In Analytics, What Is the Difference Between Google, Organic & Google & Referral?

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Webmasters often use Google Analytics to track the sources of traffic coming to their website. Two of the commonly tracked sources of traffic are "organic," meaning that the visitor performed a search on a search engine and clicked through to your website, and "referred," meaning that the visitor clicked on a link on a third-party website that linked to you. However, there is a traffic source listed in Analytics called "google.com (referral)." This is primarily referral traffic, but it is a listing that has caused quite a bit of confusion.

Referral Traffic

  • When measuring how many visitors arrived at your website, it is important to define how certain types of traffic are characterized. Although some webmasters consider any non-paid traffic to be "organic," Google Analytics considers any traffic that came directly from another website that is not a search engine to be a "referral." Many webmasters spend considerable effort building these links back to their website. For example, many webmasters will put a link to their website in their signature on forums and post to the forum or submit articles with links to their website to online article directories. In addition, some referrals result from another website owner linking to valuable content on your website. In all cases, Analytics tracks a referral as one instance when a visitor arrived at your website by clicking on a URL at another website.

Organic Traffic

  • Analytics lists "organic" traffic separately from referral traffic. For the purposes of Google Analytics, organic traffic is only traffic that came directly from a search engine. If you have an Analytics account, you can determine how much traffic is coming from which search engine. After logging in to your account, click the "traffic sources" link in the upper-left side of the screen. It brings up an overview. All search engines are listed with the name and the word "organic" in parentheses. For example, all traffic that came from Google is listed as "google (organic)." All search engine traffic will be listed with the name of the search engine and the word "organic," indicating Analytics' classification of this traffic as "organic."

Referral and Search Engine Traffic Reports

  • The sources of traffic coming to your website can be further broken down by selecting detailed reports within Analytics. For example, to find out if other websites have linked to yours and brought visitors to your site, you can click on the option listed as "referring sites" under the "traffic sources" tab in the upper-left corner of the Analytics window. This breaks down referral traffic into the specific websites from which traffic has arrived at your site. Similarly, you can get detailed information on how visitors found your site by clicking on the "search engine" tab within the "traffic sources" section. This gives detailed information regarding what search terms the visitors to your site used to find you on each search engine.

Google.com (referral) Traffic

  • One type of traffic that is listed within Analytics is "google.com (referral)." This particular traffic source is defined by Google as "referrals from Google.com domains come through organic search or AdWords ad listings." Although this definition is somewhat unclear, Google also states that it measures traffic coming from base.google.com. This subdomain of Google is primarily for uploading images and products into Google's image search or shopping search. Thus, if visitors are arriving at your website through a search on Google's "news," "products," "images," or other searches, the traffic will be listed as "Google.com (referral)."

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