Yesterday, during my normal browsing / question-answering time over on the Google Analytics Help Forum, I ran across a thread where a few folks were not seeing traffic from their bit.ly URLs in their Google Analytics profiles. For those of you who do not know what they are, or might have seen them somewhere before, bit.ly is a URL shortening website, where you can enter in a long URL and make it very short. Websites like bit.ly, SnipURL, Tiny.cc, and several others have become mega-popular over the last few years, as they have become vital in allowing people to share links via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve even started to see them appear in some newsletters and promotional emails as well.
While bit.ly type websites are great, they actually present an analytics tracking challenge. These sites typically redirect users from their website to your destination website, which causes Google Analytics to treat any visitor clicking on one of these links as “direct”, even though they really originated from your Facebook page, your monthly newsletter, or a press release (So technically, not tagging these URLs will also pollute your direct traffic segment, which was our blog post from earlier in the week).
So, what can you do to properly track your shortened URLs in Google Analytics? Take the following 4 steps for short URL tracking success:
1. Grab Your Destination URL – Copy the URL of the page that you ultimately want your visitors to land on.
2. Run it through the Google Analytics Tool: URL Builder – The URL Builder Tool will append the necessary query parameters to the end of your destination URL. This is the same page that is used when marketers want to track their non-AdWords cost-per-click traffic in GA.
3. Run your new URL through bit.ly (or your favorite URL shortener) – Copy your newly created URL and paste it into the URL shortening tool – you should now have a very short, but analytics-trackable URL.
4. Test your short link – Click on your short URL and make sure the long string of query parameters that you copied from step 2 appears in the address bar of your favorite browser. If the query parameters are there – and your destination page has the Google Analytics Tracking Code correctly installed – you should begin to see visits from your short URL in your All Traffic Sources report, within the Traffic Sources section. It’s a bit of a manual process – especially if you have a lot of short URLs everywhere – but it’s completely worth the time that it takes to run them through the URL Builder and appropriately track the visits off of these links in Google Analytics. The hard part will be figuring out what to use for the Source, Medium, and Campaign dimensions, because that is what is going to control how the data appears.
My advice: use a short, common-sense naming convention, and you really can’t go wrong.
Even though Direct Traffic is not what you thought it was, it is still a segment of traffic worthy of your valuable time. If your analytics data is currently suffering from self-referrals, redirects, or untagged email marketing campaigns, then today’s thread should be of great interest to you, as your direct traffic volume could be artificially inflated.
What exactly is “Direct Traffic”?
Direct traffic is traffic that comes to you “directly”, without the help of an organic, referral, or cost-per-click source. Folks who type in your website’s URL manually into their browser’s address bar, or folks who copy / paste your URL into the address bar are counted by Google Analytics (and most other Web Analytics platform) as “direct”.
What else can be counted as “direct” traffic?
If someone visited your website by manually typing or copy / pasting your URL into their address bar, and they bookmark your site and visit you again from that bookmark, they will be counted as “direct”. This is the good kind of direct traffic. The bad kind of direct traffic – the kind that can be destroying and polluting this valuable segment – can be caused by redirects, improper / incorrect tagging set-up, and things like banners and email campaigns that are not tagged for Google Analytics (or your favorite WA program).
How do I fix these issues?
It depends on the complexity and severity of your situation, but there is no reason why you can’t collect proper, unpolluted direct traffic data. If you are doing banner advertising or email blasts, ensure that every single link embedded within the email or every destination URL of your banners is tagged for analytics. Google Analytics offers a URL Tool Builder page that can quickly set this up for you for free.
If your site is redirecting visitors, ensure that all pages have the necessary tracking code present (even on the redirecting page itself). However, if at all possible, try to slow down the redirect, so that the tracking codes have time to fire off.
If your site spans multiple domains, please ensure that both sites and all links to and from each site are properly set-up, according to your vendor’s specifications on tracking 3rd party websites. Any analytics program will be able to do this – visit the help section of your site or contact your account rep for assistance.
It bears repeating that there should be NO REASON why your direct traffic should be a big bucket of traffic from lots of different types of sources that couldn’t be tagged properly or coded correctly. Ask your email vendor / media manager / press release guru to help you with tagging / coding issues (and if they give you any grief, tell them I said it was very important :)).
Everything is tagged and coded properly, and my direct traffic is only counting what it’s supposed to count. What next?
For the most part, your direct traffic will remain fairly steady from month to month, with the occasional lift or dip here and there. Hopefully, over the long haul, your direct traffic will have increased, as your website becomes more and more popular over time. However, if you do any type of offline advertising (TV, Radio, Print), you can use the direct traffic segment to evaluate the success / failure of your offline efforts. Did you just run a commercial on prime-time network TV featuring your website’s URL? Check your analytics data the next morning and you’ll probably find a nice spike in direct traffic. The same thing happens when your monthly catalog or special offer gets delivered to your customer’s mail boxes. Collect a few of these spikes from offline efforts and in a couple of months you may be able to gauge the pulse of your offline audience and how they respond to what you are sending them / showing them.
