61 | Myth Busting Analytics with Arnout Hellemans

This episode is about Analytics, Google Analytics mostly, about busting those myths that so many digital marketers seem to have. Find out if you’ve been reporting using wrong data. 

Arnout Hellemans joins me on the show for a second time! If you haven’t listened to the first episode with Arnout, trust me, you should do; it’s all about Leveraging PPC data for SEO and it’s very good. Arnout and I chatted on Digital Elite day, in fact I’d say I was quizzed for a better description of what that was, which I think was a load of fun!

Analytics is a skill that any digital marketer should understand, states Arnout, especially in a world where we should be using data first to make informed decisions. He says he dug into analytics for plenty of companies and found things that have been wrong. 

Bounce Rate – What does it actually tell us?

What is a ‘bounce’ in Google Analytics?

In simplest terms, you might describe it as when a user comes into the website and leaves again. This isn’t necessarily true because it actually means that there was only 1 interaction that was recorded in the session.

What if they fill in a lead and don’t track that lead via event tracking or leads then it’s a bounced user – and shouldn’t be. People filled it in and did what you want them to do. They converted but because you’re not actually tracking it, the page shows there’s 100% bounce rate.


You drop your phone in water; you pick it up and it’s wet. Then, you search Google for how to fix it, the article gives you five steps for a fix, one of which is to put the phone into a bowl of rice. You go ahead and read all of it, so you’ve spent around 4 minutes on the page but on the backend it shows a bounce rate of 100%. Arnout argues that actually it isn’t because you’ve read and used the information on that page.  

“If you don’t send an event, then that will say the bounce rate is high which doesn’t always make sense” – Arnout Hellemans

This is common on informative content. Arnout recommends that you fire an event on scroll. So, if somebody reads two thirds of a page, it’ll create a second interaction and therefore not creating a bounced user.

This way you can see if your users, on long pieces of content, are engaged. Another way is to set an event if someone is reading it for longer than 3 minutes and then use this to create a retargeting audience, thus creating a valuable user interaction. This will also offer a better discussion around the content that’s being created.

Brand Traffic; a Myth? 

Arnout sees this often. A growth hacker came to him and told him any traffic on the homepage that’s direct is brand traffic. So he delve into this further… 

What is the definition of direct in Google Analytics?

Direct is anything that doesn’t have a UTM tag as a parameter or a document referrer (anything on the web works with this so this is the tag that shows there’s a ‘previous page’).

Arnout explains; take Google news or android assistant as an example, these create a link and opens a browser with no document referrer. Because it’s not a http protocol page but an APP, this will add up to being direct. Or, if a page requests http and not https then you need to transfer the document referrer from one to the other because it becomes direct traffic. If you have internal or external redirects then this will happen. Fixes around it will be adding code that will find it and pass it on to the second request. Reference.

Putting things on social media has the same effect if it’s using the App. It’ll open a browser and it’ll have no document referrer again, which means it comes up as direct traffic. Unless you UTM tag that link, especially when you encourage sharing (Whatsapp or Slack etc,) otherwise all efforts end up in direct.

Jill Quick from Coloring In Department once told Arnout that there was a company who got rid of their whole email department because GA (Google Analytics) showed email wasn’t bringing traffic. Everything ended up in direct because people were opening the emails on their phones and clicking links that had no referrer aka. Showed up as direct traffic and not email. No email marketing meant their direct traffic went down significantly. So, what is the percentage of direct traffic; anything more than 30% needs a fix most likely. 

“You need proper tracking in place to make data led decisions.“ – Arnout Hellemans

Myths about Search Console

Not as easy as it used to be pre-BERT update because it was easier to find the right keywords and optimise pages and rank. It’s now more challenging, says Arnout, because since the morning of 19th August 2018, there was an update on Search Console where, if you filter anything, Google might filter slightly more… When Arnout did non-brand reports by filtering out brand name and because he had huge long tail keywords coming up, suddenly all reports lost 40-60% of traffic on those pages.

Test this yourself:

Download a period of time and ensure the data is non-filtered. Take all the terms that come up, then search for your brand so you have those branded terms you’d like to exclude. Use Google Sheets and install Search Console plugin for the API and then you can see the query and pages with ALL the data, rankings etc. So this raw data you can filter within the sheet and you’ll find there’s a discrepancy between the API and the interface. All long tail stays alive this way. It’ll give you all the pages that rank for the keyword and not just a few!

Google tends to remove low impressions usually but if you don’t see it all, you can’t make the right decisions, argues Arnout. 

Another confusion with Search Console is to do with branded terms specifically.  The pages you see rank for brand terms for example 1.1 etc, are not technically true because not they are not on position 1 but rather; 1 sitelink. It’s an impression of that URL. The way Google reports in Search Console isn’t the actual searches but how many results were in the SERPs for a certain term. You need to UTM tag your Google My Business listing. Those URLs, if you don’t UTM them, then they’re the same as the homepage. Sitelinks are also counted as impressions. You can therefore have multi-impressions for the same term for different pages.

Arnout is doing a talk on this in Optimisey’s event – new date after lockdown. I will share the presentation once available. 

Follow Arnout:

Related Episodes

Introduction reference: Tea Time SEO with Authoritas: Managing the SEO Process – In-House where Areej AbuAli and Orit Mutznik join me to offer you their top tips in a short space of time.

Music credit: I Dunno (Grapes of Wrath Mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/56346 Ft: Jlang, 4nsic, grapes.