Groupon conducts a daring experiment that shows websites might be getting 60 percent more organic traffic than they think they are.

Dark search, dark social, not provided. These are terms marketers have unfortunately come to know, because they mean content analytics reports don’t always tell the most accurate stories. If it wasn’t enough that 43 percent of marketers still struggle with measuring and reporting ROI, they must now dig deeper – and go to drastic measures – to see how much traffic they’re getting from direct visits or organic search results.

Groupon recently de-indexed its entire site in the name of SEO experimentation and concluded that about 60 percent of its organic traffic from Google is probably being misattributed as direct visits.

Gene McKenna, Director of Product Management for Groupon, revealed the study in a Search Engine Land article. He detailed the results of the study, in which the site was totally de-indexed for six hours to look for patterns in visits to ‘long’ URLs like, which most searchers wouldn’t type in manually.

A Groupon study concluded that about 60 percent of its organic traffic from Google is probably being misattributed as direct visits.

The outcome? The pages receive both organic and direct visits throughout the day, but there is a sharp dropoff – almost to zero – in organic visits between 1 and 4 p.m. At the same time, direct visits dipped 60 percent.  So it becomes clear that Google is still attributing visits as ‘direct’ to those kinds of URLs when it’s reporting there’s no organic traffic going to those pages.

Additionally, McKenna points out that desktop searches are generally more true to source than mobile visits and that other browsers had fewer instances of attributing organic visits as direct traffic. That is, Bing and Yahoo might be giving you a better idea of where sessions are originating.

If it’s hard to tell where website is traffic from, it will be difficult to prove your strategies and hard work are paying off. That’s why it’s important to get an analytics champion in your corner who can interpret the numbers and find workarounds to get a clear picture about what’s really driving results for your business.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.