Tag Archive | "Analytics"

Google Search Console Performance Reports & Search Analytics One Day Off Still

Back in January, we reported that when you look at the new Google Search Console Performance report and compare it to the old Search Analytics report, they do have the same data but the day they plot the data is a day off from each other. With Google shutting down the old Search Analytics report in two days from now, this is a concern for some.


Search Engine Roundtable

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AdStage’s new Join automatically shows Google Analytics, Salesforce data for search, social campaigns

Customers will have full-funnel visibility into how their search and social campaigns are driving sales outcomes, without URL tagging.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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SearchCap: Google PageSpeed Insights update, exact match PPC & account analytics

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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How Do Sessions Work in Google Analytics? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Tom.Capper

One of these sessions is not like the other. Google Analytics data is used to support tons of important work, ranging from our everyday marketing reporting all the way to investment decisions. To that end, it’s integral that we’re aware of just how that data works.

In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, we welcome Tom Capper to explain how the sessions metric in Google Analytics works, several ways that it can have unexpected results, and as a bonus, how sessions affect the time on page metric (and why you should rethink using time on page for reporting).

How do sessions work in Google Analytics?

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hello, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I am Tom Capper. I am a consultant at Distilled, and today I’m going to be talking to you about how sessions work in Google Analytics. Obviously, all of us use Google Analytics. Pretty much all of us use Google Analytics in our day-to-day work.

Data from the platform is used these days in everything from investment decisions to press reporting to the actual marketing that we use it for. So it’s important to understand the basic building blocks of these platforms. Up here I’ve got the absolute basics. So in the blue squares I’ve got hits being sent to Google Analytics.

So when you first put Google Analytics on your site, you get that bit of tracking code, you put it on every page, and what that means is when someone loads the page, it sends a page view. So those are the ones I’ve marked P. So we’ve got page view and page view and so on as you’re going around the site. I’ve also got events with an E and transactions with a T. Those are two other hit types that you might have added.

The job of Google Analytics is to take all this hit data that you’re sending it and try and bring it together into something that actually makes sense as sessions. So they’re grouped into sessions that I’ve put in black, and then if you have multiple sessions from the same browser, then that would be a user that I’ve marked in pink. The issue here is it’s kind of arbitrary how you divide these up.

These eight hits could be one long session. They could be eight tiny ones or anything in between. So I want to talk today about the different ways that Google Analytics will actually split up those hit types into sessions. So over here I’ve got some examples I’m going to go through. But first I’m going to go through a real-world example of a brick-and-mortar store, because I think that’s what they’re trying to emulate, and it kind of makes more sense with that context.

Brick-and-mortar example

So in this example, say a supermarket, we enter by a passing trade. That’s going to be our source. Then we’ve got an entrance is in the lobby of the supermarket when we walk in. We got passed from there to the beer aisle to the cashier, or at least I do. So that’s one big, long session with the source passing trade. That makes sense.

In the case of a brick-and-mortar store, it’s not to difficult to divide that up and try and decide how many sessions are going on here. There’s not really any ambiguity. In the case of websites, when you have people leaving their keyboard for a while or leaving the computer on while they go on holiday or just having the same computer over a period of time, it becomes harder to divide things up, because you don’t know when people are actually coming and going.

So what they’ve tried to do is in the very basic case something quite similar: arrive by Google, category page, product page, checkout. Great. We’ve got one long session, and the source is Google. Okay, so what are the different ways that that might go wrong or that that might get divided up?

Several things that can change the meaning of a session

1. Time zone

The first and possibly most annoying one, although it doesn’t tend to be a huge issue for some sites, is whatever time zone you’ve set in your Google Analytics settings, the midnight in that time zone can break up a session. So say we’ve got midnight here. This is 12:00 at night, and we happen to be browsing. We’re doing some shopping quite late.

Because Google Analytics won’t allow a session to have two dates, this is going to be one session with the source Google, and this is going to be one session and the source will be this page. So this is a self-referral unless you’ve chosen to exclude that in your settings. So not necessarily hugely helpful.

2. Half-hour cutoff for “coffee breaks”

Another thing that can happen is you might go and make a cup of coffee. So ideally if you went and had a cup of coffee while in you’re in Tesco or a supermarket that’s popular in whatever country you’re from, you might want to consider that one long session. Google has made the executive decision that we’re actually going to have a cutoff of half an hour by default.

If you leave for half an hour, then again you’ve got two sessions. One, the category page is the landing page and the source of Google, and one in this case where the blog is the landing page, and this would be another self-referral, because when you come back after your coffee break, you’re going to click through from here to here. This time period, the 30 minutes, that is actually adjustable in your settings, but most people do just leave it as it is, and there isn’t really an obvious number that would make this always correct either. It’s kind of, like I said earlier, an arbitrary distinction.

3. Leaving the site and coming back

The next issue I want to talk about is if you leave the site and come back. So obviously it makes sense that if you enter the site from Google, browse for a bit, and then enter again from Bing, you might want to count that as two different sessions with two different sources. However, where this gets a little murky is with things like external payment providers.

If you had to click through from the category page to PayPal to the checkout, then unless PayPal is excluded from your referral list, then this would be one session, entrance from Google, one session, entrance from checkout. The last issue I want to talk about is not necessarily a way that sessions are divided, but a quirk of how they are.

4. Return direct sessions

If you were to enter by Google to the category page, go on holiday and then use a bookmark or something or just type in the URL to come back, then obviously this is going to be two different sessions. You would hope that it would be one session from Google and one session from direct. That would make sense, right?

But instead, what actually happens is that, because Google and most Google Analytics and most of its reports uses last non-direct click, we pass through that source all the way over here, so you’ve got two sessions from Google. Again, you can change this timeout period. So that’s some ways that sessions work that you might not expect.

As a bonus, I want to give you some extra information about how this affects a certain metric, mainly because I want to persuade you to stop using it, and that metric is time on page.

Bonus: Three scenarios where this affects time on page

So I’ve got three different scenarios here that I want to talk you through, and we’ll see how the time on page metric works out.

I want you to bear in mind that, basically, because Google Analytics really has very little data to work with typically, they only know that you’ve landed on a page, and that sent a page view and then potentially nothing else. If you were to have a single page visit to a site, or a bounce in other words, then they don’t know whether you were on that page for 10 seconds or the rest of your life.

They’ve got no further data to work with. So what they do is they say, “Okay, we’re not going to include that in our average time on page metrics.” So we’ve got the formula of time divided by views minus exits. However, this fudge has some really unfortunate consequences. So let’s talk through these scenarios.

