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In your Google Analytics website traffic report, you repeatedly see the same traffic sources—Organic, Social, Referral and Direct—but they might not all mean what you think. The most enigmatic channel is Direct traffic… seemingly straightforward but commonly misunderstood.

WHAT IS DIRECT TRAFFIC?

As expected, a good portion of this traffic comes from visitors directly typing in the website URL. However, a lot of direct traffic comes from elsewhere, which is why Google officially defines it as “visits with no referring website”.

OKAY, SO WHAT ARE POTENTIAL SOURCES OF DIRECT TRAFFIC?

  • Clicks on untagged email links

  • Clicks on untagged links from a Microsoft Office or PDF document

  • Accessing the site through a shortened URL, depending on the URL shortener

  • Social media apps that open links in “in-app” browsers

  • Going from a secure (https) site to a non-secure (http) site (domain redirects)

  • Browser issues – loss of source attribution data can cause organic traffic to be misreported as Direct

  • Dark social – clicks on a link shared through text, messenger app (Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.) or email

HOW CAN WE SEE BETTER DATA?

Minimizing direct traffic sources, in many situations, is simple. For instance, ensuring use of https URLs and reducing website redirects are common solutions for reducing Direct traffic. Additionally, using Google’s URL building tool to create a URL for all email links and social media within a campaign ensures the data is appropriately recorded in Analytics.

Check out our past blog on leveraging UTM tags and never lose track of these clicks again!

Although not all direct traffic can be resolved, we do our best to ensure as much traffic is correctly tracked as possible. If you have more questions regarding the traffic sources you see in your report, let us know!


Additional resources:
Understanding Direct Traffic in Google Analytics
The Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics