Your Google Analytics Implementation is the Foundation of Your Insights
Every day, digital marketers and SEOs drive business decisions from bad data. Whether you’re reading straight from the Google Analytics (GA) interface, or you’re using the API to connect GA to your favorite SEO software, the insights you reveal will be only as good as your analytics setup from the beginning.
Google Analytics is my favorite site analytics tracking tool and it works well right out of the box. However, your setup requires customization to accurately measure organic traffic and conversions. There are some excellent articles out there on the setup basics – the Zion and Zion google analytics best practices is a great place to start – but let’s focus on the Organic Search channel for today.
So where are some of your Organic Sessions hiding?
The Referral Channel: Google’s Junk Drawer
Your site receives traffic from so many sources that it sometimes miscategorizes data it receives. This data often ends up as referral traffic. Google is saying, “I know this data was from somewhere, it might be important someday, but I do not know what to do with it”. If you look in your referral channel (Acquisition>All Traffic>Referrals) with a multi-month date range, you’ll likely see all of the below in your referral sources. These are Organic Search sessions that have been wrongly bucketed into referrals!
Google Android App Quick Search Box: When Google Doesn’t Know Google
It’s amazing that Google improperly handles traffic from its own Android in-app search boxes, but here we are. Set the max date range of your account and check the referral channel. Here’s what you’ll see:
I’ve seen this in client accounts across the board – some that have resolved, some that would have continued until today. This can be resolved by adding a custom filter to your property view, ensuring that all new sessions from the search box app are categorized as Organic Search. Fair warning: Filters permanently alter your data! Always do your research and confirm with a test view before applying a filter to a Master view.
Uncommon Search Engines: Any Dogpile Fans Out There?
Google Analytics sets a list of Organic Search Engines by default but misses some. Here are some organic search sources that you’ll find in your Google Analytics referral channel.
Similar to before with the Google Android App Quick search box, start in the referrals section of GA (Acquisition>All Traffic>Referrals) and look for any one of the above. What you will likely see is a bevy of miscategorized search sessions. These can all be recategorized from referral sessions to organic search sessions in order to see a more complete picture of the search landscape.
Self-Referrals: When Google Thinks You are Not You, but Turns out You are You
Self-referrals are a headache and are present for nearly every medium-to-large site. So how does this rob your Organic Traffic? If your website has subdomains, GA might record referral sessions coming from a subdomain to the root domain.
For example, a user enters one of your subdomains from Google search results, e.g. blog.sandwiches.com. They become hungry enough to click through to your main site, sandwiches.com. GA then records the session as a Referral from blog.sandwiches.com. Here’s the 2-step solution:
- Ensure that your root domain is set on the Referral Exclusion List. Admin>Tracking Info>Referral Exclusion List
- If you’re using Google Tag Manager, make sure you set cookieDomain: auto. For a detailed guide, check out the Luna Metrics article for setting up subdomain tracking.
This is where you would add sandwiches.com, which will ensure that sessions are stitched together from subdomains. Now, if a user visits blog.sandwiches.com and moves onto your main site, GA should pick up the original source from which the user arrived.
How Much Search Data Could Google Analytics Really Be Missing?
As it turns out, A LOT. In a client account, I uncovered over 160k sessions in the past 4 months that should have been attributed to SEO (6% of total sessions!).
What are some fictitious scenarios where not finding this data could be harmful?
- Your client is planning to expand its SEO budget with your agency if you can meet their goals. You ‘missed the goal’ by 5% when in reality, 6% of your audience used the Android Google Quick Searchbox instead of a regular mobile browser, and Google Analytics put this traffic in the wrong channel.
- Your marketing team notices a high percentage of referral traffic coming to your website (which you know is largely composed of organic search traffic, spam and bots). They choose to invest in paid partnerships & affiliate programs instead of SEO, resulting in low, short-term ROI.
So, SEO community, what else am I missing? Where else have you been robbed of Organic traffic in your analytics data?