Understanding Direct Traffic – Part 1

What is Direct Traffic?

This blog post is the first of a two part series on direct traffic. The first part will explain what direct traffic is while the second part will explain what actions you can take to make visits typically placed in the ‘direct’ category, go where they can be of more use (ie. under a specific referral category).

According to Google, direct traffic is a good indicator of the pages on your website that are the most popular destinations. It’s also a good indicator of the URLs that were easy to remember (ie. www.e-xanthos.co.uk); the URLs which appeared most often in auto-completion; and the pages that users bookmark the most.

Nice and simple, right?

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Consider the following scenario:

You are looking to buy a new tablet device. As part of your research, you instant message one of your more tech savvy friends who has just come online. You ask for her advice. As you predict, she has an answer. She sends you a link to a tablet she thinks you’ll like. You click the link. It takes you directly to the retailer’s product page where you can read the specs.

The problem – Google tags this click as a direct visit when actually, clicking that link should have been marked as a referral. This is true of almost all chats or instant messengers – Whats App, Yahoo, Skype, MSN Mesenger and Google Talk. The only exception to the rule is those chats that are done over HTTPS or that are running through Java, Flash or Silverlight.

The thing that really sucks – it’s not just chat referrals that are dumped into Google Analytics as Direct.

Where does direct traffic come from?

According to analytics analyst Robert Kingston and Google Analytics guru Avinash Kaushik, there are a few more sources of direct traffic:

  1. Untagged email links
  2. Other untagged campaigns (search, display, social media)
  3. Landing pages that are missing web analytics tags
  4. Links that are opened in ‘Incognito Mode’ or in ‘Private Mode’
  5. Improperly coded 301 redirects
  6. The rel=“nonreferrer” attribute which will mask the referrer
  7. Visitors from HTTPS websites (doesn’t apply to all HTTPS sites though)
  8. Links within mobile and desktop apps
  9. Browser homepage is set to your website (probably don’t need to worry about this one unless you are Google or Bing).
  10. Hacks/extensions to hide referrers

But, as nice as it is to know what things are going under the direct heading, wouldn’t it be a lot better if you could tell exactly where these referrals were coming from?

Well, you can and that’s where part two of this post comes in – Tagging Direct Traffic.

At this point, you may be asking ‘Why should I bother with direct traffic? It’s way too complicated and how much am I really going to get out of all the work I put into tagging all of my links?’

You’ll get a lot out of it and here’s why…

According to Avinash, direct traffic is great because it represents:

  • People who are existing customers/past purchasers who type in your URL and come directly to your site or via a bookmark they have saved.
  • People who are familiar with your brand. They need a solution and your name pops into their head and they type.
  • People driven by word of mouth. Someone recommends your business/solution to someone else and they show up on your site.
  • People driven by your offline campaigns – a flyer, a TV ad, business cards, a billboard…whatever it was that motivated them to type in your URL.

Now you’re sold on how important and how great direct traffic actually is, the next step is learning to tag it. Stay tuned for the follow-up post on tracking direct traffic.

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At Xanthos, we’re constantly helping clients improve their website’s rank in the SERPs through detailed analyses of analytics data. If you think you could use our help or if you’d like regular analytics reports, get in touch.