Entrance Sources in Google Analytics: Don’t Go There

The ‘Entrance Sources’ report in Google Analytics offers little, if any, value but holds great potential for confusion.

We all love Google Analytics for the super-intuitive interface that makes it easy to navigate around and generate reports that quickly tell us what we need to know.  Especially helpful for those who might not be in there every day but still have business questions that need answering.

But, there are some places in Google Analytics where the terminology tossed around is maybe not so intuitive and can actually be downright confusing. Case in point is the ‘Entrance Sources‘ report. This came to light in a recent client scenario:

1. A micro-site (let’s say ‘xyzsite.com’) was created for a promotion to drive traffic to a specific page on the main site (let’s say ‘/community/…’).

2. The client was looking at content report to see how the page was doing in terms of traffic, and saw that it had 2,768 unique pageviews, indicating that there were 2,768 visits that included a view of this page.

GA Content Report

3. The client wanted to know how many of these visits came from the micro-site, so she did what seemed like a logical thing: clicked on that page in the report and then ‘Entrance Sources’ under ‘Landing Page Optimization.

GA Content Details

Here’s what she saw:

GA Entrance Sources

So now total unique pageviews have seemingly gone from 2,768 to 7,134 of which the micro-site xyzsite.com is accounting for 6,611, well above the number of pageviews shown in the previous report.  Clearly, something amiss.  And yet, if a reasonably intelligent person steps back and takes a look at it, what else could this report mean?  Other than it shows the  pageviews/unique pageviews/avg. time on site/etc for the page indicated in the Content box based on the Entrance Sources listed in the ‘Source’ column? Especially given the large bold heading that yells, “This page was viewed 8,722 times via 25 sources“.

In fact, it means something quite a bit different, although there are no clues. You just have to be in the know. 🙂 For those who are in the know, this report actually indicates the total number of pageviews/unique pageviews/etc throughout the site for visits that a) arrive from the source indicated and b) land on the page shown in the Content box – but then may continue on to other pages.  And that’s the catch: all the other pages are included in the count of pageviews and other metrics.

So for starters, the large bold heading should yell something more accurate like, “This page (and subsequent pages) were viewed 8,722 times via 25 sources”.

The current presentation may strike some as bizarre, misleading and possibly even useless. There could be some method to Google’s madness – but maybe not. The best thing I can think of was that this report could provide some insight into the site-wide impact of different source/landing page combinations that could inspire a person to try to direct more traffic from a given source to a particular page rather than others that may have relatively less flow-through.  But really, there’s easier ways to get this kind of direction.

Which brings us back to the client’s initial question: how many visits came from the micro-site and entered the main site on the /community/ page? There are a couple ways to answer this question:

1. Top Landing Pages: breakdown or pivot by Source. In this pivot table view we can easily see that the xyzsite.com drove 2,166 visits to the /community/ page.  And with only a 11% bounce rate – not bad!

GA Landing Pages

2. Traffic Sources – Referring Sites: breakdown or pivot by Landing Page. From this view we can confirm that xyzsite.com drove 2,166 visits to our /community/ page, of which 75% where new visits. Great confirmation that our micro-site is attracting new potential customers.  And from this report we can easily access Goal data to gain some insight into the quality of these new visitors.

GA Traffic Sources

So these views help us get to the larger question at work here: is the micro-site project having the intended effect and providing the desired return on investment? Although we don’t have all the data we need to answer that question (amount of investment, target return, baseline data, etc.) we can certainly see that the micro-site is having a positive impact in terms of both quantity and quality of traffic being generated – and that’s a great start.

Hopefully, this clears up the confusion that can be caused by the Entrance Sources report. My advice: don’t go there. But I’m open to ideas if anyone else has profited from this report.

Note: the foibles of this report are also discussed in Google Analytics Help here.