Kevin Steffer Outloud – web, business and opinions


Review of trackingdata in Google Analytics cookie


At the first meeting of IT Forum SIG (Special Interest Group) on Online Marketing. Marlene said that she could not understand why her traffic had increased on the source / media segment labeled (direct) / (none), representing unclassified traffic - what is this traffic and why is the traffic in Marlenes case increasing.

I have started to analyze the way Google Analytics track, and analyzed the way Google Analytics (GA) manages cookies, and I believe I have found an explanation for Marlenes problem which I will highlight here.

Google Analytics Cookie explanation

GA creates a number of cookies in your browser with varying expiration time.

  • The information on unique user detection expire after 2 years (__utma).
  • The information on tracking expire until 6 months (__utmz).
  • The information about a current visit (visits) will expire after 30 minutes after the last pageview on the domain.
  • The information on "Custom Tracking" will expire after 2 years (_utmv).
  • The information on the "Website Optimizer" will expire after 2 years (__utmx).

A little more background

I now have an additional information about Marlenes problem. She believes that they have been changing the cookie expiration time and set it down to a day. My guess is that Marlene configuration has modified (__utmz) the tracking cookie into a expiration time for one day. And I can explain with a test I have done.

My analysis

This is how my cookie looked after I've deleted my cookies and gone directly into by entering it into the addressbar

Expires: 30. juli 2010 11:11:19


I'm going to and click on my link and I just take a look at my cookie again


Now it was last updated:

utmcsr = twitter | utmccn = Spreading | utmcmd = social
Expires: 30 July 2010 11:17:16

Now I close my browser and open it again and enter the address:

Now I am interested in what Google Analytics logs of data and not so much interested in my Cookie

Just for info so it can be seen here that it is not updated my cookie:



utmcsr = twitter | utmccn = Spreading | utmcmd = social
Expires: 30 July 2010 11:17:16

Here's what Google logs on to me:



utmcsr = twitter | utmccn = Spreading | utmcmd = social

So actually the wrong information - I did type the address in my browser - I have not clicked on any link with tracking code.

However, you must keep a little eye on other parts of the logging information:


This first line of information ends with .2 second information has .1.2 now I will see if I can get some of the information to give me a .3 by either clicking on a link on the site and create a pageview more maybe close browser and enter the address again, simply by generate a new visit.

By clicking on links nothing happens by logging information:


Now I close the browser and enter the address:

Now I got it up to .3


It does count something in one way or another, however, there is an information that does not change. The point here is that it counts the visit, but for same unique user.


Now I run a test where I have deleted my cookies and then gone into my blog with tracking code:

I closed my browser opened it again and went to my blog without a tracking code 5 times and have now generated a total of 6 visits.


As can be seen here in GA I have with a single click on a link with tracking information and with 5 times of directly typing the address into the addressbar generated 6 visits all with the tracking information for my very first visit since my cookie was made at my first visit (or a new because the old cookie had expired).

What does it tell us then?

It shows that I can generate 6 visits with the same cookie information even though I actually typed th address into the adressbar 5 times.

I do not really know what to think about it, my first thought is that this is confusing.In my previous view of thought I have seen the above figures as 1 user has clicked onto my site via the link with the tracking “cookietest / direkte" 6 times, but it is not the case, the user has just done it at least 1 time and has the within last 6 months not clicked on any other link which gives him a new tracking cookie.

We could calculate how many users there are behind these 6 visits of the cookie information "cookietest / direkte", but I can not infer anything based on my test data. So I will just test and write about it some other time.

In Marlenes case where they have set the cookie lifetime down to one day, in GA this will result in having a lot of old users who have lost their tracking cookie and then via bookmarks or typing in addressbar no longer count in their initial tracking information, but now just as ( direct) / (none) traffic.

Am I totally wrong on this or what do you think, or should I call myself Cookie Nerd in the future?

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