Your direct traffic can also increase if your latest press release just got sent out, or you just turned up the dial on your Google AdWords campaign – not everyone clicks on a link, sometimes, they copy / paste it, which will count them as direct, despite your proper implementation. For this small group of copy / pasters out there, there really isn’t anything you can do, but you should be confident enough with your clean data to still obtain great insights anyway.
Direct traffic doesn’t have to be a big pile of unorganized and useless data. It can be exactly what you thought it was, as long as you put in the work to make it happen.
Bounce Rate – the most popular two words in Web Analytics today. It’s become a cliche, a catch-phrase if you will. Everyone is talking about Bounce Rate and how good, how bad, how low or how high it is, and quite a number of folks have started to use Bounce Rate as an evaluation metric for success. I can safely speak for everyone involved with Google Analytics when I extend a huge “Thank You!” to all of you who have embraced it!
Interestingly, Bounce Rate is one of the only metrics in Web Analytics that we want less of. We want lower bounce rates, not higher, and fewer bounces, not more. A question I get asked at least three times a week by clients and co-workers alike is “How do we lower our Bounce Rate?” There are a lot of things that you can do, but there are only so many options that have proven to be effective over time. Today, let me share with you five different things that you can do – today – to start decreasing your bounce rate, by keeping your website’s visitors engaged with your website.
1. A “Higher” Call-To-Action
Have you ever heard the expression “Out of Sight, Out of Mind“? A persuasive and engaging call-to-action that is very low on a page, say, below the fold of a page, can cause visitors to lose focus and get distracted by your content / video / latest web 2.0 toy, which may cause the visitor to hit the back button or close their browser before visiting the next page on your site. No matter how nice of a call-to-action you have and no matter how attractive the offer or pitch may be, it needs to be highly visible to your website’s audience so that they can react (positively) to it and click on it, thereby lower the number of folks who bounce off of the page.
2. A Sync with your Ads and your Landing Pages
No, I’m not talking about N’Sync – I’m talking about a strong connection between the ads and the messaging you are using with the page that you are directing all of your future visitors to go to. One of the biggest factors that could be driving your Bounce Rates higher and higher is a mixed message that you are sending to your potential visitors. For example, if your ad copy says “15% Off!”, you need to make sure that “15% Off!” is the very first thing that a visitor sees when they hit your website. If you have “multiple sizes and colors available”, direct the visitor to a page where they can choose their favorite color and the right size. Using a promo code in your ad? Create a unique landing page and have the promo code appear right away on the page, so that visitors will feel the connection between your marketing message and what’s really happening on the website.
3. Improper Tagging on your Website Pages
A silent but very deadly killer, untagged pages of your website can only do your website harm. When some pages are missing the Google Analytics Tracking Code, visitors reaching those pages will have their referral cookie updated, thereby resetting information like “google / organic”, the campaign, and the keyword they used to reach you. At all times, when uploading a new page or section to your site, stop and make sure that the Google Analytics Tracking Code is present on your new page(s) first before uploading. This will save you a lot of head-scratching, unnecessary report ugliness, and will decrease your Bounce Rate, all at the same time!
4. Writing for your audience
Khrysti / SEO Team – I haven’t forgotten about you, because I am still writing “Content Is King!” That statement definitely translates to the Analytics side of things, and helps reduce your Bounce Rate. Use a combination of Google Insights for Search, Google Ad Planner and Google Trends for Websites to get an idea of the type of traffic that your website can receive, as well as valuable demographic information which could represent your future audience. Once you are comfortable with the type of audience and volume you expect to receive, write your website’s content appropriately and specifically targeted, so that visitors will feel a connection with what you’re saying. To use an exaggerated example, you wouldn’t want to talk about the fashion stylings of the cast of “The Hills” if your website sells motorcycle insurance (This, unfortunately, happens a lot on the web and it leads to a high number of bounces).
5. Testing, Testing, 1…2…3!
Finally, it’s essential that you incorporate some program of testing and experimentation on your website on a weekly or monthly basis. Each and every week (or few weeks), you should think about some element of your website or some element of an advertisement that you’ll want to experiment with, to see which version is the more profitable and successful one. Google Website Optimizer is a fantastic product where you can easily create as many experiments as you’d like, and see clear results in no time. You can also create a Website Optimizer experiment from start to finish in well under 10 minutes, which means you won’t have to be bogged down with hours of set-up and design time. Testing and experimentation with Google Website Optimizer is one of the best ways to decrease your Bounce Rate over the long-run, while sky-rocketing your conversion rates at the same time!
So there you have it – 5 great things that you can do today to start lowering your Bounce Rate, keeping your website’s visitors engaged, focused, and happy with you!