what is direct traffic in google analytics

What is Direct Traffic in Google Analytics (Easy Guide)

Do you want to know what is direct traffic in Google Analytics?

Direct traffic is a channel that people often see in Google Analytics. However, unlike other channels in the report that are clear in their meaning (for instance, social), direct can be a confusing term.

In this article, we’ll discuss what direct traffic is in Google Analytics, what causes it, and how you can minimize it.

Table of Content

Understanding Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Theoretically, Direct Traffic is all website traffic that happens when visitors directly type your website URL in their browser’s search bar or click your website link they bookmarked earlier.

However, Google Analytics will tag all traffic as Direct if it can’t find a source.

As a rule, Google Analytics tries to tag every visit and session to a source. If it can’t do that, those visits and sessions go to the Direct Traffic bucket. In fact, the platform will try to minimize the number attributed to Direct Traffic. For instance, if a visitor came to your website from a search engine, they would be tagged as Organic Traffic. When the same user returns to your website by typing the URL, the session would still be classified as Organic Traffic.

Note: This tagging only happens for a limited “lookback” period.

So, anything Google Analytics can’t track is labeled as Direct Traffic. It’s a catch-all bin where sessions and visits that can’t be associated with other channels end up.

Direct Traffic is a common debate topic in SEO and Digital marketing communities because it represents a portion of website traffic that cannot be traced to a source. As a result, you cannot credit a specific campaign or channel for this portion of traffic coming to your website.

Where Does Direct Traffic Come From?

There can be several reasons behind the Direct Traffic count in Google Analytics.

Manual Website Address Entries

Google Analytics tags all users coming to your website by entering the website address directly in the browser’s search bar. A related cause is users clicking your website bookmarks. In both scenarios, Google Analytics can’t find the source of incoming traffic. As a result, it gets tagged as Direct.

HTTPS to HTTP Transitions

https to http transitions

By default, if a visitor on an HTTPS-secured page clicks a link to an HTTP unsecured page, no referral data is passed. As a result, Google Analytics tags this visitor as Direct Traffic instead of Referral.

This often happens to websites still using HTTP (although this is getting rare). If that’s the case with you, you’ll find your Direct Traffic going up and Referral Traffic going static or down.

A simple fix to this problem is migration to HTTPS. Installing an SSL certificate is a simple process, and if your web host supports Let’s Encrypt, you can get one for free.

Missing Tracking Code

It often happens that in the rush of launching a new landing page, you might forget to include the Google Analytics tracking code. A related problem is misconfigured Google Tag Manager triggers that fail to pass on data.

Now when a visitor lands on this landing page and clicks another link to your website, no data is passed to Google Analytics because of the missing code or broken trigger. Google Analytics considers the second page as the start of the session because it considers your website as the starting point of the visitor’s journey. Since your own website is often on the referral exclusion list, Google Analytics will tag the session as Direct Traffic.

To avoid this issue, you need to make sure the Google Analytics tracking code is properly installed across the website. To simplify the task, we recommend using Analytify, a WordPress Google Analytics Dashboard plugin, that takes care of adding the Google Analytics code properly on your website.

Redirection Chains

Website redirection is tricky, and the debate between 301 and 302 redirects appears to be never-ending. From the perspective of Direct Traffic in Google Analytics, the problem starts when website admins set up chain redirections (multiple redirects between the original and the target URL).

There is always a chance that referral data might get lost at any point. When this happens, Google Analytics tags the sessions in the Direct Traffic bucket.

To fix this issue, you should avoid chained redirects and make sure the redirects are passing referral data.

Non-web Freebies and Documents

Marketers offer whitepapers, research reports, and similar documents as free stuff to convince visitors to become customers. Almost all of these documents are in PDF format and include links to the website. The problem occurs when a visitor clicks these links and arrives at the website.

If you haven’t included a UTM as a campaign parameter, Google Analytics has no way of knowing the session’s source. As a result, all such visits and sessions are tagged as Direct Traffic.

This is a common problem because a brand distributes several such documents at various touchpoints of the user journey.

A simple fix is to always use a UTM-based structure for all URLs included in these documents. That way, Google Analytics has a way of determining the source of the sessions.

Dark Social

Dark Social refers to social sharing that cannot be associated with any particular source, such as email. A good example of Dark Social sharing is links shared on WhatsApp.

Since social sharing and messaging apps are not tracked by Google Analytics, all the traffic from the links shared on these platforms is labeled as Direct Traffic in Google Analytics. This is a growing concern among marketers because this phenomenon directly affects the ROI measurement of social media campaigns.

Unless you have a very rigorous social campaign tracking with UTM code in every link, you’ll find all Dark Social traffic ending up in the Direct Traffic bucket.

How to Find Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Finding Direct Traffic in Google Analytics is pretty straightforward. However, the process is slightly different in Universal Analytics and the upcoming Google Analytics 4. For your convenience, we’ll show you how to find Direct Traffic in Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics.

Find Direct Traffic in Google Analytics 4

Start by logging into your Google Analytics account.

Go to Reports and click Acquisition to expand it. Next, click Traffic acquisition to see the traffic breakdown. You’ll find Direct Traffic near the top of the list.

Direct Traffic in GA4

Find Direct Traffic in Universal Analytics

If you’re using Google Universal Analytics, you can find Direct Traffic by following these steps:

Log into your Google Analytics account.

Next, go to Reports, and click Acquisition. Click All Traffic to expand the menu. Chose Channels to see a channel-based traffic breakdown.

Direct Traffic in GA Universal Analytics

Analytify Brings Direct Traffic Stats to Your Website

If you don’t want to go to the Google Analytics platform, you can use Analytify, a feature-rich WordPress Google Analytics Dashboard plugin that brings website traffic stats directly to your dashboard.

In addition to showing website traffic, Analytify displays eCommerce stats, including total sales and revenues. You also get detailed visitor information, including geographic locations and the browsers they use to visit your website.

direct traffic analytify

Conclusion: Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Direct Traffic is an important segment of your website traffic. Marketers usually pay attention to the direct coming to their websites because of the lack of a source. This complicates the traffic attribution to a specific campaign.

This article described what is direct traffic in Google Analytics and how you can find out the relevant statistics. Let us know your opinion on Direct Traffic. Do you think its share in your website traffic should be minimum?

Frequently Ask Questions

What does Direct Traffic indicate?

In Google Analytics, Direct Traffic is a catch-all bucket for all visitors whose source cannot be tracked. This can happen to several reasons for direct traffic including broken tracking code, and traffic originating from social media platforms.

What are some examples of Direct Traffic?

Direct traffic could come from several sources including;

– Website links in applications such as Office
– Website links in PDF and Excel files
– Website links shared in IM apps such as WhatsApp

Should I be concerned about Direct Traffic?

You should be concerned if Direct Traffic is more than other channels on your website. This could indicate problems with tracking or improperly deployed marketing campaigns. However, you should note that you cannot minimize Direct Traffic to zero.

That’s all! You can also check outHow to Find Referral Traffic in Google Analytics (An Easy Guide) and How to Reduce The Bounce Rate of Your Website (Easy Guide).

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