skip to Main Content
Are Organic And Direct Traffic Really True?

The reason I wrote about this topic was that both clarify a wrongly known situation and also recently Turkey’s 2 important SEOs have faced problems with this issue. In this article we will find answers to the following questions:

  • Are the organic Landing Page results seen in Google Analytics really true?
  • How does an unindexed page on Google shows traffic as google/organic as a traffic source?
  • Why direct/(none) traffic in the source/medium report with the corresponding e-commerce conversion values and the conversion report with the corresponding e-commerce conversion values are different?

For starters, mentioning about the topic, giving information about the working principle of Google Analytics will actually give a clear answer to the questions above, but it would be more descriptive to illustrate in depth.

Google Analytics uses an Last Non-Direct Click Model model by default when associating a conversion value in reports other than a Multi-Channel Conversion Funnel. This is a description directly on the Google Analytics help page.

What is the Last Non-Direct Click Model?

The Last Non-Direct Click model ignores direct traffic and associates 100% of the conversion value with the last channel that the customer clicked before making a purchase or conversion.

Now, let’s put two sentences together and read them consecutively:

The Last Non-Direct Click model ignores direct traffic and associates 100% of the conversion value with the last channel that the customer clicked before making a purchase or conversion. Google Analytics uses an Last Non-Direct Click model by default when associating a conversion value in reports other than a Multi-Channel Conversion Funnel.

Means that:

The direct/(none) data contained in the source/medium report, which is one of the reports that you see as a screenshot below, is not actually giving correct values.

The biggest factor that affects the accuracy of this report is the “campaign timeout” period. This period is defined 6 months as standard when setting up Google Analytics properties. This may be reduced to 1 minute and can be extended up to 24 months. “So, what should be the ‘ campaign timeout ‘ duration?” question is the subject of another article. A subject that can vary depending on the type and scale of the site. My advice to you is not to change without a clear decision, because it will greatly affect your source reports.

What exactly do Campaign Timeout and Last Non-Direct Click mean?

Let’s say we’re reviewing a property with a campaign timeout of 6 months. A visitor with google/organic traffic source visits the site for the first time on January 1; 15 days later, without changing the browser and without clearing their cookies if user visits the site directly typing in the site name and visits the site, i.e. according to Google Analytics rules direct/(none) traffic source, it will appear as google/organic, not direct/(none) traffic in the standard source/medium report.

If the same visitor visits the site 2ndtime within same terms not 15 days later but 6 months after the “campaign timeout” period expires, we would see this as direct/(none) in the standard source/medium report.

That’s why when you’re not enabled Auto-Tagging, your traffic from your remarketing campaigns which is actually google/cpc reflected as google/organic.

Now let’s interpret the report as the screenshot above as a conversion report of the day I share.

We see that the Direct channel has brought 54 last clicks or direct conversions. The other report looked 19. Riveting it with an example will make this issue easier to understand.

Day-1: The user came to the site from an AdWords campaign. User reviewed the site but left it without making any purchases.

Day-2: The user has typed the site name directly to the browser and logged into the site. He bought the products he liked the other day. In total, user paid 200 TL.

Day-3: The user has seen Facebook ads and has learned that he will take advantage of the free shipping campaign in case of placing a new order within 2 days. User logged in to the site via UTMed link as facebook.com/cpc. User liked some products, but didn’t buy it.

Day-4: The user has re-typed the site name directly to the browser and logged in. He bought the products he liked the other day and took advantage of the free shipping campaign. The amount of this purchase was 95 USD.

In this scenario, the table that occurs for the date that contains these days in the standard source/medium report will be as follows.

source / medium sessions revenue
google / cpc 2 200 USD
direct / (none) 0 0 USD
facebook.com / cpc 2 95 USD
direct / (none) 0 0 USD

These explanations and examples are belonging third question. We have responded to the question of why the values that appear to be sources are different in different reports.

Here’s to the organic part. The following explanations and examples will also answer the 2ndquestion above.

As I said, if your second and subsequent visits occur within the time set for the campaign timeout, and this visit has one of your source’s direct/(none) scenarios, Google Analytics’ Standard reports keeps your first traffic source constant and saves your first traffic source as a source to those visits. This is because, as I mentioned above, Google Analytics uses the “Last Non-Direct Click” modeling.

In what scenarios is this a valid situation?

Let’s say  you have an e-commerce site. The user came to your site with a google/organic traffic source and added some products to the basket but did not make the purchase that day and recorded the /basket page as a bookmark in the browser. The next day the user logged into the site using that bookmark. This visit shows us that the user actually came as direct/(none). Under normal circumstances, the user’s traffic source must appear as direct/(none), and the landing page as /basket. However, due to Google’s Last Non-Direct Click modelling, this will be reflected in your reports as the traffic source google/organic, as well as the landing page, /basket. The /basket page is not indexed on Google, and you think that at the end of the day you receive organic traffic on the/basket landing page, but this situation is not true.

So, what should to do, how to read the reports?

Each site has a “goal”. This is a purchase for some sites, a content read for some, and a form filling for some. After determining the goals and KPIs of the site, it is the most accurate method to interpret the sources that help to achieve these objectives from conversion reports. This method is actually a “Multi-Channel Conversion Funnel” report in Google Analytics. It would be much more accurate to evaluate the impact of all sources, rather than evaluating the last source, or just the last source except direct.

Are my agents fooling me?

No, of course not, but they should direct you to look at the right metrics. For example, you can ask them not only to comment on the source/medium or Channels report, but also to interpret the Multi-Channel Conversion Funnel reports. However, I recommend that you focus on user metrics, not session metrics.

So, what should I do?

You can take both types of reports into consideration, but I think, you should do your basic assessment through the Multi-Channel Conversion Funnel. I also think your campaign timeout will help you get more accurate results if you’re aware of the period. I encourage you to make a decision with the analyst, SEO and performance agency that you have received support for.

Berkan Bagci

I am an online marketer who focused on web analytics for years. I did lots of GTM and GA setups for big websites in Turkey. Also I made a success story with Google Optimize and it has released on Jan 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top