It looks simple, right? Almost all Google Analytics accounts will have a row in the Source/Medium report for “google / organic”, and this traffic will be classified as “Organic Search” in the Channels report. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this traffic all came from searches in Google. We thought so too, but then we did some testing!
The TL/DR is:
- Traffic that shows in Google Analytics as google/organic might also have come from other Google properties such as Google Calendar, Google Chat, Google Data Studio, Google Finance, Google Maps, Google Meet, Google Play and Google Search Console.
- There is no way to differentiate between true Google Search traffic and traffic from any of the above.
- The list of services above might change.
- There’s nothing you can do about it.
Now the first thing is:
If your analytics is showing 1,000 visits from Google Organic, for most of us it probably means that 99% of them were from Google Search. But this is useful to be aware of if:
- Your brand actually gets some visits from Google Calendar (eg. you’re a SaaS that books appointments), Google Chat (eg. people share your links) and so forth.
- You’re seeing Google Organic traffic on a property that shouldn’t be getting it (eg. a staging website, a domain hidden from Google’s index etc) or going to a weird landing page.
Why is this happening?
The main way any digital analytics tool finds out where your traffic is coming from is by looking at the HTTP referrer. Typically it shows the full previous URL you were on before this page was loaded. For example if you click this link to go to a random Wikipedia article, the referrer will be https://tacticlab.com.au/knowledge-base/technical-marketing/your-google-organic-traffic-includes-clicks-from-other-google-properties.
Sometimes the website hides the full URL though and only lets the domain name show. For example if you search Google for embarrassing stuff, this search will be in URL (https://www.google.com.au/search?q=embarrassing+stuff) and according to the normal method the website you click on will be able to see the search keyword. Remember SEO keywords in Google Analytics reports? Those were the days… But now Google takes into account that there might be good reasons not to pass search terms to the referring website and so it doesn’t. So any click from Google search results now only shows that it came from https://www.google.com.au/ (or your local Google domain).
This means that Google Analytics will count any visit as organic if the referrer is https://www.google.com.au/.
If only clicks from Google search results gave this referrer this would be fine (except the lack of keywords). Unfortunately for marketers, lots of Google’s products use Google’s internal URL redirect. For example, if you create a link in Google calendar and then right click and copy the link URL you’ll find it’s actually https://www.google.com/url?q=YOUR-ORIGINAL-URL&sa=D&source=calendar&ust=123&usg=123.
This is Google’s internal redirect tool that it uses to track your click and then redirect you to YOUR-ORIGINAL-URL, but because this is routed through https://www.google.com/, this is the referrer Google Analytics will see and hence interpret it as Google Organic (SEO).
You can’t do anything about it. Whether someone clicks through to your website from Google Search or (say) from Google Calendar, the traffic appears as identical to all tools.
Which services does this happen to?
We did a test in October 2020 (so over time the results may change) but this is what we found:
|If you get a click from…||(for example)||…it appears in GA as:|
|Google Analytics||Someone clicking on a link from the All Pages report||(direct) / (none)|
|Google Drive||A link from a Google Doc or Google Sheet||(direct) / (none)|
|Google Gmail||A link in an email||(direct) / (none)|
|Google Calendar||A link in an event description||google / organic|
|Google Chat||A link in a message||google / organic|
|Google Data Studio||A link in a dashboard||google / organic|
|Google Finance||Your website appearing in finance results||google / organic|
|Google Maps||Your website’s Google My Business listing (with a link) appearing in a map search||google / organic|
|Google Meet||A link in a note||google / organic|
|Google Play||An app description with a link||google / organic|
|Google Search||Your website appearing in search results||google / organic|
|Google Search Console||Someone clicking on a link from the backlinks report||google / organic|
|Google Groups||A comment that contains a link||groups.google.com / referral|
|Google Keep||A note that contains a link||keep.google.com / referral|
|Google News||Your website appearing in news results on the Google news subdomain||news.google.com / referral|
|YouTube||A video description that contains a link||youtube.com / referral|
So yes, traffic labelled google / organic is probably Google Search. But there’s a chance some of it might be from some of the others in yellow.