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Google Analytics, Google Images and the Referral Source URL

Recent research undertaken by Google (https://ai.google/research/pubs/pub36300) into how children use search engines identified several search roles that children display when searching for information on the web. One of these ‘personas’ was ‘Visual Searcher’, where the child relied on image search to find the answers to questions they were asked. And although the study only used child participants, it is likely that this research extends to many adults, who also use Google Images as a visual method of search. In addition, with a selection of images often displaying at the top of the main search page on Google, it is more common than ever for web users to visually discover content on the web.

However, this source of traffic generation is often overlooked by site owners, and the associated data in Google Analytics is not easy to isolate. Therefore, Google have introduced changes to the format of the stats surrounding image generated traffic and how they appear in Google Analytics reports.

The new Google Images source

Historically, Google Image traffic was listed in the Acquisition reports as google / organic. In order to improve the users understanding of traffic generating sources, Google have introduced a new Source line in Google Analytics reports for traffic driven by Google Images. This appears in the Source/Medium report in Acquisition as google images/ organic (as seen below).

What about referral?

A couple of months ago, Google updated the referral source for Google Images in preparation for the new source line. This new referrer URL (https://images.google.com) continues to show in the Referrals report despite the new changes to source lines.

However, do be aware that the addition of the new ‘google images’ source may cause you to see a drop in referral traffic (coming from Google) as some traffic is reclassified as coming from ‘organic’ rather than ‘referral’. This adjustment to traffic distribution across sources should however balance, and you should not have seen an increase or drop in overall traffic due to these changes.

Why the change?

Until now, Google Analytics has not provided the ability to easily obtain a detailed breakdown of the value of Google Images driven traffic. The addition of the ‘google images’ source allows site owners to isolate and analyse Google Image driven traffic and compare it to traffic generated by other channels. Furthermore, GA users can now analyse their Google Images data with much more granularity, by adding secondary dimensions in the Acquisition report or using segmentation to identify and analyse audiences who arrive at the site through Google Images. All of these changes will help to improve the understanding of the performance and worth of Google Images.

What do you need to do?

If they haven’t already, these changes will appear automatically in all Google Analytics accounts and many Google Analytics users will not need to make any changes to their accounts. However, if you have set up and filters, custom channel groupings or custom reports based on this referral data, you should review your settings to ensure the new Source is included.

The addition of this new source will help site owners to use Google Analytics reports to analyse the traffic being driven to their site from Google Images. The ability to view this data in more granular detail gives businesses the opportunity to incorporate image driven traffic into future digital marketing strategies. Therefore enabling them to optimise the site and content for a potentially previously un-targeted set of organic search users, the Google defined ‘Visual Searchers’.

If you’d like more information or help with Google Analytics, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the professional search marketing experts at Varn.