Mind the Gap: Improving Referral Information with Universal Analytics

The following is a guest post contributed by Dan Wilkerson, marketing manager at LunaMetrics, a Google Analytics Certified Partner & Digital Marketing Consultancy.

A core issue with measuring social media is that due to the way that traffic migrates around the web, there are lots of situations where we lose referrer information and those visits end up being labeled as 'Direct' inside of our analytics.

This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the most common situations where this kind of erroneous attribution occurs are:
  • When a user clicks an untagged link inside an email
  • When a user visits from a mobile application
  • When a user clicks a link shared to them via an instant message
If a visitor has come to your site previously, Google Analytics will simply apply the same referral information it had for their previous visit, which it retrieves from the UTMZ cookie it previously saved on the visitor's browser. But, if there are no cookies, Analytics has no information, and buckets the visitor into Direct.

Obviously, this is problematic; 'Direct' is supposed to represent visitors who bookmark or directly type in our URL. These users are accessing our site through a shared link, and should be counted as referrals. Thankfully, we have some tools at our disposal to combat some of these scenarios, most notably campaign parameters. But campaign parameters only help with links that you share; what about when a visitor comes to your site and shares the link themselves?

These visits can cause serious problems when it comes time to analyze your data. For example, we offer Google Analytics & AdWords training. Most of our attendees are sponsored by their employers. This means they visit our site, scope out our training, and then email a link to a procurement officer, who clicks through and makes the purchase. Since the procurement officer comes through on the emailed link and has never visited our site, the conversion gets bucketed into 'Direct / None' and we lose all of the visit data for the employee who was interested in the first place. This can compound into a sort of feedback loop - the only data we see would be for individuals who buy their own tickets, meaning we might optimize our marketing for smaller businesses that send us less attendees. In other words, we'd be interpreting data from the wrong customers. Imagine how this kind of feedback loop might impact a B2B trying to generate enterprise-level leads - since they'd only see information on the small fry, they could wind up driving more of the wrong kind of lead to their sales team, and less of the right kind.

For a long time, this has been sort of the status quo. Now, with new features available in Universal Analytics, we have some tools we can employ to combat this problem. In this post, I want to share with you a solution that I've developed to reduce the amount of Direct traffic. We're calling it DirectMonster, and we're really excited to make it open source and available to the Google Analytics community.

What is DirectMonster?
DirectMonster is a JavaScript plug-in for Google Analytics that appends a visitor's referral information as ciphered campaign parameters as an anchor of the current URL. The result looks something like this:

When the visitor copies and shares the URL from the toolbar, they copy that stored referral information along with it. When someone without referral information lands on the site through a link with those encoded parameters, the script decodes that information as campaign parameters to pass along to Google Analytics, waits until Analytics writes a fresh UTMZ cookie, and then ciphers, encodes, and re-appends the visitors current referral information. It also appends '-slb' to the utm_content parameter. That way, those visits can be segmented from 'canonical' referrals for later analysis, if necessary. The visitor who would have had no referral information now is credited as being referred from the same source as the visitor who shared the link with them. This means that visits that normally would have been erroneously segmented as 'Direct / None' will now more accurately reflect the channel that deserves credit for the visit. 

At first, this might seem wrong - shouldn't we just let Analytics do its job and not interfere? But, the fact is that those visits aren't really Direct, at least not in its truest interpretation, and having 'assisted referrer' channel information gives you actionable insight. Plus, by weeding out those non-Direct scenarios, your Direct / None numbers will start to more accurately represent visitors who come to your site directly, which can be very important for other measurement and attribution. It's actually better all the way around. After all, if a Facebook share is what ultimately drove that visitor to your site, isn't having that information more valuable than having nothing at all? This way, you'll have last-click attribution for conversions that otherwise would have simply been bucketed as Direct. Of course, you won't have the visit history of the assisting referrer, but... well, more on that soon.

We've been fine-tuning this on our site for the past few months, and we've been able to greatly enhance our conversion attribution accuracy. In our video case study, I mentioned that we enhanced attribution by 47.5%; since that time, we've seen the accuracy of our data continue to climb; whereas before, we were seeing 'Direct / None' account for 45.5% of our conversions, it now accounts for just 20.6% - a decrease of 54.7%. Better yet, look at what it's done to all of our traffic:

We've gone from having about 20-25% of our traffic come in 'Direct / None' to just under 15%, and I anticipate that number will continue to fall.

DirectMonster and Universal Analytics
One of the coolest features that Universal Analytics has given us is Custom Dimensions. If you're not familiar with them, take a minute and read the Google Developer Resources page about what they are and how they work. Although initially designed for the asynchronous code, Universal Analytics has allowed us to put DirectMonster on steriods. 