Example 1: Intuitive time on page = actual time on page

In the first scenario, I arrive on the page. It sends a page view. Great. Ten seconds later I trigger some kind of event that the site has added. Twenty seconds later I click through to the next page on the site. In this case, everything is working as intended in a sense, because there’s a next page on the site, so Google Analytics has that extra data of another page view 20 seconds after the first one. So they know that I was on here for 20 seconds.

In this case, the intuitive time on page is 20 seconds, and the actual time on page is also 20 seconds. Great.

Example 2: Intuitive time on page is higher than measured time on page

However, let’s think about this next example. We’ve got a page view, event 10 seconds later, except this time instead of clicking somewhere else on the site, I’m going to just leave altogether. So there’s no data available, but Google Analytics knows we’re here for 10 seconds.

So the intuitive time on page here is still 20 seconds. That’s how long I actually spent looking at the page. But the measured time or the reported time is going to be 10 seconds.

Example 3: Measured time on page is zero

The last example, I browse for 20 seconds. I leave. I haven’t triggered an event. So we’ve got an intuitive time on page of 20 seconds and an actual time on page or a measured time on page of 0.

The interesting bit is when we then come to calculate the average time on page for this page that appeared here, here, and here, you would initially hope it would be 20 seconds, because that’s how long we actually spent. But your next guess, when you look at the reported or the available data that Google Analytics has in terms of how long we’re on these pages, the average of these three numbers would be 10 seconds.

So that would make some sense. What they actually do, because of this formula, is they end up with 30 seconds. So you’ve got the total time here, which is 30, divided by the number of views, we’ve got 3 views, minus 2 exits. Thirty divided 3 minus 2, 30 divided by 1, so we’ve got 30 seconds as the average across these 3 sessions.

Well, the average across these three page views, sorry, for the amount of time we’re spending, and that is longer than any of them, and it doesn’t make any sense with the constituent data. So that’s just one final tip to please not use average time on page as a reporting metric.

I hope that’s all been useful to you. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Moz Acquires STAT Search Analytics: We’re Better Together!

Posted by SarahBird

We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that Moz has acquired STAT Search Analytics!

It’s not hard to figure out why, right? We both share a vision around creating search solutions that will change the industry. We’re both passionate about investing in our customers’ success. Together we provide a massive breadth of high-quality, actionable data and insights for marketers. Combining Moz’s SEO research tools and local search expertise with STAT’s daily localized rankings and SERP analytics, we have the most robust organic search solution in the industry.

I recently sat down with my friend Rob Bucci, our new VP of Research & Development and most recently the CEO of STAT, to talk about how this came to be and what to expect next. Check it out:

You can also read Rob’s thoughts on everything here over on the STAT blog!

With our powers combined…

Over the past few months, Moz’s data has gotten some serious upgrades. Notably, with the launch of our new link index in April, the data that feeds our tools is now 35x larger and 30x fresher than it was before. In August we doubled our keyword corpus and expanded our data for the UK, Canada, and Australia, positioning us to lead the market in keyword research and link building tools. Throughout 2018, we’ve made significant improvements to Moz Local’s UI with a brand-new dashboard, making sure our business listing accuracy tool is as usable as it is useful. Driving the blood, sweat, and tears behind these upgrades is a simple purpose: to provide our customers with the best SEO tools money can buy.

STAT is intimately acquainted with this level of customer obsession. Their team has created the best enterprise-level SERP analysis software on the market. More than just rank tracking, STAT’s data is a treasure trove of consumer research, competitive intel, and the deep search analytics that enable SEOs to level up their game.

Moz + STAT together provide a breadth and depth of data that hasn’t existed before in our industry. Organic search shifts from tactics to strategy when you have this level of insight at your disposal, and we can’t wait to reveal what industry-changing products we’ll build together.

Our shared values and vision

Aside from the technology powerhouse this partnership will build, we also couldn’t have found a better culture fit than STAT. With values like selflessness, ambition, and empathy, STAT embodies TAGFEE. Moz and STAT are elated to be coming together as a single company dedicated to developing the best organic search solutions for our customers while also fostering an awesome culture for our employees.

Innovation awaits!

To Moz and STAT customers: the future is bright. Expect more updates, more innovation, and more high-quality data at your disposal than ever before. As we grow together, you’ll grow with us.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


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SearchCap: #SMXperts, Google Analytics, cutting content & more

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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Digital Marketing News: Behavior & Analytics Studies, Facebook’s A/B Testing, & LinkedIn’s Carousel Ads

Perceived Influence Marketing Charts Graph

Perceived Influence Marketing Charts Graph

As Concerns Grow Over Internet Privacy, Most Say Search & Social Have Too Much Power
How Internet users perceive the influence a variety of popular online platforms have over their lives was among the subjects examined in a sizable new joint report by Ipsos, the Internet Society, and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, offering some surprising insight for digital marketers. Marketing Charts

Facebook Experiments with A/B Testing for Page Posts
Facebook has been trying out A/B testing of Facebook Page posts, a feature that if rolled out in earnest could eventually have significant implications for digital marketers. Social Media Today

CMOs Say Digital Marketing Is Most Effective: Nielsen Study
Accurately measuring digital marketing advertising spending’s return on investment remains a challenge, while the overall effectiveness of digital ad spend has grown, according to a fascinating new Nielsen study of chief marketing officers. Broadcasting & Cable

Snapchat Rolls Out Option to ‘Unsend’ Messages, New eCommerce Tools
Snapchat has added several e-commerce tools including an in-app ticket purchase solution, branded augmented-reality games, and has given its users the option to unsend messages. Social Media Today

People Are Changing the Way They Use Social Media
Trust of various social media platforms and how Internet users’ self-censorship has changed since 2013 are among the observations presented in the results of a broad new study conducted by The Atlantic. The Atlantic

Facebook launches tool to let users rate advertisers’ customer service
Facebook has added a feedback tool that lets users rate and review advertisers’ customer service, feedback the company says will help it find and even ban sellers with poor ratings. Marketing Land

2018 June 15 Statistics Image

Google’s about-face on GDPR consent tool is monster win for ad-tech companies
Google reversed its General Data Protection Regulation course recently, allowing publishers to work with an unlimited number of vendors, presenting new opportunities for advertising technology firms. AdAge

LinkedIn rolls out Sponsored Content carousel ads that can include up to 10 customized, swipeable cards
LinkedIn (client) has rolled out a variety of new ad types and more performance metrics for marketers, with its Sponsored Content carousel ads that allow up to 10 custom images. Marketing Land

Report: Facebook is Primary Referrer For Lifestyle Content, Google Search Dominates Rest
What people care about and where they look for relevant answers online are among the marketing-related insights revealed in a recent report from Web analytics firm Parse.ly. Facebook was many users’ go-to source for answers for lifestyle content, while Google was the top source for all other content types. MediaPost

