Let’s face it. By now you’re probably just getting started with Digital Marketing and you’re scrolling through google search results in hopes of finding the right direct traffic explanation. And even if you’re not and you’re just looking to see if direct traffic is causing your referral traffic drops, you still came to the right place.
We’ll cover everything from scratch and we’ll make sure you understand. Ready? Let’s get right into it:
What are Traffic Sources?
Assuming you already know what traffic is, you’ll need to understand where traffic comes from:
Direct: Any traffic where the referring source is unknown (we’ll explain this later)
Email: Traffic that comes from properly tagged email marketing campaigns (Assuming that all email parameters are set)
Organic: Traffic from search engine results that comes naturally when users search for terms related to your website.
Paid search: Unlike organic traffic, paid traffic is coming from search engine results through paid advertising via Google AdWords or another paid search platform (PPC)
Referral: Traffic that occurs when a user finds you through a site, not through a major (or any) search engine
Social: Traffic from a social network, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram
Other: If traffic does not fit into any other source or if it’s tagged as “Other” via a URL parameter, it will be bucketed into “Other” traffic
What is Direct Traffic?
Some will say that Direct Traffic occurs when users type in your website’s URL in the browser’s address bar, whereas others will say that it’s caused by broken/missing tracking codes, and the worst part of the story is that they’re both right.
However, there’s still no reason to worry. After you’re done reading this blog, you’ll be the one who’s doing the explaining.
So, technically, the most common way to explain direct traffic is to say that it’s basically users who reach your site through:
- The Browser address bar ( typing in „examplesite.com“ )
- Bookmarks tab
Let’s just stick to that for now.
How does Direct traffic occur?
Now that you’ve learned what direct traffic is by default, it’s time to understand how it occurs. Keep in mind that direct traffic can be wrongfully interpreted by your analytics software if the tracking parameters aren’t set correctly (broken and/or missing) which almost always leads to unusual direct traffic spikes.
Although this might seem complicated, it actually isn’t, and the breakdown below will show you why:
(Actual, by-the-book) Direct Traffic:
As explained above, these are the users who enter your URL into their browser, or they find you through their bookmarks. There’s no secret behind this, you’re popular, that’s it.
Assuming you have them, your employees will commonly visit your site, and if their IP addresses aren’t filtered out from your Google Analytics (or any other web analytics service), you’ll see them bucketed in the Direct Traffic section.
If your site offers a service that requires your users to register/log in, then you’ll see a lot of direct traffic. There’s no reason to worry here since it’s just your customers casually logging in to their favorite web service. However, it’s always nice to set up additional tracking URLs to your login/register page if you want to have a clear view in your Google Analytics.
Depending on the device, some forms of organic traffic may be interpreted as direct due to web analytic services being unable to track such organic sources. In plain English, this is still organic traffic, it’s just seen as direct in your Google Analytics because no referring source was found, and for now, there’s nothing you (or anyone else) can do about it.
From time to time, clicks coming from email marketing campaigns will simply fail to pass on referring info, which in return causes a massive direct traffic spike in your Google Analytics (assuming that your email marketing campaign was successful).
Mobile App/Desktop software clicks:
News apps and messaging apps such as Skype often tend to pass no referral data at all, which also causes – yep, you guessed it – Direct traffic. The best way to resolve this is to figure out where are links to your site coming from exactly and try to set up tracking links accordingly.
HTTPS > HTTP:
Before we dive into this one, you’ll need to understand that this only occurs in the HTTPS > HTTP scenario. This does not happen in the following scenarios:
- HTTP > HTTP (Referral data is passed on)
- HTTPS >HTTPS (Referral data is passed on)
This happens when HTTPS sites (secure sites, or in other words, almost all sites today since SSL certificates are now mostly provided for free) link to (non-secure) HTTP websites. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. No referral data is passed on and the HTTPS traffic is labelled as direct instead of referral.
Before we dive into our solutions/fixes for these scenarios, we want to make sure that you understand that:
Direct Traffic isn’t just your customers/users/employees/leads, it’s also everything else that isn’t tracked properly.
Moz has done a wonderful job explaining how this occurs in Google Analytics:
So, to sum everything up:
User types in your webpage in browser address bar = Actual Direct Traffic
User arrives at your website through Bookmarks = Actual Direct Traffic
No Referring Source Found = Appears as Direct Traffic but not actual Direct Traffic
How to fix unnecessary (wrongfully tracked) direct traffic?
Although it might seem easier to leave wrongfully tracked Direct Trafic as it is, it’s actually pretty harmful to your overall site’s performance.
Think about it this way:
If the data you’re seeing in your analytics report is wrong, how can your strategy/analysis be right?
Secure your site with SSL certificate
HTTPs protocols are the future of the web. They’re switching from paid to free and now’s your best chance. Plus, it will allow you to see how much wrongfully tracked „direct traffic“ is actually referral traffic from HTTPS referring sites.
Avoid chain and client-side redirections
Avoid tricky-to-track chain redirections. Use server-side 301. They’re more effective, easy to implement, won’t harm your tracking links, and most importantly, they’ll get the job done.
Tag your campaigns properly
Break down Your campaigns into individual channels and tag each link within them. This forces your data to always tell the truth since everything is individually separated & adequately tracked.
Audit your analytics reports
Perform frequent audits to make sure your reports are accurate. Check for missing tracking codes and include page and property-level testings.
Create custom alerts for direct traffic spikes
Set up custom alerts to stay notified when Direct Traffic spikes happen. You’ll be notified as soon as direct traffic starts to stand out more than usual.
Implement GTM Triggers
Implementing element visibility trackers will help you understand how your direct users use and view your website’s content.
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