The common definition of direct traffic is when visitors reach your website by typing in your website’s URL or having a page of your site bookmarked. This group of visitors should be understood very well, since they are typically loyal, repeat visitors. Unfortunately, misunderstandings of direct traffic make it hard for many marketers to accurately utilize their website traffic data to make meaningful insights and decisions.

How? Direct traffic, at least in Google Analytics, is often made up of a variety of things. If you’re not careful, visitors getting to your site in other ways can be pooled into this direct traffic group, skewing your data. Google Analytics defines direct traffic as any traffic that does not have a defined referral source. This is key, since it means that anytime Google Analytics cannot figure out where the traffic came from, it is classified as direct traffic. Put simply, a significant portion of your “direct” traffic could actually be referral or paid traffic that is mislabeled.

What other factors cause traffic to be mislabeled as direct, and how can you fix it?

  • Mobile social media apps like Facebook and Twitter do not pass the referrer information to Analytics, so these visits will be counted as direct traffic.
  • When campaign parameters are not included in URLs shared in social media, email marketing, paid search ads, email signatures of employees, etc., the referrer may not always be passed properly.
  • How many employees type in your website’s URL everyday, or have it set a bookmark or the homepage in their browser? If you have not filtered the IP addresses of your company’s office locations out of your reporting, your team could be inflating the direct traffic numbers.
  • PDFs and other documents do not pass any referrer information. If your B2B has PDFs published on industry websites or shared via social media and email campaigns, make sure the links included to your site are properly tagged.
  • Incorrect, inconsistent, or missing Analytics coding on the website will create several issues with tracking. If a visitor clicks from one page to another, coding issues can lead Google Analytics to count that second click as a new session caused by direct traffic. This is especially common when websites with sub-domains are not properly configured.
  • If your site uses temporary (302) redirects instead of permanent 301 redirects, the referrer cannot be tracked.
  • If your site redirects from htpp:// to the secure, https:// URL, the referrer isn’t tracked due to security parameters set up by the https setup.

So what?

As mentioned earlier, your pool of direct traffic should provide you with valuable insights about your most loyal and frequent visitors. If you aren’t diligent about keeping this section free from other traffic types, you are diluting the value of the data it can provide and are truly missing out. You want to know as much about your actual direct visitors as possible, and you can’t do that if your data is inaccurate!

How have you gotten around traffic categorization issues in Analytics? How have you used insights about your direct traffic user behavior to help your marketing efforts? We want to know!