Survey: 87% of mobile marketers see success with location targeting
Location targeting is widely-used and has performed well in the mobile marketing realm, helping increase conversion rates and how well marketers understand their audiences, according to new report data. Marketing Land

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE:

Marketoonist Short-Termism Cartoon

A lighthearted look at marketing short-termism, by Marketoonist Tom Fishburne — Marketoonist

‘The weird one wins’: MailChimp’s CMO on the company’s off-the-wall advertising — The Drum

TOPRANK MARKETING & CLIENTS IN THE NEWS:

  • Lee Odden — Why Content Marketing is Good for B2B Companies — Atomic Reach
  • Lee Odden — Top 2018 Influencers That Might Inspire Your Inner Marketer — Whatagraph
  • Lee Odden — Better than Bonuses: 4 Motivators that Matter More than Money — Workfront
  • Anne Leuman — What’s Trending: Marketing GOOOOOAAAALS! — LinkedIn (client)

Thanks for visiting, and please join us next week for a new selection of the latest digital marketing news, and in the meantime you can follow us at @toprank on Twitter for even more timely daily news. Also, don’t miss the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.

The post Digital Marketing News: Behavior & Analytics Studies, Facebook’s A/B Testing, & LinkedIn’s Carousel Ads appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

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Trust Your Data: How to Efficiently Filter Spam, Bots, & Other Junk Traffic in Google Analytics

Posted by Carlosesal

There is no doubt that Google Analytics is one of the most important tools you could use to understand your users’ behavior and measure the performance of your site. There’s a reason it’s used by millions across the world.

But despite being such an essential part of the decision-making process for many businesses and blogs, I often find sites (of all sizes) that do little or no data filtering after installing the tracking code, which is a huge mistake.

Think of a Google Analytics property without filtered data as one of those styrofoam cakes with edible parts. It may seem genuine from the top, and it may even feel right when you cut a slice, but as you go deeper and deeper you find that much of it is artificial.

If you’re one of those that haven’t properly configured their Google Analytics and you only pay attention to the summary reports, you probably won’t notice that there’s all sorts of bogus information mixed in with your real user data.

And as a consequence, you won’t realize that your efforts are being wasted on analyzing data that doesn’t represent the actual performance of your site.

To make sure you’re getting only the real ingredients and prevent you from eating that slice of styrofoam, I’ll show you how to use the tools that GA provides to eliminate all the artificial excess that inflates your reports and corrupts your data.

Common Google Analytics threats

As most of the people I’ve worked with know, I’ve always been obsessed with the accuracy of data, mainly because as a marketer/analyst there’s nothing worse than realizing that you’ve made a wrong decision because your data wasn’t accurate. That’s why I’m continually exploring new ways of improving it.

As a result of that research, I wrote my first Moz post about the importance of filtering in Analytics, specifically about ghost spam, which was a significant problem at that time and still is (although to a lesser extent).

While the methods described there are still quite useful, I’ve since been researching solutions for other types of Google Analytics spam and a few other threats that might not be as annoying, but that are equally or even more harmful to your Analytics.

Let’s review, one by one.

Ghosts, crawlers, and other types of spam

The GA team has done a pretty good job handling ghost spam. The amount of it has been dramatically reduced over the last year, compared to the outbreak in 2015/2017.

However, the millions of current users and the thousands of new, unaware users that join every day, plus the majority’s curiosity to discover why someone is linking to their site, make Google Analytics too attractive a target for the spammers to just leave it alone.

The same logic can be applied to any widely used tool: no matter what security measures it has, there will always be people trying to abuse its reach for their own interest. Thus, it’s wise to add an extra security layer.

Take, for example, the most popular CMS: WordPress. Despite having some built-in security measures, if you don’t take additional steps to protect it (like setting a strong username and password or installing a security plugin), you run the risk of being hacked.

The same happens to Google Analytics, but instead of plugins, you use filters to protect it.

In which reports can you look for spam?

Spam traffic will usually show as a Referral, but it can appear in any part of your reports, even in unsuspecting places like a language or page title.

Sometimes spammers will try to fool by using misleading URLs that are very similar to known websites, or they may try to get your attention by using unusual characters and emojis in the source name.

Independently of the type of spam, there are 3 things you always should do when you think you found one in your reports:

  1. Never visit the suspicious URL. Most of the time they’ll try to sell you something or promote their service, but some spammers might have some malicious scripts on their site.
  2. This goes without saying, but never install scripts from unknown sites; if for some reason you did, remove it immediately and scan your site for malware.
  3. Filter out the spam in your Google Analytics to keep your data clean (more on that below).

If you’re not sure whether an entry on your report is real, try searching for the URL in quotes (“example.com”). Your browser won’t open the site, but instead will show you the search results; if it is spam, you’ll usually see posts or forums complaining about it.

If you still can’t find information about that particular entry, give me a shout — I might have some knowledge for you.

Bot traffic

A bot is a piece of software that runs automated scripts over the Internet for different purposes.

There are all kinds of bots. Some have good intentions, like the bots used to check copyrighted content or the ones that index your site for search engines, and others not so much, like the ones scraping your content to clone it.

2016 bot traffic report. Source: Incapsula

In either case, this type of traffic is not useful for your reporting and might be even more damaging than spam both because of the amount and because it’s harder to identify (and therefore to filter it out).

It’s worth mentioning that bots can be blocked from your server to stop them from accessing your site completely, but this usually involves editing sensible files that require high technical knowledge, and as I said before, there are good bots too.

So, unless you’re receiving a direct attack that’s skewing your resources, I recommend you just filter them in Google Analytics.

In which reports can you look for bot traffic?

Bots will usually show as Direct traffic in Google Analytics, so you’ll need to look for patterns in other dimensions to be able to filter it out. For example, large companies that use bots to navigate the Internet will usually have a unique service provider.

I’ll go into more detail on this below.

Internal traffic

Most users get worried and anxious about spam, which is normal — nobody likes weird URLs showing up in their reports. However, spam isn’t the biggest threat to your Google Analytics.

You are!

The traffic generated by people (and bots) working on the site is often overlooked despite the huge negative impact it has. The main reason it’s so damaging is that in contrast to spam, internal traffic is difficult to identify once it hits your Analytics, and it can easily get mixed in with your real user data.

There are different types of internal traffic and different ways of dealing with it.

Direct internal traffic

Testers, developers, marketing team, support, outsourcing… the list goes on. Any member of the team that visits the company website or blog for any purpose could be contributing.

In which reports can you look for direct internal traffic?

