Google Analytics is a web analytics service which tracks and reports website traffic. The web app is very easy to use and manage. However, there are some important website insights which Google Analytics will not provide you with.

Source/Medium

“How many people visit my website”, is often the first question that comes into the minds of webmasters. This question almost immediately gets followed by: “where do all these people come from”. In other words, what source brought them to my website?

The answer to this question is easily found in Google Analytics. Just click on: Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium. Unfortunately you’ll immediately get confronted with two famous words: (direct) / (none), like the example below:

In other words, we have over 60% of traffic unaccounted for; it’s just unknown, undefined.  In order to prevent this blog to get very technical, I’ll not discuss how Google Analytics attributes traffic. No, instead I’ll explain when traffic will be marked as (direct)/(none) and how UTM codes can help you lower the corresponding percentage.

Which traffic is unknown?

There are many reasons why your website traffic is recorded as unknown. The most common are:

The user typed your URL directly into their browser

This type of traffic will immediately explain a lot of (direct)/(none) traffic for pages with easy URLs, such as the homepage. It will definitely not explain traffic to pages with a more complex URL, like https://example.com/blog/online-marketing/google-analytics/utm-codes-explained/.

The user bookmarked your website

This feature could explain (direct)/(none) traffic to URLs with a more complex structure. However, if you ask my opinion, I don’t think a lot of people will bookmark pages and visit them regularly.

The user clicked on a link in an e-mail

Allright, never click on a link in an e-mail that looks suspicious. Phishing is booming business, so make sure to check the sender, the subject, and hoover on the link before clicking it. Nevertheless, this reason can explain a lot of (direct)/(none) traffic. The good part about it? This type of traffic is eligible for a workaround with UTM codes. Bear with me, I’ll tell you all about UTM codes in 2 minutes.

The user clicked on a link in a PDF or Office document

Another candidate for UTM codes!

You used URL shorteners

First of all, when you use UTM codes you should definitely use URL shorteners like bit.ly or ow.ly. So why does this type of traffic gets mentioned here? That’s because URL shorteners tend to create separate URLs that they 301-redirect to your website. So if you don’t mark your URL, Google Analytics will definitely file this traffic as (direct)/(none).

Your website is still not secure (http)

Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; all common sources for your website traffic. However, all these websites run on https. When a user arrives on your non-secured website the browser will not pass on data. In other words, switch to https! Google encourages website owners to switch as well as they marked SSL to be an important aspect for search engine ranking.

UTM codes to the rescue!

Finally, after all this background information we’ve arrived to the main topic of this blog. Let’s start solving the (direct)/(none) issue! With Google’s Urchin Tracking Modules (UTM) you can differentiate your links and simply tag the URL with the corresponding source/medium. In that case you can, yourself, provide Google Analytics with a lot more information than it would normally receive.

First, open Google Analytics’ Campaign URL Builder and paste your URL. Now, start adding additional parameters to your URL. I’d recommend you’d always fill in source, medium and campaign. When you’re getting more and more acquainted with UTM codes and the reporting in Google Analytics you can start adding keywords and content to your AdWords URLs as well.

UTM example

Okay, so let’s say I’ve created a new blogpost and I want to share it with the world through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and an email newsletter. This might come as a surprise to you, but in order to differentiate your links, you need to create four different URLs. This might sound like a lot of work, but always keep in mind the big amount of data you’ll receive through this hard work.

https://example.com/blog/online-marketing/google-analytics/utm-codes-explained/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=online&utm_campaign=february2019

https://example.com/blog/online-marketing/google-analytics/utm-codes-explained/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweet&utm_campaign=february2019

https://example.com/blog/online-marketing/google-analytics/utm-codes-explained/?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=online&utm_campaign=february2019

https://example.com/blog/online-marketing/google-analytics/utm-codes-explained/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=february2019

After using UTM codes for a while you’ll notice a change in the amount of (direct)/(none) traffic in your Google Analytics account. You gain more and more insight in your website traffic. By adding the campaign parameter to your URL, you can also compare effectiveness of your campaigns. Just click on Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns. And believe me, the more insights you’ll get, the more you’ll use UTM codes. There’s no denying it: we all just love data!

Make your UTM process user friendly

We all know the saying: good artist copy, great artist steal. And believe me with these tips your UTM process will be much less of a hazzle.

Use a social media management platform like Hootsuite

Hootsuite lets you manage your social media channels all in one tool. And the great part about it, it has incorporated UTM codes. Just add a link to your message and click on settings to add parameters. Hootsuite will even let you save your parameters. The next time you compose a message you can just add preset UTM codes to your message. Collecting data has never been so easy!

Use an URL shortener to make your URL more user-friendly

I’ll admit UTM is a clever method to enrich your data, but the endless parameter sure doesn’t look the part. That’s why I’d suggest to use an URL shortener. Why? Twitter (and other social media channels) don’t have unlimited characters, a short URL looks better ánd your user won’t immediately see what your tracking. And the best part, like mentioned before, when you’re using an URL shortener tool with UTM codes, Google Analytics will still be able to read and use your given parameters.

Croowd tip –> Ever heard the African proverb “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”? This is absolutely valid for UTM codes. It should be quite easy to convince your fellow Marketing or Communication colleagues to use UTM codes, but a lot of work to explain and convince other staff members or third parties. So make it easy for them.

  • Create prefab social media messages including a shortened URL with UTM codes.
  • Use email signatures as a marketing channel including a shortened URL with UTM codes.
  • Always send your own shortened URL with UTM codes to your banner ads company.

Results after two weeks of UTM tagging

Almost 20% of the (direct)/(none) traffic is accounted for after two weeks of UTM tagging. So, to conclude: start today and your future self will thank you later!

Marike Peeters
Author

Creative writing is in my DNA. Together with analytical thinking and my unstoppable drive to solve problems I have an unique skill set to help companies with their marketing strategy. In the end content might be king, but strategy is key.