How to Track Forwarded Domain Traffic
In the old days of the Internet, people navigated to websites a lot by typing in domain names. If they wanted to find soccer scores, they typed Soccer.com in their browser. If they wanted to buy a book, they might type in Books.com.
Web browsers also sent a lot of traffic to great domains like these. If someone typed “soccer” in the browser address bar, the browser automatically appended .com and sent the visitor to soccer.com.
How people navigate the internet has changed. Browsers now combine the address bar with a search box and users typically turn to search engines rather than typing in a domain as a way to search.
But type-in traffic, also called “direct navigation” to domain names, is still big.
Let’s look at how major companies use—and track—forwarded domains to drive more traffic to their websites, and how you can do it as well.
Type of Type-in Traffic
There are many types of direct navigation traffic to domain names.
Type-ins are often from people who know where they want to go. For example, when you visit Namecheap to manage your domains, you probably don’t go to Google and search for Namecheap. You just type Namecheap.com in your browser and come directly here.
The same goes for visiting common sites like Amazon.com and ESPN.com.
People also continue to use descriptive terms to navigate the web. If they want soccer scores, they still type Soccer.com. Ask anyone who parks domain names and they will tell you that some domains still can get thousands of visits per month even if the domain isn’t in use.
Another big category of domain traffic is when people type in what they think is the domain name for a website even if it’s not. It can be a typo of the web address or the assumed domain name that really isn’t. These domain names can get a lot of traffic, and smart companies acquire these domains and forward these domains to their website.
Examples of Redirected Domains
Apple didn’t own the domain iPhone.com when Apple announced the iPhone in 2007. People looking for information on the phones assumed that Apple owned it, however. So instead of going to Apple.com and navigating to the page about iPhones, they type in iPhone.com.
Another example is a typo domain name. Blu Dot is a popular modern furniture company. The company has a problem with its brand. A lot of people spell ‘Blue’ like it should be spelled. That means that Blu Dot as a brand name is hard to remember, so people remember it as Blue Dot and type in BlueDot.com when they want to visit the website.
BlueDot.com is a typo of BluDot.com (even though some would say it’s the typo that’s spelled correctly!).
What can we learn from these examples?
Both of these companies did a smart thing. They bought the domain names that people were typing in their browsers to find them and forwarded them to their websites.
Was it worth it?
People believe Apple paid more than $1 million for iPhone.com. Blu Dot paid $33,100 to buy BlueDot.com in an expired domain auction earlier this year
Both companies want to monitor the traffic these forwarded domains get to see if it made sense to buy the domains. This helps them understand if they should pursue similar domain acquisitions, such as new brand domains and typos, in the future. The companies can track both traffic and sales from the domains by adding tracking codes to the domains when people visit them. Visit iPhones.com and you’re forwarded to Apple.com/iphone. But notice the full URL:
Apple is tracking that the visitor typed in iPhone.com. The company can determine how many people type the domain name in and track what they do after visiting the site.
BlueDot.com now forwards to BluDot.com, also with tracking code:
Blu Dot is using Google Analytics tracking links to measure the traffic BlueDot.com gets. Anyone can do this for free.
Do you own domain names that you forward to your main website like these companies? It’s a smart thing to do. You should consider registering domains that are:
- Typos of your main domain name, especially if your domain uses a funny spelling like BluDot.com.
- Generic terms that describe the products you sell. You can capture the type-in traffic these domains get and redirect the traffic to your site.
How to Track Traffic from Forwarded Domains
When you forward these domains to your website, be sure to set up tracking links like Apple and Blu Dot do. To do this, visit the Google Analytics Campaign URL builder. You will see this form:
For the Website URL, enter the URL you want the forward to go to. In the case of BlueDot.com, it entered BluDot.com. It can be a product-specific page on your site, though.
Next, make a campaign source. This will show up as the traffic source in your Google Analytics report. Also, add a medium and campaign name.
It’s up to you what you enter for each of these. If you have a lot of redirects, you might name your source ‘redirect’ and put each individual domain as your campaign name. If you only forward one domain, you can just put the domain for each of the required fields.
Google will then create a tracking URL for you like the BlueDot.com one. Log in to your registrar account and forward the domain to this full tracking URL.
When someone types in the domain name, it will forward to the full tracking URL and the statistics will be logged in Google Analytics.
Already have a domain you forward to your website? Start tracking today by changing the forwarding URL to a Google Analytics tracking link.
Otherwise, consider typos of your domain name that people might type in. Register one or two of these at Namecheap and set up forwards with tracking links. See how much traffic they get after a few months to guide your strategy of buying and forwarding domains in the future.
Is there a way to get historical data?
Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any way to get this historical data.
Andrew, just to clarify – the screen capture you included from the Analytics Campaign URL Builder page (it looks like a form) is happening in the Analytics at the REFERRING domain (iphone.com or bluedot.com in your examples)??? So it’s creating the code snippet at the end of the URL of the landing page (destination page) once it forwards. Is that correct?
If I understand your question correctly, what you stated is true. The domain you forward to is the destination page, and that destination page will show the long URL.
What if I’m forwarding my domain to someone who is ‘renting’ the monthly forwarding of all traffic to their website that I dont’ own. Then what is the best way to track it?
Do you want to track the traffic you’re sending? You could forward the domain to a URL shortener, such as bitly, which subsequently forwards it to the other person’s website to track it. Or ask them to set it up and share the data with you.