Unless your company uses a private ISP domain, this traffic is tough to identify once it hits you, and will usually show as Direct in Google Analytics.

Third-party sites/tools

This type of internal traffic includes traffic generated directly by you or your team when using tools to work on the site; for example, management tools like Trello or Asana,

It also considers traffic coming from bots doing automatic work for you; for example, services used to monitor the performance of your site, like Pingdom or GTmetrix.

Some types of tools you should consider:

  • Project management
  • Social media management
  • Performance/uptime monitoring services
  • SEO tools
In which reports can you look for internal third-party tools traffic?

This traffic will usually show as Referral in Google Analytics.

Development/staging environments

Some websites use a test environment to make changes before applying them to the main site. Normally, these staging environments have the same tracking code as the production site, so if you don’t filter it out, all the testing will be recorded in Google Analytics.

In which reports can you look for development/staging environments?

This traffic will usually show as Direct in Google Analytics, but you can find it under its own hostname (more on this later).

Web archive sites and cache services

Archive sites like the Wayback Machine offer historical views of websites. The reason you can see those visits on your Analytics — even if they are not hosted on your site — is that the tracking code was installed on your site when the Wayback Machine bot copied your content to its archive.

One thing is for certain: when someone goes to check how your site looked in 2015, they don’t have any intention of buying anything from your site — they’re simply doing it out of curiosity, so this traffic is not useful.

In which reports can you look for traffic from web archive sites and cache services?

You can also identify this traffic on the hostname report.

A basic understanding of filters

The solutions described below use Google Analytics filters, so to avoid problems and confusion, you’ll need some basic understanding of how they work and check some prerequisites.

Things to consider before using filters:

1. Create an unfiltered view.

Before you do anything, it’s highly recommendable to make an unfiltered view; it will help you track the efficacy of your filters. Plus, it works as a backup in case something goes wrong.

2. Make sure you have the correct permissions.

You will need edit permissions at the account level to create filters; edit permissions at view or property level won’t work.

3. Filters don’t work retroactively.

In GA, aggregated historical data can’t be deleted, at least not permanently. That’s why the sooner you apply the filters to your data, the better.

4. The changes made by filters are permanent!

If your filter is not correctly configured because you didn’t enter the correct expression (missing relevant entries, a typo, an extra space, etc.), you run the risk of losing valuable data FOREVER; there is no way of recovering filtered data.

But don’t worry — if you follow the recommendations below, you shouldn’t have a problem.

5. Wait for it.

Most of the time you can see the effect of the filter within minutes or even seconds after applying it; however, officially it can take up to twenty-four hours, so be patient.

Types of filters

There are two main types of filters: predefined and custom.

Predefined filters are very limited, so I rarely use them. I prefer to use the custom ones because they allow regular expressions, which makes them a lot more flexible.

Within the custom filters, there are five types: exclude, include, lowercase/uppercase, search and replace, and advanced.

Here we will use the first two: exclude and include. We’ll save the rest for another occasion.

Essentials of regular expressions

If you already know how to work with regular expressions, you can jump to the next section.

REGEX (short for regular expressions) are text strings prepared to match patterns with the use of some special characters. These characters help match multiple entries in a single filter.

Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about them. We will use only the basics, and for some filters, you will just have to COPY-PASTE the expressions I pre-built.

REGEX special characters

There are many special characters in REGEX, but for basic GA expressions we can focus on three:

  • ^ The caret: used to indicate the beginning of a pattern,
  • $ The dollar sign: used to indicate the end of a pattern,
  • | The pipe or bar: means “OR,” and it is used to indicate that you are starting a new pattern.

When using the pipe character, you should never ever:

  • Put it at the beginning of the expression,
  • Put it at the end of the expression,
  • Put 2 or more together.

Any of those will mess up your filter and probably your Analytics.

A simple example of REGEX usage

Let’s say I go to a restaurant that has an automatic machine that makes fruit salad, and to choose the fruit, you should use regular expressions.

This super machine has the following fruits to choose from: strawberry, orange, blueberry, apple, pineapple, and watermelon.

To make a salad with my favorite fruits (strawberry, blueberry, apple, and watermelon), I have to create a REGEX that matches all of them. Easy! Since the pipe character “|” means OR I could do this:

  • REGEX 1: strawberry|blueberry|apple|watermelon

The problem with that expression is that REGEX also considers partial matches, and since pineapple also contains “apple,” it would be selected as well… and I don’t like pineapple!

To avoid that, I can use the other two special characters I mentioned before to make an exact match for apple. The caret “^” (begins here) and the dollar sign “$ ” (ends here). It will look like this:

  • REGEX 2: strawberry|blueberry|^apple$ |watermelon

The expression will select precisely the fruits I want.

But let’s say for demonstration’s sake that the fewer characters you use, the cheaper the salad will be. To optimize the expression, I can use the ability for partial matches in REGEX.

Since strawberry and blueberry both contain “berry,” and no other fruit in the list does, I can rewrite my expression like this:

  • Optimized REGEX: berry|^apple$ |watermelon

That’s it — now I can get my fruit salad with the right ingredients, and at a lower price.

3 ways of testing your filter expression

As I mentioned before, filter changes are permanent, so you have to make sure your filters and REGEX are correct. There are 3 ways of testing them:

  • Right from the filter window; just click on “Verify this filter,” quick and easy. However, it’s not the most accurate since it only takes a small sample of data.

  • Using an online REGEX tester; very accurate and colorful, you can also learn a lot from these, since they show you exactly the matching parts and give you a brief explanation of why.

  • Using an in-table temporary filter in GA; you can test your filter against all your historical data. This is the most precise way of making sure you don’t miss anything.

If you’re doing a simple filter or you have plenty of experience, you can use the built-in filter verification. However, if you want to be 100% sure that your REGEX is ok, I recommend you build the expression on the online tester and then recheck it using an in-table filter.

Quick REGEX challenge

Here’s a small exercise to get you started. Go to this premade example with the optimized expression from the fruit salad case and test the first 2 REGEX I made. You’ll see live how the expressions impact the list.

Now make your own expression to pay as little as possible for the salad.

Remember:

  • We only want strawberry, blueberry, apple, and watermelon;
  • The fewer characters you use, the less you pay;
  • You can do small partial matches, as long as they don’t include the forbidden fruits.

Tip: You can do it with as few as 6 characters.

Now that you know the basics of REGEX, we can continue with the filters below. But I encourage you to put “learn more about REGEX” on your to-do list — they can be incredibly useful not only for GA, but for many tools that allow them.

How to create filters to stop spam, bots, and internal traffic in Google Analytics

Back to our main event: the filters!

