We analysed 47m clicks to see how brand traffic should be measured
#Digital Marketing

We analysed 47m clicks to see how brand traffic should be measured

Having a clear view of where traffic, sales and revenue comes from is critical for any marketer. Better understanding allows you to do more of the things that are working and less of the things that aren’t, which means you get more from your resources. This is crucial for SEO when you’re particularly measuring brand versus non-brand, as the influence you have on each differs a lot.

So why is it that in SEO, we often take a loose approach when categorising brand versus non-brand traffic?

Why an accurate brand vs non-brand split matters

Getting an accurate brand vs non brand split is of crucial importance to deliver a successful SEO strategy. It gives you the ability to:

  • More accurately assess the SEO visibility of your site
  • Analyse changes in conversion rate
  • Assess the impact of an Above The Line campaign affecting your overall numbers
  • Look into new vs returning users
  • Forecast the impact of your SEO activity over the next x months

One way of using a shortcut to get a brand vs non brand view for SEO is to just take the homepage vs non homepage split and go with that ratio. This is useful because it avoids the more complex (and lengthy) process of looking at individual keywords in Google Search Console and mapping them to URLs in GA.

The assumption is simple:

“The homepage is the main landing page for pure brand keywords and a number of brand + variation keywords. It will therefore pick up the vast majority of total brand traffic. As such, if I want to look at total non-brand performance in Google Analytics I can just exclude homepage from my calculations.”

 Why measuring just the homepage can be very misleading

Any SEO will know that there are aspects of how both search engines display results and how users search which will undermine the accuracy of this approach. To name a couple:

  1. Sitelinks appearing for brand searches meaning users might click on a different page than the homepage.
  2. Users searching for “brand + keyword” leading Google to serve a more specific landing page than the homepage.

Yet still, the hope remains. Perhaps the data is not 100% correct, but it is close enough to it?

We investigated this claim to assess if it is broadly true and how it differs on a site by site basis. Keep reading…

The Approach

Using Google DataStudio and the Google Search Console – specifically the URL Impressions data source – we can use Regular Expression formulas to exclude or include brand keywords from the data and get accurate traffic splits. Then, using “Landing Page URL” as a dimension, we can look at homepage vs non homepage totals by URL matching our brand and non- brand filters.

Note that we have been careful to exclude data such as strong subdomain brand profiles or international subfolders. This is to ensure the results only depict user brand traffic going to subproducts or content hosted on subfolders.

Data was gathered from a total of 52 different domains across 2020. The data set is sizable with a total of 47,240,034 clicks analysed across a number of verticals and site types including: fashion, home, travel, sports, nutrition, property, beauty and financial.

The sites analysed ranged from ~70,000 organic clicks per month to over 2,000,000.

 The Results

Through analysis of keyword data for the 52 domains, we have found that the approach is broadly a flawed one.

Overall, the percentage of brand clicks going to the homepage are just over half at an average of 58%:

 

Percentage of brand clicks going to the homepage

When looking at the split by site type, we can see that on Lead Generation websites the % of brand traffic going to the homepage is even lower compared to the average at half of all clicks:

Lead Generation websites the percentage of brand traffic going to the homepage

What was most eye opening was the spread of how much the ratio differed by website. In the sample of 52 sites, we have seen sites ranging from a high of 87% to a low of 18% brand traffic to the homepage:

Percentage brand traffic to the homepage

The range in and of itself, obviously, immediately discredits any sort of one size fits all approach but, also interesting, is that no site even exceeded the 90% mark. In some cases, sites were showing less than 20%!

This means that, even in the best of cases, the assumption that it is possible to treat homepage traffic as brand still sees you discrediting 13% of the total brand traffic. As a result, a large site could be a matter of tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of brand sessions on a given month.

If there was more need for evidence to discredit the hypothesis and that each site requires a custom analysis, it is the fact that the size of the brand itself bears no correlation with the % of brand traffic going to the homepage.

This latter concept is illustrated by the table below, which shows the top and bottom 5 sites in terms of homepage brand traffic % split vs the total share of brand organic search traffic:

homepage brand traffic percentage split vs the total share of brand organic search traffic

Conclusion

I believe everyone understands that shortcuts can be a slippery slope which lead to assumptions being made on a flawed data set. In this context, if you have been assuming homepage = brand then it is worth rethinking the approach.

Utilising Google Search Console and Google DataStudio, it is now relatively straight forward to drill into the data and get a much more accurate representation of where and to what extent your site is driving its brand clicks than just picking the homepage.

Furthermore, more work to set the foundations and analysis right at the outset will enable you to report and forecast more accurately and optimise your site more effectively in the areas that matter more.