A word of warning. This is not a developers’ post, a guide, or a thought experiment. This is a bona fide rant. Sometimes we just need to vent.
A couple of weeks ago, I checked one of our (inactive) client’s Google Analytics accounts I still had access to. What I saw in the acquisition report was this:
See how direct traffic gobbles up a great big share of organic traffic in late October?
As my fingers tingled with the anticipation of yet another web analytics mystery (the fuel that keeps my engines going), I was overcome with a feeling of dread. I knew for a fact that there had been a site redesign at the time (which is part of the reason I checked the account), and I had originally had some concerns with the technical implementation.
Anyway, when one metric falls and another rises with an observable correlation, there’s usually something very wrong with site tracking. On top of that, if the fluctuation involves direct traffic, the problem is usually related to referral data being overwritten for some reason.
The problem with the splash
In the case of the client’s account, the splash page was used as a country / language selector. Now, I consider that to be a moderately acceptable reason for hijacking the visit, but I’m willing to bet there’s a better way to do it. Instead of imposing a selection screen, which in itself is a turn-off for anyone who just wants to get to the site, why not do an IP redirection based on geolocation, with a visible but unobtrusive way of indicating why the visitor was transported to the version they’re seeing? Maybe a small banner at the top of the page, which can be closed with a click. Of course, the banner should also have a quick link menu, with which the visitor can go to the correct version, if they were redirected wrong.
So what was wrong with the example?
How to avoid the problem
If you want the redirection, your best bet is to let Google write the session cookie on the front page before the redirection. Note! If the redirection is to another domain, you will need to implement cross-domain decoration for the redirect URL!
The best solution, by far, is to redesign your site structure so that a splash page is not needed. Here are some ideas:
1) IP redirection based on geolocation. Just remember to help those out who are redirected wrongly, or you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands
2) Integrate the country selector into the flow of your main site without a splash page
3) Optimize your country sites so that people find them without having to go through your global site