high?” And I think everyone agreed that the direct traffic numbers looked seriously questionable. And thanks to the Groupon study, I had a few new ideas to test.

I’d often asked the question, “Why is our direct traffic and revenue so high?” And I think everyone agreed that the direct traffic numbers looked seriously questionable.

While looking at direct traffic to our long URLs, we discovered that in many cases, over 60% of direct traffic came from first time visits.

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That begged two questions:

  1. How would so many visitors be able to bookmark a page without ever visiting it before? It’s impossible.
  2. En masse, how would first time visitors know exact non-homepage URLs to type in without ever visiting our site before? Not so impossible. The answer could be that longer URLs were included in direct mail (either as long URLs or vanities).

I checked with our DM team and validated that:

  • None of the page visits reported as first time direct traffic to long URLs were included in offline campaigns (boy that was a mouthful).
  • Long URLs reported as first time direct traffic were indexed and ranking in Google search results.

After weeks of research, we concluded that at a minimum, first time visit direct traffic to long URLs can only be organic. Moving forward, we’ll be writing rules within Adobe that allow us to accurately report organic search traffic.

After weeks of research, we concluded that at a minimum, first time visit direct traffic to long URLs can only be organic.

I’m pretty confident that we’re receiving additional direct traffic that should be classified as organic search and am working with our analytics team to figure out how to crack that nut.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’ve found in your research.

 

If you liked this article, check out: Update: Organic Search Is Actually Responsible for 64% of Your Web Traffic.

Banner image source: edgesustainability.com

  • Vikki Fraser

    Please, whatever you find… share it. I am n this same situation with direct traffic. We started using tracking links from every outbound newsletter. I’m tempted to put tracking URLs in employees email signatures just to figure out this puzzle. I’ve always suspected that much of my direct traffic (and a hefty chunk of my online revenues) was organic. Feel free to reach out – would love to collaborate to find answers.

    • Hey Vikki,

      We are still investigating the root cause of the missed attribution. I’ll provide an update as soon as we get to the bottom of it. Thank you for the comment! Looks like we’re now Tweeps :). Keep in touch.

      -Adam

      • Vikki Fraser

        More data for the (not provided) bucket I’m sure. Sigh.

        • It’s fine with me if it’s (not provided) as long as I get the credit for the visit / conversion.

  • Joe M

    I use Clicky and GA and always thought this to be case to a certain extent for some of the sites I have. It seems like some analytics software defaults to count a visit a “direct” if any glitch happens (i.e. the internet page the person was previously at doesn’t want to be identified). Not solid enough technologically to know what’s really happening here but nice post highlighting something many of us have experienced!

    • Hey Joe,

      If you haven’t read (which I’m sure you have), the Groupon study, they nailed down why GA was having issues.

      Best,
      Adam

  • Don’t forget a lot of people copy the link, open a new tab and paste it into the new tab which will then show up as direct traffic.

    • The way our session cookies work, we’d still be able to track its original source. So new tabs wouldn’t be an issue. That is unless of course, they copy the URL and add it to a bookmark and check it later.

  • Soluciones Web

    Thanks for sharing this information you gave is really helpful. Now we will check deeper our direct traffic.

  • Jason Chesters

    Thanks Adam, nice post! you made it into my top 10 posts published this month. You can see here: http://doseoyourself.com/september-2014-10-posts/