In everyday life, traffic is dreaded and despised. In the world of SEO, it’s a sign of success! When you first dip your toe into SEO, you’ll hear a lot about traffic: web traffic, organic traffic, direct traffic, types of traffic, how to drive traffic to your site . . . Unfortunately, it can be difficult to understand what some of these terms mean. For example, what is direct traffic? If you search on Google, you might find this extremely clear definition (source):
“Source exactly matches Direct AND
Medium exactly matches (not set)
Medium exactly matches (none)”
Yikes! Google also describes direct traffic in this way: “Users that typed your URL directly into their browser, or who had bookmarked your site” (source). Neither of these definitions is particularly helpful to someone who is new to the concept, so today we’re jumping behind the wheel and driving straight into the gridlock. Our goal? To seek out and clarify the definition of direct traffic . . .
What Is Direct Traffic?
When you really start searching, you’ll learn that direct traffic is actually a catch-all term. It means that the traffic is coming from one of many possible sources, such as:
- A visitor types your web address into their browser
- A visitor clicks on a link to your website inside a PDF
- A visitor clicks on a link to your website in an e-mail (omitting analytics-integrated e-mail marketing campaigns)
- A visitor clicks on a shortened version of your URL
- A visitor arrives at your site through a bookmark
- You (or someone you work with) has the site as an auto-loading homepage
In all of these cases and more, Google might not be able to identify where the traffic is coming from (source), and in Google Analytics, if a source cannot be identified for traffic, it is marked as “direct.”
Have you noticed an increase in your direct traffic in recent years? For a variety of reasons, more and more traffic is lacking a clear source, resulting in a proliferation of direct traffic. For example:
- Privacy and security settings in users’ browsers strip the “referrer” from the header (so it is recognized as direct traffic)
- In Safari in iOS 6 and up, the referrer is also stripped
- Traffic resulting from QR scans is typically marked as direct
- Some mobile traffic (traffic through apps, for example) is referred to as direct
Additionally, we know that some of the traffic reported as “direct” is actually organic (such as the traffic coming from Safari in iOS 6+). Unfortunately, we don’t know how much. One study found that 60% of direct traffic was actually organic, but it’s hard to say how accurate that percentage truly is.
The Nitty Gritty
So what is direct traffic? Direct traffic is the category that Google gives to traffic when they are not able to recognize a source. Many people define direct traffic as traffic that results from people typing a URL directly into their browser or clicking on the link through a bookmark, but this is only partially correct. Those situations do result in direct traffic, but there are many other sources as well. To the great frustration of many SEOs, direct traffic is essentially a mystery. We can’t say for sure where these visitors came from or why.
Although it can be perplexing and mysterious, direct traffic is still appreciated by website owners. Nearly all traffic is embraced on the World Wide Web, after all. However, because you don’t know where these unmarked visitors are coming from, you will likely struggle to mimic direct traffic success. It is and will remain an enigma!
Hoping to get a leg up with Google and other search engines? Check out 417 Marketing, an online marketing company based in Springfield, Missouri, that specializes in SEO and web design. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.