Understanding Website Analytics Part 1: "Real" Organic Search Traffic

Posted at Feb 18, 2010 7:13:04 AM by Taylor De Luca | Share

After working with a number of clients over a number of years, I still find it surprising that many business owners are still a bit in the dark when it comes to analyzing the data that their website analytics solutions provide. For my next few posts, I hope to bring some clarity to what all the numbers actually mean and how they can be used to make marketing decisions.

Let’s start with a common question that we get: I’m working hard on SEO, how much organic traffic am I really getting? While we would never base the success of an organic search campaign purely on traffic, this is a legitimate question. Using Google Analtics, we can easily find the answer to this question.

Begin by logging into Google Analytics, clicking Traffic Sources and then keywords:

Among other things, the Keyword Report will show you the amount of traffic that came to your website by searchers using specific keyword phrases. Let's look at a few features that we can use to really dig down and determine how search is driving traffic to our website:

Paid vs. Organic


Just below the graph, you'll see a few links that allow you to to toggle the keyword report to show either paid, organic or both types of keyword traffic. It's important to apply this filter when trying to determine the traffic results of your organic search efforts. Clicking paid will display only the search traffic you recieve from your paid search marketing efforts. Likewise, clicking non-paid will show only organic traffic. Potential pitfalls: In order for Google to accurately report on paid traffic vs. organic traffic, you need to tag your paid search campaigns either by linking your Google Adwords and Gogole Analytics accounts or by tagging your paid search campaigns. If you do not follow this standard, your paid search traffic will appear as 'organic' traffic in Google Analytics. I can't tell you how many businesses confuse the two and "misread" the data...

Branded Traffic vs Prospecting Traffic

It's important to understand the difference between brand keywords traffic and non-brand or prospecting traffic. Brand keyword traffic refers to traffic that is generated by search terms related to your brand name. For example at THAT Agency, we see that visitors each month find us by searching for brand-related phrases such as THAT Agency and THAT Web Design. Non-brand or prospecting traffic refers to any traffic generated by keywords that are not brand-related. For example, keywords like web design and internet marketing agency.

Now that you understand the difference, you may see why it's important to separate the two when doing your marketing analysis. To some extent, the brand keyword traffic you receive can be considered a measurement of your overall marketing activities and exposure. A powerful brand can expect a large portion of search traffic to come through these types of keyword searches. Likewise, you could also expect an increase in your brand-realted keyword traffic after running a large marketing campaign.

To some extent, non-brand or prospecting traffic is a meansurement of how successful your website is at generating traffic for keywords that it is optimized for. A large amount of non brand, organic search traffic can be an indicator that your website visibility it good and that your SEO strategies are successful. When measuring the success of an organic search campaign, this is often a key metric.

In Google Analytics, you can filter the keyword report to show you either brand or non-brand traffic by using the filter at the bottom:


By typing in a keyword phrase to either include or exclude, you can easily view keyword search stats based on whether they are brand or non-brand. For example, I use this filter to see how much traffic thatagency.com gets for organic keywords not related to our brand name by selecting excluding and typing the word that. This will remove from the report all keyword phrases with THAT in them. If I wanted to see brand-related search traffic, I could change excluding to including.

In this post, we've really only scratched the surface of how this report can be used to measure search success. To summarize, a few important considerations to think about when analyzing your keyword search traffic include:

  • Be sure to separate paid and organic search results
  • Consider brand and non-brand as two separate metrics that tell you two different thing (Brand traffic can be an indicator of brand popularity and non-brand can be an indicator of organic search marketing efforts)
  • Applying filters to the keyword report can help you easily analyze your marketing efforts.

If you need any help with setting up and analyzing website analytics, we're here to help.

Click for other posts about understanding website analytics and data.

Tags: SEO, Digital Marketing, General

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