What is Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

Let’s talk about Direct Traffic in Google Analytics: what it is; what it is isn’t; and why you really need to pay attention to it.

Most people when they get inside their Google Analytics and then to their channel reports, pay a lot of attention to their main channels of marketing but they tend to ignore direct traffic. This is really because most don’t understand what direct traffic is.

What Direct Traffic in Google Analytics Is

Direct Traffic by definition of Google Analytics is traffic that Google is unsure what the referral source is.  So really it is a mystery bucket of traffic! Our goal is marketers is to try and eliminate as much direct traffic as we can so that we can get a better idea of our traffic.

Direct Traffic can be a lot of different types of traffic so let’s break that down.

  • It can represent people that have entered a URL directly into the browser. This is what most people think that direct traffic is.  They’ve entered elevatedmarketing.solutions or whatever website into the browser.
  • Another way that traffic can fall into the direct bucket is when people can also be saving and accessing your website from their favorite tabs within the browser.
  • When someone opens an email that does not have UTM’s.  Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters are what tell Google where to put the traffic. Google cannot recognize traffic from email so therefore without UTM’s all traffic from email fall into this bucket.
  • Do you have PDFs where you have linked back to the website? Google treats PDFs, Google slide decks ( Or Microsoft products) the same way they do with email.  They are unsure of the referrals source so this data is put into “direct”.Direct Traffic Google Analytics
  • Do you have mixed content? This is when traffic goes from an HTTPS version to an HTTP version or vice versa.  Google looks at these at two different websites and gets confused so this traffic also goes into direct traffic.  This can happen when you don’t do a clean switch over from a non-secure version of your website to a secure version.
  • Do you use shorteners inside of organic social? This has also been known to cause direct traffic.  It should be best practice to use the built-in shorter for social media platforms
  • When links are sent via apps like Facebook messenger.  This is perhaps when someone sees something on social media and then takes the link over to messenger to share.
  • There could be browser issues, oh we won’t go there too many to list!
  • You have a firewall.  There are all kinds of issues that can pop up here causing Google to put the traffic in to direct traffic.

As you can see there are a lot of ways that your traffic can show up in direct traffic.  The problem is that Direct Traffic can become a dumping ground that includes traffic you may actually want to measure. Some of these you can help and fix to reduce direct traffic and some you cannot.  You want to control what you can so that you can better understand your data and make better choices with your marketing.

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