What Is Google Analytics Direct Traffic And Where Does It Really Come From?

google analytics direct trafficOne of the core benefits of Google Analytics is its ability to show you where your website visitors are coming from. How many are arriving from Google? What about from links on Facebook or another online community? These are vital questions that any webmaster needs to be able to answer.

Within Analytics, the total number of visitors is broken down into three distinct types. Two of these are quite straightforward: Search Engine Traffic and Referral Traffic (which means users landing on your site after clicking a link on another site).

The third type is Direct Traffic, which means users who type in your website’s URL directly or access it through a browser bookmark. But there are numerous instances where it can get complicated.

Why Google Analytics Direct Traffic Can Be Inaccurate and Misleading

If you’ve ever looked at your direct traffic and thought the numbers are higher than you would’ve guessed, you’re probably right. Anytime a visitor is referred to your site but Google can’t capture that referral data, it gets counted as Direct Traffic. In particular, Google has issues with some URL shorteners. And social activity within a mobile app will often fail to specify a referrer.

Also, if someone arrives from a link in a PDF, email newsletter or similar source, that referral data won’t be tracked and the traffic will be direct.

Because of this, direct traffic is much more than those who access your site directly; it becomes more of an “everything else” type of proposition.

So what can you do about this? One way you can cut down on those lost referrals is to manually tag your links that show up in places that are unable to be tracked. Google has a handy URL builder you can use just for this purpose. Once it is set up, Analytics will start to track those links separately in your reports.

Getting a more accurate count on your direct traffic is important because its considered by some to be your most valuable type of traffic. “Direct visitors arrive at your site under their own propulsion,” says David Crankshaw of Geonexus. “They are familiar with your brand. No one had to refer them … You didn’t have to beg. Therefore, learn to love your Direct visitors … Study their questions and what you can do to solve their problems.”

Avinash Kaushik takes this even a step further by recommending that you “make love to your direct traffic.”

If you run Google Analytics on your website, how have you dealt with Direct Traffic “pollution?” Do you agree that it’s the most important type of site visitor?

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Andrew Walsh

I'm Andrew Walsh, a web entrepreneur, author and academic librarian. Check out my book Savvy for the Social Web, or learn more about me my personal homepage. If you're interested, please follow me on Twitter and Google+
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