How Google Analytics attribute conversions to Direct Traffic?

Today I am going to reveal one of the most kept secrets in Google Analytics which will fundamentally change the way you look at revenue and conversions generated through direct traffic.

What you probably don’t know is, how Google Analytics attributes conversions to Direct Traffic.

Direct traffic is a SEO killer which I have said and proved several times through various case studies and conversion segments:

Truth about direct traffic (The old news)

All untagged or improperly tagged marketing campaigns from display ads to emails can 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.

Source: You are doing Google Analytics all wrong. Here is why

For all the avid readers of my blog, this is an old news.

So, what is the new news then?

Google Analytics Attribute Conversions to direct traffic in TWO ways

1. In case of non-multi channel funnel reports in Google Analytics, the conversion is attributed to the previous non-direct campaign/traffic source if there is one.

For example:

If a person clicked on an organic search listing to visit your website and then later returned to your website directly and made a purchase then Google will attribute conversion to the organic search and not to the direct traffic.

Lets say a user visit your website through a keyword ‘excel for seo‘.

A few days later, he came directly to your website.

Now in Google Analytics non-multi channel funnel reports, you will see the user’s activity in your report like this:

Keyword “excel for seo” – visits: 2
Direct – Visits: 0

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2. In case of multi channel funnel reports in Google Analytics, the conversion is attributed to the direct traffic (provided direct traffic is the last interaction) even if previous campaign/source is non-direct.

For example:

If a person clicked on an organic search listing to visit your website and then later returned to your website directly and made a purchase then Google will attribute conversion to the direct traffic and not to the organic search.

Lets say a user visit your website through a keyword ‘Facebook Analytics‘.

A few days later, he came directly to your website

Now in Google Analytics multi channel funnel reports you will see the user’s activity in your report like this:

Keyword “Facebook Analytics” – visits: 1
Direct – Visits: 1

So Google attributes conversions to direct traffic in 2 ways and not just in one way.

Feel free to confirm my findings yourself.

Takeaway

When you are analysing the impact of direct traffic on your business bottom-line, it is wise to look and draw conclusions from the non-multi channel funnel reports rather than the multi channel funnel reports, as non-multi channel funnel reports present true customer buying behavior in case of direct traffic.

Related Article: Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

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Himanshu Sharma

Certified web analyst and founder of OptimizeSmart.com

My name is Himanshu Sharma and I help businesses find and fix their Google Analytics and conversion issues. If you have any questions or comments please contact me.

  • Over twelve years' experience in SEO, PPC and web analytics
  • Google Analytics certified
  • Google AdWords certified
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Award for Excellence
  • Bachelors degree in Internet Science
  • Founder of OptimizeSmart.com and EventEducation.com

I am also the author of four books:

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