Where to start: To avoid being repetitive when describing the filters below, here are the standard steps you need to follow to create them:

  1. Go to the admin section in your Google Analytics (the gear icon at the bottom left corner),
  2. Under the View column (master view), click the button “Filters” (don’t click on “All filters“ in the Account column):
  3. Click the red button “+Add Filter” (if you don’t see it or you can only apply/remove already created filters, then you don’t have edit permissions at the account level. Ask your admin to create them or give you the permissions.):
  4. Then follow the specific configuration for each of the filters below.

The filter window is your best partner for improving the quality of your Analytics data, so it will be a good idea to get familiar with it.

Valid hostname filter (ghost spam, dev environments)

Prevents traffic from:

  • Ghost spam
  • Development hostnames
  • Scraping sites
  • Cache and archive sites

This filter may be the single most effective solution against spam. In contrast with other commonly shared solutions, the hostname filter is preventative, and it rarely needs to be updated.

Ghost spam earns its name because it never really visits your site. It’s sent directly to the Google Analytics servers using a feature called Measurement Protocol, a tool that under normal circumstances allows tracking from devices that you wouldn’t imagine that could be traced, like coffee machines or refrigerators.

Real users pass through your server, then the data is sent to GA; hence it leaves valid information. Ghost spam is sent directly to GA servers, without knowing your site URL; therefore all data left is fake. Source: carloseo.com

The spammer abuses this feature to simulate visits to your site, most likely using automated scripts to send traffic to randomly generated tracking codes (UA-0000000-1).

Since these hits are random, the spammers don’t know who they’re hitting; for that reason ghost spam will always leave a fake or (not set) host. Using that logic, by creating a filter that only includes valid hostnames all ghost spam will be left out.

Where to find your hostnames

Now here comes the “tricky” part. To create this filter, you will need, to make a list of your valid hostnames.

A list of what!?

Essentially, a hostname is any place where your GA tracking code is present. You can get this information from the hostname report:

  • Go to Audience > Select Network > At the top of the table change the primary dimension to Hostname.

If your Analytics is active, you should see at least one: your domain name. If you see more, scan through them and make a list of all the ones that are valid for you.

Types of hostname you can find

The good ones:

Type

Example

Your domain and subdomains

yourdomain.com

Tools connected to your Analytics

YouTube, MailChimp

Payment gateways

Shopify, booking systems

Translation services

Google Translate

Mobile speed-up services

Google weblight

The bad ones (by bad, I mean not useful for your reports):

Type

Example/Description

Staging/development environments

staging.yourdomain.com

Internet archive sites

web.archive.org

Scraping sites that don’t bother to trim the content

The URL of the scraper

Spam

Most of the time they will show their URL, but sometimes they may use the name of a known website to try to fool you. If you see a URL that you don’t recognize, just think, “do I manage it?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t your hostname.

(not set) hostname

It usually comes from spam. On rare occasions it’s related to tracking code issues.

Below is an example of my hostname report. From the unfiltered view, of course, the master view is squeaky clean.

Now with the list of your good hostnames, make a regular expression. If you only have your domain, then that is your expression; if you have more, create an expression with all of them as we did in the fruit salad example:

Hostname REGEX (example)


yourdomain.com|hostname2|hostname3|hostname4

Important! You cannot create more than one “Include hostname filter”; if you do, you will exclude all data. So try to fit all your hostnames into one expression (you have 255 characters).

The “valid hostname filter” configuration:

  • Filter Name: Include valid hostnames
  • Filter Type: Custom > Include
  • Filter Field: Hostname
  • Filter Pattern: [hostname REGEX you created]

Campaign source filter (Crawler spam, internal sources)

Prevents traffic from:

  • Crawler spam
  • Internal third-party tools (Trello, Asana, Pingdom)

Important note: Even if these hits are shown as a referral, the field you should use in the filter is “Campaign source” — the field “Referral” won’t work.

Filter for crawler spam

The second most common type of spam is crawler. They also pretend to be a valid visit by leaving a fake source URL, but in contrast with ghost spam, these do access your site. Therefore, they leave a correct hostname.

You will need to create an expression the same way as the hostname filter, but this time, you will put together the source/URLs of the spammy traffic. The difference is that you can create multiple exclude filters.

Crawler REGEX (example)


spam1|spam2|spam3|spam4

Crawler REGEX (pre-built)


As I promised, here are latest pre-built crawler expressions that you just need to copy/paste.

The “crawler spam filter” configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude crawler spam 1
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: Campaign source
  • Filter Pattern: [crawler REGEX]

Filter for internal third-party tools

Although you can combine your crawler spam filter with internal third-party tools, I like to have them separated, to keep them organized and more accessible for updates.

The “internal tools filter” configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude internal tool sources
  • Filter Pattern: [tool source REGEX]

Internal Tools REGEX (example)


trello|asana|redmine

In case, that one of the tools that you use internally also sends you traffic from real visitors, don’t filter it. Instead, use the “Exclude Internal URL Query” below.

For example, I use Trello, but since I share analytics guides on my site, some people link them from their Trello accounts.

Filters for language spam and other types of spam

The previous two filters will stop most of the spam; however, some spammers use different methods to bypass the previous solutions.

For example, they try to confuse you by showing one of your valid hostnames combined with a well-known source like Apple, Google, or Moz. Even my site has been a target (not saying that everyone knows my site; it just looks like the spammers don’t agree with my guides).

However, even if the source and host look fine, the spammer injects their message in another part of your reports like the keyword, page title, and even as a language.

In those cases, you will have to take the dimension/report where you find the spam and choose that name in the filter. It’s important to consider that the name of the report doesn’t always match the name in the filter field:

Report name

Filter field

Language

Language settings

Referral

Campaign source

Organic Keyword

Search term

Service Provider

ISP Organization

Network Domain

ISP Domain

Here are a couple of examples.

The “language spam/bot filter” configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude language spam
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: Language settings
  • Filter Pattern: [Language REGEX]

Language Spam REGEX (Prebuilt)


\s[^\s]*\s|.{15,}|\.|,|^c$

The expression above excludes fake languages that don’t meet the required format. For example, take these weird messages appearing instead of regular languages like en-us or es-es:

Examples of language spam

The organic/keyword spam filter configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude organic spam
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: Search term
  • Filter Pattern: [keyword REGEX]

Filters for direct bot traffic

Bot traffic is a little trickier to filter because it doesn’t leave a source like spam, but it can still be filtered with a bit of patience.

The first thing you should do is enable bot filtering. In my opinion, it should be enabled by default.

Go to the Admin section of your Analytics and click on View Settings. You will find the option “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders” below the currency selector:

It would be wonderful if this would take care of every bot — a dream come true. However, there’s a catch: the key here is the word “known.” This option only takes care of known bots included in the “IAB known bots and spiders list.” That’s a good start, but far from enough.