In our Universal implementation, we store the visitors CID as a visit-level custom dimension, and we add their CID to the hashed parameters we're already storing in the anchor of their URL. 

When a visitor comes through on a link with a CID that differs from their own, we capture the stored CID as the Assisted Referrer. Then, we can open up our Custom Reports later on and view what visitors were referred to our site by whom, and what they did when they got there.

What does this mean? If a celebrity tweets a link to your product, you can discover exactly how many visitors they referred, and how much revenue those visitors generated. 

By cross-referencing the Assisted CID for single-visit 'Direct / None' purchases, you can discover the true visit history of a conversion.

Since it takes advantage of advanced Universal Analytics functionality, DirectMonster 2.0 requires some advanced implementation as well. Unlike its cousin, you'll need to adjust your Analytics tracking code to include a few functions, and you'll need to configure the Custom Dimensions you'll be storing a visitors CID and assisted referrers CID inside of. For a full reference on how to get either version of DirectMonster and configure it for your site, check out our blog post covering the topic in detail here or visit our GitHub page and get DirectMonster for yourself. 

I hope that you're as excited as I am about this development and all of the things Universal Analytics is enabling us to do. Think of a use case I didn't mention? Share it with me in the comments!

Posted by Dan Wilkerson, marketing manager at LunaMetrics

Measure What Matters—A Better Approach to Social Attribution

Webinar on Tuesday 7/16
Register for the webinar here.

When it comes to web analytics, one of the biggest complaints from marketers has long been the lack of technology to measure the ROI of social media. Thanks to our exciting integration between Google Analytics and Wildfire by Google that was first announced at thinkDoubleClick in June, those blind spots are now a thing of the past. This webinar will demonstrate how social media impacts the customer journey and then show you how Google Analytics lets you measure that influence in detail.

We’ll start by showing you the best way to set up your modeling and reporting to include all your social marketing efforts. Then we’ll give you a live demo of the Google Analytics integration with Wildfire. Now you’ll be able to see exactly how each and every social message and page published with Wildfire drives traffic and revenue to your website.

The webinar features Adam Singer, Product Marketing Manager for Google Analytics and Jessica Gilmartin, the Head of Product Marketing for Wildfire by Google. They’ll be joined by Adam Kuznia, Social Media Manager for Maryland Live! Casino, who will share the story of how he built the gaming industry’s largest East Coast social media community from scratch in just six months using Wildfire and Google Analytics, and proved to his management team the ROI of social.

This webinar is Part 1 of a three-part educational series introducing Google and Wildfire analytics integrations, so be sure not to miss it.

Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Time: 10am PDT / 1pm EDT/ 5pm GMT
Duration: 1 hr

Level: 101 / Beginner

Register here.

Improving The Activity Stream In Social Reports

We’ve redesigned the Google Analytics Social Reports to make it easier to see the conversations and activity happening surrounding your content on our Social Data Hub Partners. We’re introducing 2 new reports that make it easier to consume this data:
  • Data Hub Activity
  • Trackbacks
The activity stream was previously available via drill down from the Network Referrals or Landing Pages reports. We have now made it a standalone report. By navigating to the Data Hub Activity report you’ll see a timeline of the number of activities that have occurred in the Social Data Hub and the raw activities in a list below. You can also filter this list by any specific networks you choose. 

We’re also excited to announce that Trackbacks are now available in a standalone report. Trackbacks are all of your inbound links across the web, so you’ll be informed if anyone from a small to blog to the New York Times posts a link to your site. Additionally, we are providing context for the significance of each of these trackbacks by displaying the number of visits that were driven by each endorsing URL during the reporting period. You’ll see this number presented alongside the trackback. 
Image via Google’s Analytics Advocate, Justin Cutroni 
Give them a try and happy analyzing!

Posted by Linus Chou, Product Manager, Google Analytics

Fueling discoverability and engagement with Google+

Automotive brands were among the first advertisers to adopt Google+ and they’re making it pay off in big ways. Our research has shown that the path to buying a car is becoming more and more social, with consumers relying on information and advice from their social connections and brands to inform their purchase. Millions of consumers are already engaging with the top global auto companies on Google+, and brands are using this opportunity to connect and engage with customers in unique ways, from connecting with auto enthusiasts through G+ Communities to launching new car models via Hangouts.

Today we’re releasing new insights on how Google+ is working to amplify auto brands’ existing marketing campaigns. For example, we found that brands can experience a 91% increase in conversion rate for non-brand terms when running social annotations on search ads.

Please check out our infographic below for additional insights and tips, and visit our Google+ Business site to learn more about Google+.

