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Shedding light on direct traffic and the signals it sends

Vladislav Polikevych SEO Industry February 21, 2019
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Shedding light on direct traffic and the signals it sends


Google Analytics (GA) is something you can’t afford to miss out on. As you probably know, this service is designed to help you track your traffic sources, measure your marketing efforts, and understand how users behave on your website. GA is used for a myriad of other purposes, too, but providing you with comprehensive information on web traffic metrics is the most important one.

Whether you’re new to Google Analytics or have been using it for a good while, you may notice direct traffic spikes at some point. Many website owners treat them like spam. But is this really something you need to worry about? Take your time to dig into the matter.

Direct traffic isn’t that bad

The nature of direct sessions is not as fake as you might think. To better understand this, you must know how traffic gets assigned to that unwanted bucket, which is often associated with spam. According to Google Analytics, every source or channel that drives traffic to a website and cannot be accurately determined results in direct. Hence, if GA is unable to analyze the path that a user follows to land on your site, this session is likely to be categorized as direct.

The good news is that it bears little to no relation to your Google rankings. The reason why direct traffic is unwanted, though, is that it shows a blurred picture of your optimization efforts, making it impossible for you to identify weak spots and measure the success.

Why does direct traffic go up?


If you choose to invest in SEO, you want it to yield substantial results in the form of organic but not direct traffic, don’t you? So, why does the former drop while the latter goes up?

The chance is that your website, indeed, receives more traffic from organic search, albeit it is labeled as direct in Google Analytics. Here are some of the potential causes:

Manual enter

If your domain name is short and easy-to-remember, users may be landing on your website through typing the URL into an address bar. Alternatively, they can navigate to it by clicking a bookmark in a browser. In both cases, sessions will be categorized as direct traffic.

Redirection failed

Sometimes, referrer data is lost due to improper redirects or missing UTM parameters on landing pages. On top of that, shortened URLs can take their toll on organic traffic, transferring a large portion of it into the direct bucket.

Accessing a non-secured page from a secured one

This is probably the most common reason why you may be noticing an increase in direct traffic. The point is that GA considers each visit to be from a non-organic source when a user lands on an HTTP page by clicking a link on an HTTPS page. Besides, it is nothing but direct traffic if an individual navigates to your website using Incognito mode.

Dark social

Unfortunately, Google Analytics is still unable to track many traffic sources, including emails, online chats, and some apps. Every time a user accesses your website using a link via one of these “private channels”, the session is left unmeasured and goes misattributed in GA.

Word and PDF

Creating PDF or Microsoft Word guides for your target audience is a good marketing technique. But what you might overlook is that putting links in these documents has nothing to do with increasing organic traffic because they do not convey referrer data. That is why all clicks in the docs of this type go to direct, too.

What comes next?


Statistics show that as much as half of the traffic from organic search and SEO is mistakenly categorized as direct. In most cases, this is caused by the above-mentioned factors, but there are also many other reasons why your analytics may leave a lot to be desired.

To curtail direct traffic in GA, you should start making a switch to HTTPS unless you haven’t done that yet. Then make sure each page of your website has its tracking code and properly adjusted UTM parameters. Also, it will be a good idea to fix your redirects, removing all client-side ones.

Better yet, you should carry out an in-depth analytics analysis to adequately measure the success of your SEO campaign and find out how much traffic you’re getting from organic search in actual fact.

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Andrew Timchenko
Head of Customer Success Department
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