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How important is organic search as a site referrer [#DigitalInsight]

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 20 Nov, 2014
Essential Essential topic

An example analysis of Groupon's traffic showing a signficant proportion of direct traffic could be SEO-related

Gaining organic traffic from SEO is a significant inbound marketing investment for many businesses, so making the business case and demonstrating returns from SEO is important. The typical approach for this is naturally to use Google Analytics to report on the organic traffic segment. Since Google Analytics can no longer reliably provide SEO keyword data due to the growth in keywords marked 'not provided' we have written about how to use Google Webmaster Tools keyword data to determine keywords.

We're alerting readers to this example, since it shows that you should make colleagues (or clients) aware that significant additional SEO traffic may be hidden as a referrer.

Case shows that 60% of direct traffic is actually organic search

This research summary of Groupon visitor referrers  from Conductor summarises the importance of SEO to Groupon based on their standard analytics. They comment:

'Groupon recently published a study showing 60% of their ‘direct’ traffic is actually organic search. 

The original study showed that 47% of visits were organic search; the updated study suggests that organic search traffic might be responsible for closer to 64% of website traffic.'


This example is unusual since you wouldn't expect a large brand like Groupon to disclose their natural search. We're fortunate that, in this case, Gene McKenna, Director of Product Management at Groupon where he leads organic search was open to sharing and discussing his test. You may have seen his original post explaining the test, also unusual in that, as Gene puts it "for the sake of SEO science, we deindexed ourselves completely for about 6 hours". This was for part of the site focusing on long URLs they were investigating.

You can see that during this time, as expected organic traffic fell, but direct visits also fell significantly.

The reason for the decline in direct isn't clear, but discussion in the post suggests it's likely mainly due to browsers not sending information about the search referrer through to site or redirects client or server side. Gene concludes:

'Our testing shows that, for a site getting in the ballpark of 50% mobile web traffic, the 60% of the traffic to long URLs reported as Direct is probably Organic traffic from Google'.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. My personal site,, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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