Posted by Gretchen Howard, Director of Global Social Solutions

Grow your audience across devices with Google+ Sign-In

Starting today, you can offer users the option to sign in to your website or mobile app with their Google credentials, and bring along their Google+ info for an upgraded experience.

In addition to secure authentication, Google+ Sign-In includes features to accelerate app downloads and deepen engagement (like over-the-air Android installs from your website, and interactive posts).

Read the official announcement on the Google+ Developers Blog, or get started right away with our developer docs.

 Was this blog post useful? Share your feedback with us.

Social Fridays: A recap

Over the past weeks, we’ve shown you through our Social Friday series how to get up and running with a Google+ strategy for your site and online business. We hope our posts and recent Hangout On Air have helped you learn more about what’s possible with Google+, and that you now have new ideas for optimizing the performance of your +page. Below is a list of the subjects we’ve covered, in case you’d like to review them.

Help your site stand out with the +1 button
Create a Google+ page to connect with users
Use images to deliver a richer experience
Gain visibility by verifying your Google+ page
See how your content was shared on Google+
Track and measure the performance of your +page
The New York Times uses Hangouts on Air to cover breaking news
Temptalia discovers the beauty of Google+
Using Google+, Brazilian news portal Estadão merges news with discussion
Google+ proves a recipe for success for Epicurious.com

Before we draw our series to a close, we’d like to encourage you to register for our upcoming social-focused webinar entitled ‘Grow and engage your audience with Google+’. This webinar will take place Tuesday, November 13th at 12pm PT (8pm GMT), and will discuss how social media is impacting online publishers . If you’re not able to attend the webinar, the recording will be posted to this site.

Thanks for following along with Social Fridays -- we’ll continue to post Google+ updates and tips for publishers here and on our AdSense +page, so stay tuned. Have a great weekend!

Posted by Arlene Lee - Inside AdSense Team

Announcing the Learn with Google webinar series for publishers

As we’re nearing the end of 2012, we’ve all got business goals to meet. Some of you might even be prepping for your busiest season. Today we’re excited to announce the launch of the Learn with Google series to help our publishers make the most from the web.  We’ll be hosting two upcoming webinars as part of our Learn with Google program:  

    Google+ for publishers: Grow and engage your audience with Google+
    Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 12:00pm PT / 3:00pm ET

    Join us for a discussion on how social media is impacting online publishers and how Google thinks about social. We'll also cover how you can grow and engage your audience on the web and mobile with Google+ using Google+ pages, the +1 button, Hangouts, and Authorship.

    Navigating Google's Mobile Ads Ecosystem
    Wednesday, November 28, at 12:30pm PT / 3:30pm ET

    Ever wonder who the buyers are in Google's mobile ads ecosystem and how their ads reach your inventory? Join us to learn the inner workings of Google's mobile ads ecosystem, including an overview of Google demand sources and the different channels advertisers can use buy your mobile inventory.

    Visit the webinar page for more information on these two events and to register. You can also stay up-to-date on the schedule by adding the Learn with Google webinar calendar to your own Google calendar.

    We look forward to hosting many more Learn with Google webinars for our publishers.

    Posted by Faith Rosen, Product Marketing Manager

    Social Fridays: Google+ proves a recipe for success for Epicurious.com

    Every Friday, we’re posting Google+ tips to help publishers make the most of all of the features and resources available. Be sure to check back each week for the latest in our educational Social Fridays series!

    A Condé Nast site, Epicurious.com publishes original content from its own editors and leading food authorities from around the world every day. It incorporates more than 30,000 professionally tested and created recipes from celebrity chefs, premier food journalists and renowned cookbook authors, as well as 200,000 member-submitted recipes. Epicurious launched its Google+ page only late last year, and has now grown to over 2 million followers. Achieving the impressive milestone is down to a combination of factors: installing social sharing utilities on the Epicurious site, developing content tailored specifically to both the Google+ interface and to its audience, and embracing the features that are unique to the platform.

    “We started projecting growth based on similar growth with new networks,” says Jennifer Gaonach, Digital Consumer Marketing Director, Condé Nast, about their early days on the platform. “But we’ve exceeded the expected growth by many times. It’s great to see; by far it’s our largest network. It’s really taken off.”
    A number of slick design features at Epicurious.com help visitors share content and easily interact with the Google+ page. There’s a social sharing sidekick on the site that floats in the left margin alongside most content, as well as a ‘Connect with Epicurious’ module featuring social networks that sits on the top of the ad rail. These social networks also appear in the Epicurious email templates.