There are a lot of “unknown” bots out there that are not included in that list, so you’ll have to play detective and search for patterns of direct bot traffic through different reports until you find something that can be safely filtered without risking your real user data.

To start your bot trail search, click on the Segment box at the top of any report, and select the “Direct traffic” segment.

Then navigate through different reports to see if you find anything suspicious.

Some reports to start with:

  • Service provider
  • Browser version
  • Network domain
  • Screen resolution
  • Flash version
  • Country/City

Signs of bot traffic

Although bots are hard to detect, there are some signals you can follow:

  • An unnatural increase of direct traffic
  • Old versions (browsers, OS, Flash)
  • They visit the home page only (usually represented by a slash “/” in GA)
  • Extreme metrics:
    • Bounce rate close to 100%,
    • Session time close to 0 seconds,
    • 1 page per session,
    • 100% new users.

Important! If you find traffic that checks off many of these signals, it is likely bot traffic. However, not all entries with these characteristics are bots, and not all bots match these patterns, so be cautious.

Perhaps the most useful report that has helped me identify bot traffic is the “Service Provider” report. Large corporations frequently use their own Internet service provider name.

I also have a pre-built expression for ISP bots, similar to the crawler expressions.

The bot ISP filter configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude bots by ISP
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: ISP organization
  • Filter Pattern: [ISP provider REGEX]

ISP provider bots REGEX (prebuilt)


hubspot|^google\sllc$ |^google\sinc\.$ |alibaba\.com\sllc|ovh\shosting\sinc\.

Latest ISP bot expression

IP filter for internal traffic

We already covered different types of internal traffic, the one from test sites (with the hostname filter), and the one from third-party tools (with the campaign source filter).

Now it’s time to look at the most common and damaging of all: the traffic generated directly by you or any member of your team while working on any task for the site.

To deal with this, the standard solution is to create a filter that excludes the public IP (not private) of all locations used to work on the site.

Examples of places/people that should be filtered

  • Office
  • Support
  • Home
  • Developers
  • Hotel
  • Coffee shop
  • Bar
  • Mall
  • Any place that is regularly used to work on your site

To find the public IP of the location you are working at, simply search for “my IP” in Google. You will see one of these versions:

IP version

Example

Short IPv4

1.23.45.678

Long IPv6

2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334

No matter which version you see, make a list with the IP of each place and put them together with a REGEX, the same way we did with other filters.

  • IP address expression: IP1|IP2|IP3|IP4 and so on.

The static IP filter configuration:

  • Filter Name: Exclude internal traffic (IP)
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: IP Address
  • Filter Pattern: [The IP expression]

Cases when this filter won’t be optimal:

There are some cases in which the IP filter won’t be as efficient as it used to be:

  • You use IP anonymization (required by the GDPR regulation). When you anonymize the IP in GA, the last part of the IP is changed to 0. This means that if you have 1.23.45.678, GA will pass it as 1.23.45.0, so you need to put it like that in your filter. The problem is that you might be excluding other IPs that are not yours.
  • Your Internet provider changes your IP frequently (Dynamic IP). This has become a common issue lately, especially if you have the long version (IPv6).
  • Your team works from multiple locations. The way of working is changing — now, not all companies operate from a central office. It’s often the case that some will work from home, others from the train, in a coffee shop, etc. You can still filter those places; however, maintaining the list of IPs to exclude can be a nightmare,
  • You or your team travel frequently. Similar to the previous scenario, if you or your team travels constantly, there’s no way you can keep up with the IP filters.

If you check one or more of these scenarios, then this filter is not optimal for you; I recommend you to try the “Advanced internal URL query filter” below.

URL query filter for internal traffic

If there are dozens or hundreds of employees in the company, it’s extremely difficult to exclude them when they’re traveling, accessing the site from their personal locations, or mobile networks.

Here’s where the URL query comes to the rescue. To use this filter you just need to add a query parameter. I add “?internal” to any link your team uses to access your site:

  • Internal newsletters
  • Management tools (Trello, Redmine)
  • Emails to colleagues
  • Also works by directly adding it in the browser address bar

Basic internal URL query filter

The basic version of this solution is to create a filter to exclude any URL that contains the query “?internal”.

  • Filter Name: Exclude Internal Traffic (URL Query)
  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: Request URI
  • Filter Pattern: \?internal

This solution is perfect for instances were the user will most likely stay on the landing page, for example, when sending a newsletter to all employees to check a new post.

If the user will likely visit more than the landing page, then the subsequent pages will be recorded.

Advanced internal URL query filter

This solution is the champion of all internal traffic filters!

It’s a more comprehensive version of the previous solution and works by filtering internal traffic dynamically using Google Tag Manager, a GA custom dimension, and cookies.

Although this solution is a bit more complicated to set up, once it’s in place:

  • It doesn’t need maintenance
  • Any team member can use it, no need to explain techy stuff
  • Can be used from any location
  • Can be used from any device, and any browser

To activate the filter, you just have to add the text “?internal” to any URL of the website.

That will insert a small cookie in the browser that will tell GA not to record the visits from that browser.

And the best of it is that the cookie will stay there for a year (unless it is manually removed), so the user doesn’t have to add “?internal” every time.

Bonus filter: Include only internal traffic

In some occasions, it’s interesting to know the traffic generated internally by employees — maybe because you want to measure the success of an internal campaign or just because you’re a curious person.

In that case, you should create an additional view, call it “Internal Traffic Only,” and use one of the internal filters above. Just one! Because if you have multiple include filters, the hit will need to match all of them to be counted.

If you configured the “Advanced internal URL query” filter, use that one. If not, choose one of the others.

The configuration is exactly the same — you only need to change “Exclude” for “Include.”

Cleaning historical data

The filters will prevent future hits from junk traffic.

But what about past affected data?

I know I told you that deleting aggregated historical data is not possible in GA. However, there’s still a way to temporarily clean up at least some of the nasty traffic that has already polluted your reports.

For this, we’ll use an advanced segment (a subset of your Analytics data). There are built-in segments like “Organic” or “Mobile,” but you can also build one using your own set of rules.

To clean our historical data, we will build a segment using all the expressions from the filters above as conditions (except the ones from the IP filter, because IPs are not stored in GA; hence, they can’t be segmented).

To help you get started, you can import this segment template.

You just need to follow the instructions on that page and replace the placeholders. Here is how it looks:

In the actual template, all text is black; the colors are just to help you visualize the conditions.

