Google Analytics is easily one of the most trusted analytics platforms out there, but new findings are suggesting it may not be as accurate as once thought. Most recently, Groupon published a study which indicates that as much as 60% of what Google Analytics calls “direct traffic” is actually from organic search.
The study was conducted by Groupon’s Director of Product Management, who manages their organic search. While not entirely scientific, his study involved completely deindexing Groupon from Google for 6 hours.
Deindexing means absolutely no traffic would be coming from Google for the duration of the study, which allowed the study to calculate roughly what percent of traffic is coming from organic search.
During the six hours the site was deindexed, Groupon’s direct visits dropped by 60%, which led Groupon to believe that 60% of what is called direct traffic is actually coming from organic search traffic.
Groupon isn’t the only site to conduct a study like this. Not long ago, Conductor, a well-respected internet marketing firm, released a similar study which led them to the conclusion that 47% of traffic came from organic search. Nearly a third of that was attributed to direct visits.
Conductor Corroborates Groupon’s Findings
After Groupon released their findings, Conductor decided to revisit their initial study to see what would happen to the results if included the conclusions from Groupon’s study into their own data.
By taking 60% of visits originally attributed to ‘direct’ and reallocating them to ‘organic search’, organic search went from 47% of all visits to 64%. Direct visits dropped from 29% of visits to 12%. This significant discrepancy—17% separates the ‘before’ and ‘after’ allocations should be enough to give marketers pause—and question the assumptions on which their digital strategy lies.
While none of this means you should give up on Google Analytics (it is the best insight you have to website performance and how Google views your site), it does suggest that it is entirely possible that a much larger percentage of traffic is coming from organic search than previously thought.