How balanced is your Google Analytics pie?

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How balanced is your Google Analytics pie? I speak, of course, of the pie chart that comes as a stock report in every Google Analytics report. When people ask about what to look for in Analytics, one of the most important things I look at first is the pie chart of traffic sources. What’s coming in and from where? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

A Social Media Expert’s Blog

Traffic Sources Overview - Google Analytics

This is an unbalanced pie. Nearly half the traffic is coming from referring sites and if you dig in, of course, it’s social media sites like Twitter and Facebook doing a significant amount of the referring. Search is only 22% of this person’s blog.

This would make me nervous because the traffic flow to this person’s site is too reliant on social channels. If, for some strange reason, they were ever kicked off of Twitter/Facebook or they became unpopular, they would lose half their traffic immediately, which is a significant risk. Things like speaker bookings and book sales would vanish overnight.

This also indicates that while they are blogging, they’re not blogging for anything people are looking for, or they’re not blogging using the words people are using to search for.

Finally, I’d be a little concerned about digging more into the direct traffic. Is that truly people typing in this person’s domain name directly? Possibly. If they speak at a lot of conferences and events and put their name up in lights for attendees to remember, that would account for the direct traffic, or it could be that they have other direct traffic issues. Avinash Kaushik masterfully explains how to diagnose direct traffic on his blog.

A New Company’s Web Site

Traffic Sources Overview - Google Analytics

Here we see an unbalanced pie as well. We see a lot of search volume and a lot of referring site volume, which is what you’d expect to see out of a new company’s web site. They’re doing their best to pay for ads and create lots of content, and it’s driving up their audience. So far so good, right?

This pie is unbalanced in favor of search, which for a new company can be risky. Search listings are incredibly volatile and your business may be booming if your keywords are ranking well, but wake up one day after a Google update and suddenly your sales funnel is really thin. I’ve had this happen to me in past jobs and it’s not pretty.

What’s missing out of this pie and the previous one especially is Other traffic. Google Analytics classifies things like email marketing in the Other category as long as you’ve got your links tagged correctly. If neither the social media expert nor the new company are doing enough email marketing to bring converted leads and customers back to the site, then they’re not engaging their existing audience enough, and that’s a problem.

My Web Site

Traffic Sources Overview - Google Analytics

About a third of my traffic comes from search. Pretty good. Referring sites and social media power another 21%, which I’m pretty happy about. Look at the monster amount of Other traffic – that comes from my newsletter, which I’ve sent twice this month. 26% of my traffic is from people being prompted to come back for more from email marketing, which makes me very happy.

Where can I improve? Obviously, like the Social Media Expert above, I need to dig more into direct traffic to see if that’s legitimately people typing my domain name in or if I’ve got something somewhere that’s mis-tagged or untagged. Mobile devices, for example, don’t pass referrer strings, so I should dig in and see if there’s a lot of mobile usage, which means I’ll need to be more careful about using Analytics tags everywhere on my site and in my emails.

I’d also like to see a little more juice in referring sites as well. Perhaps I need to blog in other places or make sure I’m leaving comments on blog posts that reference me in order to widen that slice of the pie a little more. Blog comments do count for something and can bring eyeballs and traffic in.

What’s Your Pie?

Take a look at your pie and see where your balance is. Generally speaking, there are four broad categories that Google Analytics uses – Direct, Other, Referring Sites, and Search. Going for a balanced intake of traffic from each category will ensure that your site is not reliant on any one source of traffic, which in turn mitigates your risk of losing business from any one particular effort. Everything matters, and everything adds up!

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12 responses to “How balanced is your Google Analytics pie?”

  1. Direct traffic covers an awful lot of traffic these days. If someone links to you on Twitter and doesn’t use your own short link that’s been pre-tagged with Analytics values, any clicks that come from a Twitter client aren’t going to report a source or medium. One way to get a better handle on this would be to see how much of your direct traffic landed on an inner page – that’s either someone clicking a link from a non-web client, or someone who likes typing in long URLs. Or is visiting from their browser bookmarks. Direct’s a pretty big misnomer, if you don’t understand what it really signifies (i.e. way more than type-ins).

    1. Definitely. Some URL shorteners (Argyle is the one I use) let you auto-tag social links, which is a huge data quality fixer.

  2. Great homework project for me to do this week Chris. Thank you.

  3.  Avatar

    I think this is a valid point, but I also think a company site is different than an individual blog. Also a mature, well written blog with years of posts will have more search traffic than a blog that is just establishing itself (primarily referral).

    1. I would agree that a company blog is different in focus than a personal blog, but even a mature blog needs a diversity of traffic sources. Back when I was in financial services, we aimed for balanced pie on referral traffic, PPC, search, and email; we definitely felt the effects when any one category flagged.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for breaking down the types of traffic and for showing ways we can maintain a balance, between the different sources. I wasn’t sure what “Other” represented in Google Analytics, so that explanation was especially helpful. I can definitely see the value of adding e-mail marketing to the mix. For those who are interested in installing Google Analytics on their sites, I just came across this interesting post for small business:

    The post complements your themes nicely. Thanks for the tips.


  5. Rob_Berman Avatar

    Homework, homework. Thanks for the ideas and examples. My audience on my blog continues to grow. I need to analyze it more.



  6. I’m wondering about the stats on referral sites. If I leave a comment and add my blog url will this get counted as a visit from a referring site by google analytics? If so they aren’t real visits – just me visiting the site and leaving a comment.

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  10. Thanks Chris. This is so important and I worry not enough people think about HOW people are getting to their site. All they care is about the volume.

    Now that you addressed your weakness, it will be easier to get the results you want. I think bulking up your Direct traffic has a lot to do with branding.
    I wrote about this last Spring and went right for the pie reference as well:

    Darn… now I want pie. 

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