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Study reveals extent of organic search use

Groupon de-index site for six hours

Groupon has conducted an experiment which has suggested that up to 60 per cent of what is considered ‘direct traffic’ in fact comes from organic search.

This discovery was made when director of product management, Gene McKenna, decided to totally de-index the Groupon site one day – purely, he says, “for the sake of SEO science.”

The Chicago-based discount certificate provider took a huge risk by de-indexing their website, as McKenna stated himself. When Google decides to de-index a website, they do so because they have found evidence that the site in question has adopted unnatural linking techniques – in order to appear more popular or authoritative.

When a website is de-indexed by Google (or other search engines), it disappears from their search results. Nonetheless, McKenna felt that the experiment could offer an interesting insight into how Groupon site visitors arrive – which it did.

Organic search mistaken for direct traffic

The site was de-indexed for approximately six hours, during which time McKenna said they “examined Organic search and Direct traffic by hour and by browser to any page with a ‘long’ URL.”

By ‘long’ URLs, McKenna refers to pages which are not the homepage or top-level folders. Pages with ‘short’ URLs were not examined, as he explained that these receive a considerable amount of direct traffic as it is.

Groupon found that search traffic to their site dropped dramatically during the majority of the six hours it was in its de-indexed state – to nearly zero, as might be expected. However, direct traffic also dropped – by 60 per cent – meaning that much of the traffic reported as ‘direct’ in analytics programmes in fact comes from organic search. The precise reasons for this misinterpretation are, as yet, unknown.

Carla Fazakerley, head of search at theEword, has said: “This experiment has produced some very intriguing results. It would be interesting to see what would happen with regards to traffic of other websites if they were to partake in a similar experiment.”

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