Is Direct Traffic Really Direct?

Google Analytics is the most common analytics platform out there. Because of this, GA, as it is affectionately known by those familiar with it, has had a leading role in identifying the types of traffic to a website and how they are measured. Google Analytics shows 5 primary types of channels of traffic: Direct, Social, Organic, Paid, and Referral. There can be other channels present (ie. email) if tracking has been established for these channels.

To reach the traffic report broken down by medium, you should follow this path in your Google Analytics account: Home>Acquisition>All Traffic>Channels. Google defines   Direct traffic as URLs that people either type in directly or reach via their browser bookmarks. GA relies on a code that is usually placed in the header of your website which tracks the referring site user clicked on to reach the site.Direct Traffic

We saw the amounts of Direct traffic increase dramatically in 2012/2013 as the use of mobile browsers and browser privacy settings became more prevalent. The reason for this is that GA began to place all the traffic for which the source could not be recognized under the “Direct” channel. The numbers on direct traffic for most of our clients are continuing to grow because:

  • The increased use of privacy and security plugins in users’ browsers, thus more traffic is stripped from the organic and referral channels to be placed in the Direct channel.
  • Tablet and mobile devices (ie. Safari in iOs6 and above) are not reporting the traffic source, especially for organic traffic, making mobile traffic difficult to track.  Studies show that iOs, despite losing significant market share to Android, still represents approximately 30% of the mobile browsers currently in service.
  • The current popularity of QR codes has added to direct traffic because QR scans show up in GA as Direct traffic.

How do you minimize this trend? Unfortunately, only partial solutions are currently available. Email marketing, social media posts, and paid campaigns can be tagged using Google Tag Manager and UTM codes, and Google Paid campaigns can easily be added to GA by following the path here: Admin>+create property>Google Ads Linking.

 Google Analytics will continue to create a challenge in identifying and reading between the lines to identify direct traffic v. organic traffic v. mobile traffic from the sources outlined here. Use common sense and follow the trend of direct traffic v. mobile traffic overview (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Overview) v. mobile traffic by device (path in GA Audience>Mobile>Devices) to see if the trends match. Over time, patterns will develop that will help to fully outline the success of organic placement in mobile SERP.

Eric Van Cleave is Co-CEO and Digital Director for Zenergy Works, a Santa Rosa, California Online Marketing and SEO firm.

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