You are doing Google Analytics all wrong. Here is why


I have dealt with hundreds of Google Analytics accounts in my career and have seen lot of issues from incorrect tracking code, selecting wrong KPIs to analysing data without using custom reports & advanced segments.

All of these issues prompted me to write the articles:

#1 Google Universal Analytics Setup Checklist

#2 Common Universal Analytics Mistakes that kill your Analysis, Reporting and Conversions. 


But these articles don’t really solve the biggest problem of all, in web analytics:


‘Misinterpretation of Analytics data’

Everyone seems to be making this mistake of crediting conversions and e-commerce transactions to wrong acquisition channel and that too again and again.

Many marketers can’t help themselves because they believe that the reports provided by Google Analytics (& other web analytics softwares) are

what you see is what you get’.

But they are actually

What you interpret is what you get.

Majority of businesses and marketers even today give credit for conversions to the last campaign, ad or search that referred the visitor before he/she completed goal conversion (like making a purchase).

This has resulted in marketers taking wrong business decisions and losing money.

All of the data you see in Google Analytics Reports today lie to you unless you know exactly how to interpret it correctly.

Let us consider three different scenarios:



ga wrong

Majority of marketers looking at this standard ‘All Traffic’ report in Universal Analytics of the last 3 month will draw following conclusion:

Organic traffic is playing a secondary role to direct traffic.

Majority of traffic and revenue is coming through direct traffic.

We need to speed up content development and link building. 



One look at this monthly PPC report and many of you will declare this whole campaign a total failure.

Look at the first campaign, just one conversion in the whole month and cost per conversion is whooping $531.

You must be kidding, right?



my brand is the best

Do you really think your brand name generated revenue of more than $241k?


Welcome to the Real World

Let us analyse these three different scenarios once again but this time in the real world.



 real world1


Truth about direct traffic

All untagged or improperly tagged marketing campaigns from display ads to emails could be treated as direct traffic by Google.

Whenever a referrer is not passed, the traffic is treated as direct traffic by Google.

  • Mobile applications don’t send a referrer.
  • word/PDF documents don’t send a referrer.
  • 302 redirects sometimes caused the referrer to be dropped.
  • Sometimes browsers don’t pass the referrer.
  • During http to https redirect (or vice versa) the referrer is not passed because of security reasons.

All such traffic is treated as direct traffic by Google.

So on the surface it looks like 618,199 visits/sessions were direct, but it may actually be only 25000 sessions which were from direct traffic and the rest were from display ads, email, organic,  social media and applications/campaigns in which the referrers were not passed.

But this analysis does not end here because you are still not looking at the complete picture.

Here is the complete picture:



Visitors do not always access your website directly before they make a purchase.

They are generally exposed to multiple acquisition/marketing channels (like display ads, social media, paid search, organic search, referral websites, email etc) before they access your website directly and make a purchase.

So if you are unaware of the role played by prior acquisition channels, you will credit conversions and e-commerce transactions to wrong acquisition channels, like in the present case to direct traffic.

If you look at the chart above, organic search is playing a key role in driving direct traffic to the website which eventually resulted in conversions and ecommerce transactions.

But to get such type of understanding you need to understand and implement Attribution Modelling. So the conclusion that organic traffic is playing a second fiddle to direct traffic is incorrect.

Related Post: Geek guide to Direct Traffic Analysis




Visitors do not always click on your paid search ads before they make a purchase.

They are generally exposed to multiple acquisition/marketing channels before they click on your ad and make a purchase. Sometimes visitors may click on your ads but make a purchase through different acquisition channel or medium.

For example a person may click on your paid search ad through laptop at work. Then later make a purchase via his home desktop PC through a branded organic keyword.

Sometimes your paid search ads play a bigger role in assisting conversions than directly resulting in conversions.

The ‘conversions’ and ‘cost per conversions’ (cost/conv) reported by Google Adwords in scenario-2 above, are all based on last adwords touch attribution model (people click on ad and buy) and hence provide poor analytical insight.

When I paused these campaigns, I saw a decline in revenue. These campaigns are in fact very profitable and there assisted conversion value is also very high.

