What Is Direct Traffic in Analytics, Really?

What Is Direct Traffic in Analytics, Really?

Direct Traffic is usually the traffic source that shows up with the most traffic-acquisition share in your overall acquisition mix. So what exactly is Direct Traffic?

To most internet marketers, the rationale behind Direct Traffic is that someone typed in a domain name (like AlchemyLeads.com) into their browser or they used a bookmark within their browser to directly access your site.

But be advised:  Direct also includes a much broader pool of traffic, far beyond those two instances.

At the fundamental level, “Direct” sessions occur in any scenario where Google Analytics cannot determine another traffic referrer. Other instances of when Google would funnel your traffic into the “Direct” segment would include:

  • Clicking on a link from an email (depending on the email provider/program)
  • Clicking on a link from a Microsoft Office or PDF document
  • Accessing the site from a shortened URL (depending on the URL shortener)
  • Clicking a link from a Mobile social media apps like Facebook or Twitter. Phone apps often do not pass referrer information.
  • Going to a non-secure (http) site from a link on a secure (https) site, as the secure site won’t pass a referrer to the non-secure site. For instance, if someone clicks a link on https://example.com to go to http://example2.com, the analytics for example2.com will show the session as direct.
  • Accessing a site from organic search, in certain scenarios, organic search traffic will end up being reported as Direct; partly due to browser issues.

An experiment conducted by Groupon showed as much as 60% of direct traffic may be from organic search.

Based on the points above, Direct traffic can truly encompass a wide array of traffic acquisition sources, including some of those that you surely would have liked to be able to do more in-depth reporting on within your Google Analytics.

Luckily, although you won’t be able to salvage the specific acquisition for ALL of the traffic pooled into the Direct segment, you will be able to take measures to make certain that you can accurately track as much multi-source traffic as possible going forward.

Having reviewed some of the downfalls of campaign attribution, here are some simple guidelines you can follow to find the truth behind direct and/or bookmarked traffic:

  1. Define a naming convention for your tracking codes and always include, the campaign medium in your tracking code parameter. For instance, “PPC” for paid search, “DSP” for display advertising, “TV” for television, etc.
  2. Include a campaign-specific name in the parameters within your URL traffic code so that you can attribute the results of different campaigns, even when using the same source of medium, to accurately assess the ROI of each particular campaign.

Examples of strong campaign tracking codes:

  • Google Analytics: http://www.10marketingtips.com/Nexus/4/?utm_source=LinkedIn&utm_medium=+article&utm_content=direct+analytics+article&utm_campaign=test

If you make sure to abide by the above guidelines, you won’t just disparage your previous perception of total “direct” or “bookmarked” traffic, but you will also be able to build a solid case for your data’s validity; to make sure your ROI calculations are as accurate as possible with your upper-level executives or your high-value clients.

Explaining Direct Traffic to Clients

If Direct Traffic is on an increasing trend, how would most internet marketers go about explaining this segment of traffic acquisition to clients? Many of the marketers I know would react by just simply explaining the notion effortlessly by saying, “X amount of users typed in your URL to get directly to your website!”

But now we know, it is not that simple; in fact, the Truth Behind Direct Traffic is beneficial to our efforts as digital marketers.

Being as transparent and honest about the simple fact that traffic data from any number of different sources could find their way into Google’s Direct bucket.

Be sure to keep your client in the know by conveying to them all of the various scenarios that could result in the Direct Traffic segment; traffic situations like certain types of email links, organic search visits, or links from https secured websites.

From one perspective this could be a bit frustrating considering that the “Direct” Traffic segment should, in a perfect world, represent exactly the type of “Direct” traffic source that marketers would assume. However, by being ahead of the curve in terms of your Google Analytics understanding, this knowledge can play to your advantage in many campaigns, especially your Search Engine Optimization campaigns, illustrating to your clients that their websites have likely received more organic search traffic than Google Analytics shows.

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