Accurate Sessions by Traffic Source
29/08/2014 | Written by | Categories: Analytics Set-up

Possibly the most annoying piece of “business logic” within Google Analytics (in my opinion) is that Direct Entry sessions are attributed back to the original traffic source.  I want to know what is really happening!!  I want to know if people are really coming from organic search, emails, affiliates, etc or if they are using remembered URLs, bookmarks, typing directly into the address bar.  But the acquisition reports in Google Analytics don’t tell us that.

Yes, I know the alleged reasons as to why this business logic is in place.  To give Google as much credit as possible for paid search marketing (and a better ROI on spend).  And this might be true.  The claimed reason – that people should be looking at the channel that caused the session to occur – is just as valid in a sense (although a bit flaky).  Let’s ignore that discussion and get into the data.

And yes, the last click method for claiming credit for sales/leads/conversions is bad (don’t get me started on attribution) but I am not going into that now, I just want to know the split by traffic source for sessions.

I thought of a trick one day…

And it’s a really simple one too…

Create a destination goal where the page matches via regex with /.  This should be triggered by every single visit.  And as goals can only be triggered once per visit, the number of goal completions will match the number of sessions (with a very very small level of difference).

Goal setup for all sessions goal

Then select the Conversions => Multi-Channel Funnels => Assisted Conversions report.  Change the Conversion Type so the report is only for the “All Sessions” goal (obviously this won’t work until data has collected for this goal).  The metric of “Last Click or Direct Conversions” now equates to sessions for each MCF Channel Grouping or Source/Medium or Source or Medium or any of the other dimensions (and secondary dimensions) you can select.

Question answered…

The trick here (in case you weren’t aware) is that the Multi-channel reports use the true traffic source, they don’t revert Direct Entry sessions to the previous traffic source.  Sessions is not an available metric by default but we just changed that.

Read the Google Analytics documentation under “How Direct Traffic is Treated” to confirm the way in which direct traffic is treated within the normal acquisition reports and the multi-channel funnel reports.


5 responses to “Accurate Sessions by Traffic Source”

  1. I like this – I would personally recommend considering doing this in a new view as not to skew overall goal completions.

    I can see some people going OMG my site conversion rate is amazing without realising they’ve just made every session convert 😉

    • Peter O'Neill says:

      Thanks Matt for liking the idea. I am fine with keeping within the main view though, I generally have a dozen or more goals set up so really really hope no one ever looks at the total goal completion rate (should not even exist in the tool to be honest).

  2. Haha! Yes, I agree. I guess I was the point I was making was that if you go from having few goals to suddenly having one per session it may confuse as it defaults to overall goal completions in the overall goals view and some people don’t always look beyond the top line!

  3. Hi Peter, so far we used a custom session-scope dimension “Referrer” for this reading utm variables and checking external referrers, applying a custom cookie similar to the _utmz cookie of classic Google Analytics. Looking forward to try out your approach now, nice trick, thanks 🙂

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