Back to Basics: Organic vs. Paid Search Detection

I often hear from clients concerned that their organic and paid search traffic isn’t adding up. These clients will exhaust multiple resources trying to figure out the problem causing the discrepancy. However, the issue is typically due to one simple problem: improper usage of paid search campaign tagging.

To better understand this issue, it’s helpful to give some background on how Omniture interprets search engine traffic. Search detection in SiteCatalyst relies primarily on the referring URL, which is passed into SiteCatalyst on each page view. If the referrer matches a search engine with its corresponding keyword query parameter (e.g. ““), then the referrer and keyword are properly classified.

Because the referring URL is the same for both paid and organic click-throughs, all search engine traffic is classified as organic traffic, unless the paid search landing page URL is tagged with a campaign tracking identifier. When a paid search campaign is not tagged, or the paid search detection filters in SiteCatalyst are not setup properly, search engine traffic is not segmented correctly. As a result, organic and paid search traffic numbers will not be accurate.

Improper reporting of search traffic can cause major problems for execution, planning, and budgeting of your search marketing programs. This can often lead to the misappropriation of large (sometimes multi-million dollar) paid search campaign budgets. For this reason, paid search should be tagged and tracked like any other campaign. For more details on general campaign tracking see Adam “Omni_man” Greco’s recent post about the value of campaign tracking and how to track them effectively in SiteCatalyst.

Tagging your paid search campaigns involves just a few steps:

The issue of paid search tagging may seem simple and obvious to some, but just one misstep can lead to major inaccuracies in your data. Follow these recommendations and you can sleep soundly knowing that you are properly tracking and classifying your search engine traffic.

As a senior consultant for Omniture Consulting Services, Jordan LeBaron leads SEO consulting services, providing Omniture clients guidance on site optimization strategies and leveraging their web analytics to drive their SEO efforts. Follow Jordan on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.