After importing it, to select the segment:

  1. Click on the box that says “All users” at the top of any of your reports
  2. From your list of segments, check the one that says “0. All Users – Clean”
  3. Lastly, uncheck the “All Users”

Now you can navigate through your reaports and all the junk traffic included in the segment will be removed.

A few things to consider when using this segment:

  • Segments have to be selected each time. A way of having it selected by default is by adding a bookmark when the segment is selected.
  • You can remove or add conditions if you need to.
  • You can edit the segment at any time to update it or add conditions (open the list of segments, then click “Actions” then “Edit”).

  • The hostname expression and third-party tools expression are different for each site.
  • If your site has a large volume of traffic, segments may sample your data when selected, so if you see the little shield icon at the top of your reports go yellow (normally is green), try choosing a shorter period (i.e. 1 year, 6 months, one month).

Conclusion: Which cake would you eat?

Having real and accurate data is essential for your Google Analytics to report as you would expect.

But if you haven’t filtered it properly, it’s almost certain that it will be filled with all sorts of junk and artificial information.

And the worst part is that if don’t realize that your reports contain bogus data, you will likely make wrong or poor decisions when deciding on the next steps for your site or business.

The filters I share above will help you prevent the three most harmful threats that are polluting your Google Analytics and don’t let you get a clear view of the actual performance of your site: spam, bots, and internal traffic.

Once these filters are in place, you can rest assured that your efforts (and money!) won’t be wasted on analyzing deceptive Google Analytics data, and your decisions will be based on solid information.

And the benefits don’t stop there. If you’re using other tools that import data from GA, for example, WordPress plugins like GADWP, excel add-ins like AnalyticsEdge, or SEO suites like Moz Pro, the benefits will trickle down to all of them as well.

Besides highlighting the importance of the filters in GA (which I hope I made clear by now), I would also love for the preparation of these filters to inspire the curiosity and basis to create others that will allow you to do all sorts of remarkable things with your data.

Remember, filters not only allow you to keep away junk, you can also use them to rearrange your real user information — but more on that on another occasion.


That’s it! I hope these tips help you make more sense of your data and make accurate decisions.

Have any questions, feedback, experiences? Let me know in the comments, or reach me on Twitter @carlosesal.

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Microsoft adds Reddit data to Bing search results, Power BI analytics tool

Reddit posts will appear in Bing’s search results, and its data will be piped into Power BI for marketers to track brand-related comments.

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The Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Posted by tombennet

When it comes to direct traffic in Analytics, there are two deeply entrenched misconceptions.

The first is that it’s caused almost exclusively by users typing an address into their browser (or clicking on a bookmark). The second is that it’s a Bad Thing, not because it has any overt negative impact on your site’s performance, but rather because it’s somehow immune to further analysis. The prevailing attitude amongst digital marketers is that direct traffic is an unavoidable inconvenience; as a result, discussion of direct is typically limited to ways of attributing it to other channels, or side-stepping the issues associated with it.

In this article, we’ll be taking a fresh look at direct traffic in modern Google Analytics. As well as exploring the myriad ways in which referrer data can be lost, we’ll look at some tools and tactics you can start using immediately to reduce levels of direct traffic in your reports. Finally, we’ll discover how advanced analysis and segmentation can unlock the mysteries of direct traffic and shed light on what might actually be your most valuable users.

What is direct traffic?

In short, Google Analytics will report a traffic source of “direct” when it has no data on how the session arrived at your website, or when the referring source has been configured to be ignored. You can think of direct as GA’s fall-back option for when its processing logic has failed to attribute a session to a particular source.

To properly understand the causes and fixes for direct traffic, it’s important to understand exactly how GA processes traffic sources. The following flow-chart illustrates how sessions are bucketed — note that direct sits right at the end as a final “catch-all” group.

Broadly speaking, and disregarding user-configured overrides, GA’s processing follows this sequence of checks:

AdWords parameters > Campaign overrides > UTM campaign parameters > Referred by a search engine > Referred by another website > Previous campaign within timeout period > Direct

Note the penultimate processing step (previous campaign within timeout), which has a significant impact on the direct channel. Consider a user who discovers your site via organic search, then returns via direct a week later. Both sessions would be attributed to organic search. In fact, campaign data persists for up to six months by default. The key point here is that Google Analytics is already trying to minimize the impact of direct traffic for you.

What causes direct traffic?

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many reasons why a session might be missing campaign and traffic source data. Here we will run through some of the most common.

1. Manual address entry and bookmarks

The classic direct-traffic scenario, this one is largely unavoidable. If a user types a URL into their browser’s address bar or clicks on a browser bookmark, that session will appear as direct traffic.

Simple as that.

2. HTTPS > HTTP

When a user follows a link on a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page, no referrer data is passed, meaning the session appears as direct traffic instead of as a referral. Note that this is intended behavior. It’s part of how the secure protocol was designed, and it does not affect other scenarios: HTTP to HTTP, HTTPS to HTTPS, and even HTTP to HTTPS all pass referrer data.

So, if your referral traffic has tanked but direct has spiked, it could be that one of your major referrers has migrated to HTTPS. The inverse is also true: If you’ve migrated to HTTPS and are linking to HTTP websites, the traffic you’re driving to them will appear in their Analytics as direct.

If your referrers have moved to HTTPS and you’re stuck on HTTP, you really ought to consider migrating to HTTPS. Doing so (and updating your backlinks to point to HTTPS URLs) will bring back any referrer data which is being stripped from cross-protocol traffic. SSL certificates can now be obtained for free thanks to automated authorities like LetsEncrypt, but that’s not to say you should neglect to explore the potentially-significant SEO implications of site migrations. Remember, HTTPS and HTTP/2 are the future of the web.

If, on the other hand, you’ve already migrated to HTTPS and are concerned about your users appearing to partner websites as direct traffic, you can implement the meta referrer tag. Cyrus Shepard has written about this on Moz before, so I won’t delve into it now. Suffice to say, it’s a way of telling browsers to pass some referrer data to non-secure sites, and can be implemented as a <meta> element or HTTP header.

3. Missing or broken tracking code

Let’s say you’ve launched a new landing page template and forgotten to include the GA tracking code. Or, to use a scenario I’m encountering more and more frequently, imagine your GTM container is a horrible mess of poorly configured triggers, and your tracking code is simply failing to fire.

Users land on this page without tracking code. They click on a link to a deeper page which does have tracking code. From GA’s perspective, the first hit of the session is the second page visited, meaning that the referrer appears as your own website (i.e. a self-referral). If your domain is on the referral exclusion list (as per default configuration), the session is bucketed as direct. This will happen even if the first URL is tagged with UTM campaign parameters.

