Last week, Arctic Startup had one of those viral wonder posts, that sends tons of traffic. On Friday they blogged about the traffic peak, with a few assumptions about how lots of traffic also brings more organic search traffic from Google. As many others, they could see how the traffic peak also brought lots of hits tracked as search traffic in Google Analytics, and thus, as many others before them, jumped to the wrong conclusions about how Google rewards a site with lots of traffic with better search placements.
However, let me state this clearly, a traffic peak won’t boost search engine rankings, it just looks that way.
Even if you see more search traffic in Google Analytics during a viral wonder peak, this doesn’t actually mean that you get more search traffic. It all has to do with how Google tracks different kinds of traffic, and how direct traffic is always trumphed out by other kinds of referrals. What our friends at Arctic Startup saw is the results of a feature (not even a bug) in Google Analytics.
During a viral wonder post, the link will be forwarded in many ways. Most of Hacker News readers get their storys from the Hacker News Daily. Others from RSS subscriptions in mail or via other applications that aren’t browser based. And when the link is clicked they don’t include a referral, but is counted as direct traffic. Other than email links direct traffic also includes visits from a bookmark and a direct type-in, and links that aren’t tracked via another URL (like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ does these days).
Now, if a direct visitor, during the last three months, has visited the site via a search in Google, the visit will be attributed to the search phrase last used to visit the site. You can try this out yourself by searching for something just impossible, a 12 word sentence that no one will use, visit your site from the Google result, and then only visit your site directly during three months. The result will be that the impossible search phrase will become one of the most commonly used search phrases on your site. Even thought you only used it once.
Some people regard this as a bug in Analytics, others say that Google wants to attribute more search traffic to themselves, but it is actually a rather good feature for an e-commerce site. You want to track which search phrases that bring traffic but it is even more interesting which search phrases that actually converts visitors into customers, even if they don’t buy anything on the first visit, but bookmarks you site, or tips a friend, colleague or family member via mail, discusses the purchase for a couple of days, weeks or even months, and then go ahead and buy the thing they are interested in.
For a blog however, the use is less obvious. And for a newspaper site it mostly creates skewed statistics. So I usually make use of a filter, to find the real long tail search traffic, and filter out search that is wrongly tracked and searches that are just intended to find the first page of the site (as a search for Nikke Lindqvist or Arctic Startup) with an advanced segment. It’s really simple to create. Here’s a suggestion, adapted for use on www.arcticstartup.com. It would be great to here what differences you see when comparing last weeks search traffic tracked with this segment.
If you want this exact advanced segment, you can install it via this link:
If you would like to perfect it even further I would suggest that you also exclude all searches for Arctic Startup, www.arcticstartup.com and arcticstartup.com, just to take out searches that aren’t really searches, but rather direct visitors that don’t quite know how to use the address bar in a browser (we all get them, especially when we have lots of Spanish visitors).