Google Analytics: Understanding a Nuance with Reporting on Direct Traffic

A lot of people have seen unexpected and unexplained increases in Google Analytics reporting of their “Direct Traffic.” Direct Traffic is generally used to mean those visitors who arrived by typing your brand’s URL into the browser window. These were the folks who already know your brand and may in fact have catalog in hand.

Why is this increase in Direct Traffic numbers happening? Do that many more visitors seek your brand URL directly? Probably not. Google’s method of sourcing traffic comes from grabbing the referral information from the http header in the URL. As a result of new technology, user habits and increased security, we’re seeing more Direct Traffic than ever. Here are some reasons this is happening:

  • When a user is using a mobile app, clicks made to your site from inside the app won’t bring in the identified referral as the website would. Because more and more people are on mobile and are using apps, not the site, Google doesn’t identify a referrer but lumps this traffic now into Direct Traffic.
  • Social media using link shorteners or private browsing most likely will lose the referrer.
  • Spam protection filters can limit how a referrer is logged. Traffic is most likely going to be categorized as Direct Traffic if there is a filter in place.
  • In browsers where the user limits the use of cookies, the referrer may not show up.
  • Visitors from secure locations or using an http then being redirected to an https will not have a referrer.
  • When a visitor chooses to open a link using “Open in Safari” or “Open in Chrome,” the referrer will be dropped.
  • Visits from links sent within instant messaging will likely be recorded as Direct Traffic.We will continue to research and report out to you on some of the issues related to tracking mobile use in Google Analytics as they evolve.

In the meantime, look at the Direct Traffic numbers in your Analytics with a large grain of salt and keep laser focused on actual CTR’s, Costs and Conversion numbers.

Leslie LewisAbout Leslie Lewis, Director of Paid Search – @Website Publicity

As Director of Paid Search, Leslie Lewis leads the agency’s efforts in all online marketing, overseeing campaign management and strategy for search, social and mobile media buys.

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