As a short-term fix, you can try to repair the damage by simply adding the missing tracking code. To prevent it happening again, carry out a thorough Analytics audit, move to a GTM-based tracking implementation, and promote a culture of data-driven marketing.

4. Improper redirection

This is an easy one. Don’t use meta refreshes or JavaScript-based redirects — these can wipe or replace referrer data, leading to direct traffic in Analytics. You should also be meticulous with your server-side redirects, and — as is often recommended by SEOs — audit your redirect file frequently. Complex chains are more likely to result in a loss of referrer data, and you run the risk of UTM parameters getting stripped out.

Once again, control what you can: use carefully mapped (i.e. non-chained) code 301 server-side redirects to preserve referrer data wherever possible.

5. Non-web documents

Links in Microsoft Word documents, slide decks, or PDFs do not pass referrer information. By default, users who click these links will appear in your reports as direct traffic. Clicks from native mobile apps (particularly those with embedded “in-app” browsers) are similarly prone to stripping out referrer data.

To a degree, this is unavoidable. Much like so-called “dark social” visits (discussed in detail below), non-web links will inevitably result in some quantity of direct traffic. However, you also have an opportunity here to control the controllables.

If you publish whitepapers or offer downloadable PDF guides, for example, you should be tagging the embedded hyperlinks with UTM campaign parameters. You’d never even contemplate launching an email marketing campaign without campaign tracking (I hope), so why would you distribute any other kind of freebie without similarly tracking its success? In some ways this is even more important, since these kinds of downloadables often have a longevity not seen in a single email campaign. Here’s an example of a properly tagged URL which we would embed as a link:

https://builtvisible.com/embedded-whitepaper-url/?utm_source=whitepaper&utm

The same goes for URLs in your offline marketing materials. For major campaigns it’s common practice to select a short, memorable URL (e.g. moz.com/tv/) and design an entirely new landing page. It’s possible to bypass page creation altogether: simply redirect the vanity URL to an existing page URL which is properly tagged with UTM parameters.

So, whether you tag your URLs directly, use redirected vanity URLs, or — if you think UTM parameters are ugly — opt for some crazy-ass hash-fragment solution with GTM (read more here), the takeaway is the same: use campaign parameters wherever it’s appropriate to do so.

6. “Dark social”

This is a big one, and probably the least well understood by marketers.

The term “dark social” was first coined back in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic. Essentially it refers to methods of social sharing which cannot easily be attributed to a particular source, like email, instant messaging, Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

Recent studies have found that upwards of 80% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now occurs via these private channels. In terms of numbers of active users, messaging apps are outpacing social networking apps. All the activity driven by these thriving platforms is typically bucketed as direct traffic by web analytics software.

People who use the ambiguous phrase “social media marketing” are typically referring to advertising: you broadcast your message and hope people will listen. Even if you overcome consumer indifference with a well-targeted campaign, any subsequent interactions are affected by their very public nature. The privacy of dark social, by contrast, represents a potential goldmine of intimate, targeted, and relevant interactions with high conversion potential. Nebulous and difficult-to-track though it may be, dark social has the potential to let marketers tap into elusive power of word of mouth.

So, how can we minimize the amount of dark social traffic which is bucketed under direct? The unfortunate truth is that there is no magic bullet: proper attribution of dark social requires rigorous campaign tracking. The optimal approach will vary greatly based on your industry, audience, proposition, and so on. For many websites, however, a good first step is to provide convenient and properly configured sharing buttons for private platforms like email, WhatsApp, and Slack, thereby ensuring that users share URLs appended with UTM parameters (or vanity/shortened URLs which redirect to the same). This will go some way towards shining a light on part of your dark social traffic.

Checklist: Minimizing direct traffic

To summarize what we’ve already discussed, here are the steps you can take to minimize the level of unnecessary direct traffic in your reports:

  1. Migrate to HTTPS: Not only is the secure protocol your gateway to HTTP/2 and the future of the web, it will also have an enormously positive effect on your ability to track referral traffic.
  2. Manage your use of redirects: Avoid chains and eliminate client-side redirection in favour of carefully-mapped, single-hop, server-side 301s. If you use vanity URLs to redirect to pages with UTM parameters, be meticulous.
  3. Get really good at campaign tagging: Even amongst data-driven marketers I encounter the belief that UTM begins and ends with switching on automatic tagging in your email marketing software. Others go to the other extreme, doing silly things like tagging internal links. Control what you can, and your ability to carry out meaningful attribution will markedly improve.
  4. Conduct an Analytics audit: Data integrity is vital, so consider this essential when assessing the success of your marketing. It’s not simply a case of checking for missing track code: good audits involve a review of your measurement plan and rigorous testing at page and property-level.

Adhere to these principles, and it’s often possible to achieve a dramatic reduction in the level of direct traffic reported in Analytics. The following example involved an HTTPS migration, GTM migration (as part of an Analytics review), and an overhaul of internal campaign tracking processes over the course of about 6 months:

But the saga of direct traffic doesn’t end there! Once this channel is “clean” — that is, once you’ve minimized the number of avoidable pollutants — what remains might actually be one of your most valuable traffic segments.

Analyze! Or: why direct traffic can actually be pretty cool

For reasons we’ve already discussed, traffic from bookmarks and dark social is an enormously valuable segment to analyze. These are likely to be some of your most loyal and engaged users, and it’s not uncommon to see a notably higher conversion rate for a clean direct channel compared to the site average. You should make the effort to get to know them.

The number of potential avenues to explore is infinite, but here are some good starting points:

  • Build meaningful custom segments, defining a subset of your direct traffic based on their landing page, location, device, repeat visit or purchase behavior, or even enhanced e-commerce interactions.
  • Track meaningful engagement metrics using modern GTM triggers such as element visibility and native scroll tracking. Measure how your direct users are using and viewing your content.
  • Watch for correlations with your other marketing activities, and use it as an opportunity to refine your tagging practices and segment definitions. Create a custom alert which watches for spikes in direct traffic.
  • Familiarize yourself with flow reports to get an understanding of how your direct traffic is converting. By using Goal Flow and Behavior Flow reports with segmentation, it’s often possible to glean actionable insights which can be applied to the site as a whole.
  • Ask your users for help! If you’ve isolated a valuable segment of traffic which eludes deeper analysis, add a button to the page offering visitors a free downloadable ebook if they tell you how they discovered your page.
  • Start thinking about lifetime value, if you haven’t already — overhauling your attribution model or implementing User ID are good steps towards overcoming the indifference or frustration felt by marketers towards direct traffic.

I hope this guide has been useful. With any luck, you arrived looking for ways to reduce the level of direct traffic in your reports, and left with some new ideas for how to better analyze this valuable segment of users.

Thanks for reading!

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