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Internal referrals reported as Organic Search

[ Edited ]
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# 1
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I have a custom report that is defined as follows:

  • Metric Groups: "Sessions" 
  • Dimension Drilldowns: "Landing Page" 
  • Filters: Include "Include Default Channel Grouping Exact Organic Search"

At first sight, this report seems to do what it is supposed to: report landing pages for all sessions from organic search. When drilling down, it only returns source/medium combinations consistent with this (e.g., google / organic).


HOWEVER, the report contains several pages that should not be search landing pages. E.g. mid-funnel pages that are definitely not indexed by search engines, or pages that are only accessible when logged in.


To find out where these sessions are really coming from, I used Google Tag Manager to pass the http referrer as a custom dimension to Google Analytics. And voilà: It turns out that the http referrer for these sessions are really site internal URLs.


So, what is going on here?


Part of the explanation seems to be: These are probably users who have let a page idle for > 30 minutes (the default GA inactivity session timeout), and then clicked on a link on that page. This causes GA to start recording a new session, with the link destination reported as landing page.


The part I don't understand: Why are these sessions reported with source/medium as "google / organic" etc. and not as "none / direct" or "[some url] / referral"?

1 Expert replyverified_user
Marked as Best Answer.
Accepted by topic author Elmar S
July 2016

Re: Internal referrals reported as Organic Search

Rising Star
# 2
Rising Star
Hi Elmar,

Direct traffic never overwrites anything. If I came to your site 3 years ago via email and then come back by typing in the URL into the same browser at least once every 6 months (default campaign timeout) I will show as email every time.

I could have, as you said, perhaps bookmarked the page or point I was at in the process an then initiated the session again from that bookmark or browser history. These new sessions would then show, in your case, as organic and landing at that point.

User behavior is always odd and unexpected. Smiley Happy


Theo Bennett

Analytics Evangelist at MoreVisibility | Contact Me
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