Google Analytics offers acquisition metrics that help site owners determine if they need to put in more work on social media platforms and Search Engine Optimization. While it’s easy to look at how many likes and shares you have on your Facebook pages or see how well your site ranks against others by running Google searches yourself, these methods really do not give you real-world content viewing metrics. Engaging your audience is an important part of social media, but if you’re pushing content looking at how many people actually view that content is the most important measurement of how well it is doing. If you’re paying freelance writers to handle your weekly blogs, you probably want to know how many people are coming across those through searches and social media. If you install Google Analytics on your site and check the “Overview” page under the Acquisitions tab you have an interest breakdown that can help you determine where you need to focus your attention to bring in more site traffic. The page breaks traffic down into different groups that measure what percentage of your traffic comes from different source types which tell you how viewers found your content.
Traffic Source Types
- Direct: This is traffic that comes from Bookmarks and people entering the site’s URL. This is the most consistent metric.
- Organic Search: This is traffic that comes from web search results via sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
- Social: This metric counts visits from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
- Referral: If another site posts a link to your content, any traffic that comes from that link is marked as a referral. This is the least consistent metric and can throw your ratings off if your content gets picked up by another site or goes viral.
Using Direct as a Control: SEO vs. Social
Of all the metrics, the number of people that are counted in the “Direct” traffic pool are the most likely to remain consistent as your site viewership grows. While it’s not perfect science, the “Direct” percentage serves as a control group to compare the other site measurement metrics. If a site sees a decline in “Direct” traffic percent, it is an indication that the site is performing better in another area, whereas an increase in “Direct” traffic percentage implies problems.
You can use this information to determine if you need to revisit your SEO and social media practices by comparing your “Direct” percentage against those for “Organic Search” and “Social Media.” If you’re getting less traffic through searches or social media as a percentage than from “Direct” you may have a problem in the respective category. “Organic Search” and “Social Media” percentages under 15 indicate a severe problem that’s costing your site traffic. This comparison metric doesn’t tell you what is wrong or problematic with your content for attracting more views, but it does tell you where you should start looking. You can also measure progress by using the “Acquisition Overview” information in monthly or quarterly segments to see if the changes you’ve made are helping. Keep in mind that progress over time is more important than what the acquisition numbers initially read.
There is a known issue that makes “Direct” numbers look larger than reality at the expense of “Organic Search” numbers. Since you are comparing percentages and change with the tool it doesn’t disqualify using “Direct” as a metric. According to Search Engine Land, Groupon discovered that 60 percent of their traffic that was being registered as “Direct” was actually “Organic Search” traffic. If the traffic is going to a site with a very long URL or the browser blocks visit tracking, Google Analytics will count the hit as “Direct” even though it is “Organic Search.” When comparing your traffic data, you can opt to compensate for this discrepancy. However, when comparing progress this isn’t a necessary step.
Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.