Monitoring Branded Traffic with Google Analytics

Tracking branded traffic is a useful activity for any business. Branded traffic refers to users who seek out your business by name, either through historical familiarity or perhaps the translation of offline marketing into online activity. Thus, it can measure the effectiveness of offline advertising and the growth of a loyal custom user base, with the help of return rate metrics.

In some cases, these visits show up as "direct traffic" in analytics. This means the visit came in without a referring URL in the CGI headers. Clicking a link from a site to visit another site will pass the preceding site's URL in this referral section of the HTTP headers, that part of web "clicks" that's invisible to the average user. When a user types in a URL directly, or clicks a bookmark, this field is empty. Alas, the utility of an empty referrer at indicating branded traffic has degraded over the years as firewall products begin to block the passing of the referrer due to potential privacy concerns.

Another phenomena has worked to decrease the comprehensiveness of direct traffic as a measure of branded search. The pervasiveness and ease of user of internet search engine in modern browsers has led users to simplify the task of reaching a destination down to one tool: the search box. While it's theoretically more efficient to enter the URL in the url bar, many users simply use their default search engine for keywords and URL entry (est. 5% of search engine queries from Teevan, Adar, Jones, & Potts. SIGIR 2007) because the simplicity of one operation overrides the efficiency gain of a dedicate search box.

The large number of domain squatters with mis-spelling and typos of popular destinations producing generally useless experiences make the search engines popularity skew to error correction on URLs an especially nice change to a cybersquatter's shop of trinkets.

So I recommend creating a Google Analytics advanced segment that captures both direct traffic and inbound search referrals with query terms that uniquely identify your business. For some names, this may not be viable, but for most you can capture a large percent of the direct navigation. For instance, gets branded searches for "my wedding favors" and "". The my term is the key signal that the query is branded.

Here's an example of the config:

Be sure to name your segment for the site you set it up on as segments are shared across sites in an account.

And here's a report validating the conclusions:

      85% of iBlipper branded traffic is type-in and other components of direct
      As it should be, no referring sites are included in iblipper branded
      Over a third of search engine traffic is branded.

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Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Tim Leighton-Boyce's Gravatar Advanced segments make this kind of thing so easy to do. We've been compiling a similar benchmark across our sites for several years, but we had to use a spreadsheet in the old days and so we still do.

In our case we've also included email traffic to make up a group containing 'direct' visits, 'brand search' visits and 'medium=email' visits. We call this the 'know us' group on the grounds that these people have already found out about us through previous on-line contact or through off-line channels.

You can see a summary of the latest findings, including the numbers for the 'know us' group, on this Screen Pages blog post about <A HREF=" ecommerce benchmarks</A>.

Another useful tip for monitoring brand traffic in GA is to set up a profile in which you use a filter to overwrite all the keywords which match your brand variants with something like "Brand". That way you get to see

i) just how dominant those keywords are -- 'Brand' will almost certainly be right at the top of the list and way above all the other keywords
ii) removing the clutter caused by all the misspellings of your brand and phrases including your brand may help you get a clearer understanding of what is going on with the generic terms

Sometimes I even recommend having further profiles which only include brand search and only include generic search visits. The 'generic only' profile can be a great proxy for 'people who really are new to the site and to us' and can provide scary insights.
# Posted By Tim Leighton-Boyce | 9/9/09 1:14 PM
Eric Melchor's Gravatar Tim you are right about visitors coming from Emails that are sometimes grouped as 'Direct Traffic visitors'.

Andy, great post. I generally use Direct Traffic as the impact (quantitative evidence) that TV has on brand awareness. I posted a link to your post in my blog. Check it out when you have time.
# Posted By Eric Melchor | 9/29/09 4:15 AM
Chris Slocumb's Gravatar Thanks Andy. Really powerful and easy to setup. Found you through your Stomper CommuniQast.
# Posted By Chris Slocumb | 11/13/09 12:27 AM
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