Understanding Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Do you already have a website for your own business or for a client? If yes, then you would know that often, one of the biggest challenges is getting more visitors to that site.

Google Analytics is one of the most popular and convenient tools to measure traffic on your website, as well as to devise ways to increase the same.

Whether it is identifying the source of your traffic as a social media platform, a site referral or a search engine result, Google Analytics shows you all kinds of statistics in the form of various reports. The best part is that you can view such reports and share them with your clients or business colleagues.

The idea is to track which sources bring the most traffic and plan your future marketing campaigns accordingly to target the right audience at the right sources. However, while checking such detailed website traffic source data, direct traffic is often neglected.

The general assumption is that a direct visitor is someone who types the site’s URL in the browser or lands on it by clicking on a bookmark. But, does direct (“none”) traffic in Google Analytics only refer to these two instances? No, direct traffic covers a significantly broader pool of traffic.

So, what are the other possibilities where a direct session may occur and Google Analytics reports them under direct traffic statistics? Is such traffic completely organic?

Let us try to answer these queries by carrying out an in-depth analysis of what Google Analytics’ direct traffic is and what is included in this resource.

Steps to Locate the Direct Traffic Source in Google Analytics

  • Log in to your Google Analytics account and navigate to the “Reporting” tab.
  • Go to the “Acquisition” section.
  • Click on “All Traffic” and opt for “Source / Medium”.google-analytics-explained-understanding-direct-traffic-in-google-analytics-1
  • You can now view the “direct traffic / none” data by using “Source / Medium” as the primary dimension for the Acquisition report.
  • google-analytics-explained-understanding-direct-traffic-in-google-analytics-2

What Is Meant by Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

Now that you know how to view the direct traffic data, you should also know what the data refers to.

Direct sessions are reported in Google Analytics whenever it fails to determine another referral siource. Of course, they include scenarios where someone types your site’s URL or uses a bookmark to arrive on your site. However, there are many other instances which you would wish to be captured by Google Analytics separately, instead of under the direct traffic parameter.

Below are some of these website visitor flow instances that may be reported as direct traffic by your Google Analytics dashboard due to the inability of your configured Google Analytics setup to track the right source:

  • When someone accesses your site from a shortened URL, which may not always pass the referrer details for certain URL shorteners.
  • When a visitor lands on your website from an organic search and it is reported as direct traffic due to certain issues with the visitor’s browser. This could be due to someone performing a search directly in Google or from the browser’s search box. At times, it may even depend on the operating system version of the computing device used by the visitor.
  • When someone arrives at your site by clicking on your page links from any social media apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Some of the social media apps (on mobile devices) may not always reveal the referral information accurately.
  • When a visitor clicks on your site page URL shared via an email or in a document (PDF, Word, Powerpoint, and others).
  • If your site is a non-secured one (http) and someone lands on it from a secured site (https).

Clearly, the majority of your direct traffic may in fact not be direct.

True, it may be impossible to get 100% accurate reporting for your direct traffic. But, you can try to ensure the most accurate tracking possible for your site by implementing some of the tips mentioned below.

Tips For Accurate Tracking or Measurement of Direct Traffic

You can track direct traffic more accurately via your Google Analytics dashboard by adding appropriate tracking parameters or tagging URLs in various campaigns.

For example, if you are running an email campaign that shares your site’s URL with a number of potential visitors and someone visits your site by clicking on the link shared in the email, you would want that traffic to be captured as part of the email traffic source in Google Analytics.

You can achieve this by using the Campaign URL Builder from Google (previously known as just URL Builder) to add custom parameters to your website’s links that you share during custom web-based or email ad campaigns. When a visitor clicks on such URLs, your custom parameters are passed to your Google Analytics account and help you identify the session as originating from an email (you can label the unique parameter as “Email”), instead of classifying it under direct traffic. You can either manually tag the URLs or do it automatically by using email marketing platforms like MailChimp.Understanding-Direct-TrafficThe Campaign URL builder tool even helps you overcome inaccurate tracking due to the use of URL shorteners like bit.ly. You would agree that many marketing campaigns involve sharing shortened URLs on social media. For example, bit.ly redirects its shortened link to your site’s link and, in this process, the source (social media) may not get tracked.

In fact, this could lead to a sudden fall in social media traffic statistics. You may not even realize that this is not an actual decrease in the social media traffic and that all those visits are actually being tracked as direct sessions.

But, with the Google Campaign URL builder tool, you can continue to shorten URLs for your marketing campaigns on social media by tagging the URL parameters before shortening and still get accurate traffic data.

Also, if you are using a non-secure domain for your website, it may take time for your business to switch over to a secure domain. As a workaround, you need to ensure that your site links are tagged with unique parameters, especially when you share those URLs on a site that is secure.

In a nutshell, the key steps you can take to ensure you measure your traffic sources accurately in Google Analytics are the following:

  • Use Google Campaign URL builder.
  • Add unique parameters (or UTM tracking codes) and tag your URLs.
  • Do not panic if a particular traffic source shows a drop in visitor numbers. If this happens, check the direct traffic numbers, as different sources’ data often gets lost due to inaccurate passing of referral information, leading to such visits being treated as direct sessions.

Steps to Add UTM Tracking Codes to URLs Using Campaign URL Builder

1.Enter your website URL for which you intend to do the analytics.

2.You can add the necessary parameters to be tracked such as Campaign Source (the referrer which can be your newsletter or even Google), Campaign Medium (marketing medium which can be email, banner or even cpc), Campaign Name (your choice of name), Campaign Term (for identifying paid keywords for a campaign), and Campaign Content (to differentiate links or ads that point towards the same URL). The Campaign Source field needs to be filled mandatorily.

3.A URL will be automatically generated, which can be copied and used for any of your campaigns. For example, you may use the UTM parameters apart from the URL for your Facebook ad campaign.

4.You can track the results from Google Analytics dashboard and even adjust the UTM parameters / codes at any point of time.

However, be careful when using the automatic URL tagging feature of certain social media platforms. The tagging may not always happen in the correct way. You may in fact be better off disabling the auto tagging feature and instead opting for manual tagging.

We hope that the above information about the importance and relevance of direct traffic data in Google Analytics proves useful to your business. Feel free to share your queries or feedback in the comments section below.


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