Why Google Analytics hides social app traffic and revenue under “Direct”
Many advertisers asked me why their “Direct” traffic and revenue have increased so much since they started advertising on social media platforms on mobile devices, primarily Facebook & Instagram? There is a very simple reason which I will now explain.
Google Analytics is an industry standard tool to monitor and analyse website traffic, to track valuable actions on websites and apps - and to evaluate the return of our digital marketing activities related to the website.
Google Analytics was designed to work with other Google products
The digital marketing and e-commerce scene have changed a lot since Google Analytics was launched on November 14, 2005. Back in the days, mature and reliable online advertising solutions were only offered by Google, making it the biggest online advertising company for almost a decade. Google Analytics was tailored and optimized to keep track of everything that happens on the website, track conversions precisely by exchanging data with the advertising tools provided by the company, such as Google Ads, Google Display Network or Google AdSense.
Google Analytics does not want you to see your revenue, transactions and conversions from social media
Things have changed dramatically since those times, as today companies are spending more and more on social media advertising. At the same time people do not use websites as much, they use apps on mobile devices, and prefer not to leave apps unless it is necessary. This is genuinely bad news for Google, because they do not have insights of what is happening in social apps, and at the same time losing ad revenue from Google Ads - the primary income source of the company.
Now that we understand that recent internet usage and digital marketing trends are increasingly moving away from products and solutions provided by Google, it is also easy to understand why they hide, I mean categorize, social app traffic to “Direct”.
Google has absolutely no interest showing to marketers and advertisers that their main source of traffic, revenue and other conversions is not Google Ads but social media. Of course they have a very good technical explanation for this. If a user opens a website from a social app, regardless if it is Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, the website will open in a new browser window or tab - which is technically a direct visit.
How to track “Direct” traffic more accurately?
My suggestion is to monitor your social conversions with tools provided by the social platform itself. Facebook has an excellent analytics platform which shows clear engagement, conversion and transaction insights without any bias. You can still track Google Ads and other traffic with Google Analytics but my recommendation is to not rely on it entirely.