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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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