Related Post: Google Adwords Analytics – Complete Guide



my brand is the best

This scenario is not any different from scenario 1 and scenario 2. Here too you don’t see the complete picture.

Visitors do not always search for your brand name before they make a purchase.

They generally start their search with a non branded and generic search term then they refine their search queries as they get better understanding of what exactly they are looking for.

Sometimes they make a purchase right after making a search but often they come back later to your site via a branded search term.

Since website/brand name is easiest to remember among all branded search terms, it often ends up being attributed lot of conversions and transactions by Google Analytics.



{{ User Journey is Complicated }}

User do not always use the navigation path we expect them to follow. So there is no guarantee that a person who land on the website via PPC landing page will not navigate to the home page either in the same session or in some different session.

A user may visit your website the first time via paid search but can return to your website via branded organic search or directly and vice versa.

Similarly, people do not always use the same device when they return to a website.

So they may browse your service page via laptop at work and then browse the rest of the website via tablet at home and may submit the lead next day via mobile at work.

For Google Analytics the person who browsed the service page via Laptop at work is different from the person who browsed the rest of the website via tablet at home and different from the person who submit the lead via mobile the next day, as cookie information is not shared in cross device sessions.

So in such case here is how Google analytics will record user activities:

User 1 browsed the service page via Laptop but didn’t submit a lead. So adwords ad will not get credit for conversion.

User 2 browsed lot of pages on the website but didn’t submit any lead.

User 3 came to the website directly via a mobile device and submit a lead.

So user journey is very complicated and we can’t assume that only the landing pages set for PPC are important and need optimization.

If the home page is getting majority of traffic to the website, it is the number 1 candidate for optimization.


{{ Marketing Channels effect each other performance }}

Because of multi-channel and multi device attribution, any improvement or decline in the performance of one marketing channel impacts the performance of other marketing channels.

So say if you suddenly switch off all of your PPC campaigns, you are most likely to see a decline in direct traffic.

Organic traffic can impact the CTR of PPC ads as when people see double listing (both paid and organic listing) they are more likely to click on an ad. As such decline in organic traffic can reduce the CTR of PPC campaigns.

Similarly people who are exposed to a brand for the first time via Paid search may return to the website via branded organic search or directly. So any decline in PPC traffic may negatively impact branded organic search traffic or direct traffic.

In a multi-channel, multi-device world, different marketing channels and devices work together to create user experience and conversion.

So we don’t optimize just for SEO or just for PPC. We optimize for users regardless of the channel or device they come from.


1. Web analytics reports are not ‘what you see is what you get’. It is ‘what you interpret is what you get’.

2. Direct traffic is polluted. So find ways to clean it. The first step should be to correctly tag all of your campaigns URLs. Use Google Analytics URL Builder.

3. Visitors do not always access your website directly before making a purchase.

4.Visitors do not always click on your paid search ads before making a purchase.

5. Visitors do not always search for your brand name before making a purchase.

6. Understand the role, various website referrals, social media, display, email, paid/organic search etc played prior to conversions via Multi Channel FunnelReports before you discard/label any marketing channel as ineffective or over invest in any particular channel.

7. Understand how different acquisition channels work together to create conversions and transactions.

No one acquisition channel is solely responsible for sales in the world of multi channel marketing. 

So do not overestimate or underestimate the impact of other marketing channels.

8. Understand that when you change the budget of one acquisition channel it will have impact on the performance of other acquisition channels. Nothing is black and white in the world of analytics.

You can learn more about budget allocation from this article: How to allocate Budgets in Multi Channel Marketing


Attribution modeling is programmatically very difficult to implement at present but Google has taken one right step in this direction through ‘Multi Channel Funnel Reports’.

If you wish to learn more about attribution modeling and attributing conversions and ecommerce transactions to the right marketing channel then check out the following articles:

#1 Google Analytics Attribution Modeling – Beginners Guide

#2 6 Keys to Digital Success in Attribution Modelling

#3 The Geek Guide to implementing Attribution Modelling

#4 Advanced Attribution Modelling in Google Analytics

#5 Google Adwords Attribution – Complete Guide


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