    Epicurious continues to refine its content strategy to best suit Google+ followers. “We really want to understand how we can engage these users and give them a great experience, and then when it makes sense, drive them back to Epicurious.com,” explains Jennifer. “As our audience has been growing, our editors have increased the frequency of our posts so that anyone who’s following us can know the latest article that’s being posted.” The team usually adds between three and five posts a day, and have found that visual content on Google+ performs particularly well.

    Social Reports in Google Analytics reveal that users coming to Epicurious from Google+ are more engaged than visitors from other social media platforms. Google+ is in the top 10 social referrers to the Epicurious pages, and the average visit duration from Google+ is 12% longer than it is from other social media platforms. The number of pages viewed per visit from these users is among the highest of all platforms too.

    What’s next? The Epicurious team plans to use Hangouts – high-quality videoconference functionality on Google+ – to create even deeper experiences for followers, including cook-alongs and exclusive chef chats.

    Hungry for more? Read the full case study on Epicurious.com’s use of Google+, and feel free to leave a comment on our AdSense +page about this story.

    Posted by Arlene Lee - Inside AdSense Team

    Take your social strategy to the next level with Learn with Google Hangouts and Webinars

    Over the next few weeks, we’re offering five opportunities to learn more about Google+ for your business. We kick off with a Learn with Google Hangout on Air with bestselling author +Chris Brogan on November 5th at 10am PT / 1pm ET. Chris will cover tactics for successful social marketing and discuss his new book, “Google+ for Business: How Google's Social Network Changes Everything.” RSVP for the Hangout on the Google+ Event page.

    Learn Chris’s recipes for how to grow and engage your Google+ community to build your brand and drive your business’s visibility and conversions. Hear about Chris’s own experiences helping companies succeed in their content marketing and social projects. Chris Brogan is a New York Times bestselling author, CEO of Human Business Works, and advises companies on marketing, business strategy, communications and more.

    If you have a question for Chris, leave your question as a comment on the Google+ Event.

    Boost your success with Google+

    Want to learn more about using Google+ for your business? Sign up for our Learn with Google webinars. Here are some great upcoming webinars to help you get the most out of social for your business:

    • Social Media Best Practices for a Successful Holiday Season (Wed, Oct 31, 10am PT / 1pm ET)
    • Social that Adds Up: Performance and Measurement (Thurs, Nov 8, 10am PT / 1pm ET)
    • Supercharge your Social Media Initiatives with Video (Wed, Nov 14, 10am PT / 1pm ET)
    • Building a Digital Brand with Google+ (Thurs, Dec 6, 10am PT / 1pm ET)

    Social Fridays: Using Google+, Brazilian news portal Estadão merges news with discussion

    Every Friday, we’re posting Google+ tips to help publishers make the most of all of the features and resources available. Be sure to check back each week for the latest in our educational Social Fridays series!

    While the world of communications has changed quite a bit since the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo was founded in 1875, sharing high-quality news, analysis and reporting has remained its constant goal. In order to provide information in real time, the influential paper launched the portal Estadao.com.br in March 2000. And with social media a growing priority, Estadão launched its +Estadão page on Google+ in the second half of 2011.

    According to Digital Content Director Claudia Belfort, an early discovery was that Google+ offered a slightly different opportunity from other social media channels already in use by Estadão. “I realized that the comments on Google+ were more elaborate. Our followers are very interested in contributing to a discussion so we decided to invest more, always with this focus.”
    Over time, Estadão has built Google+ into its content strategy as a result of the platform’s unique ability to stimulate conversation and discussion. Cláudia believes that Estadão’s audience is interested in a network that’s not just social, but also enables knowledge exchange. With this in mind, the team publishes content specifically relevant to Google+ followers, rather than replicating the same content across all of the social media outlets that Estadão uses. They’ve found that the network responds particularly well to serious themes, so posts cover topics like economics, politics and current affairs, often with an informal tone.

    But it’s not only the exchange of ideas through the written word that Google+ facilitates for the newspaper. Estadão takes advantage of the visual strengths of the platform by posting full images, captivating video content and stimulating face-to-face discussion through frequent Hangouts, the free, high-quality video chat feature unique to Google+. Plenty of creative channel-specific initiatives are underway: a daily video of economic analysis, a nightly podcast summarizing the main news of the day and a weekly trailer previewing new cinema releases.
    Estadão uses Google Analytics to understand visitor behavior, and it’s clear that Google+ is having a positive effect on traffic to the portal. Over a five-month period, Analytics showed that visitors to the Estadão site from the Google+ page increased 540%. At the same time, this traffic generated an uplift in page views per visit of 18%. Currently, the Estadão Google+ page has over 500,000 followers.

    Want to replicate the brand’s success? Read all about it in the full case study, and feel free to share your experiences with us on our AdSense +page.

    Posted by Arlene Lee - Inside AdSense Team