In everyday life, traffic is dreaded and despised. In the world of SEO, it’s typically 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 . . . It may take a little time for you to understand what all these terms mean. For example, what is direct traffic? To find out, let’s jump behind the wheel and drive straight into the gridlock.
What Is Direct Traffic?
Contrary to popular belief, direct traffic is not exclusively the result of users typing an address into their browser or clicking on a bookmark. In fact, it’s a catch-all term. Direct traffic can come from one of many possible sources, including all of the following:
- A visitor types your web address into their browser.
- A visitor arrives at your site through a bookmark.
- A visitor clicks on a link to your website inside a PDF.
- A visitor clicks on a link to your website that is shared via a private channel (email, text, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.). This form of sharing is known as Dark Social.
- A visitor clicks on a shortened version of your URL.
- A visitor has chosen the site as their auto-loading homepage.
- A visitor follows a link from a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page.
- A visitor clicks from a page that is missing a Google Analytics tracking code (or has a broken tracking code) to a page that does have a working tracking code.
What do all these circumstances have in common? In all of them, Google is typically not able to identify the traffic source due to a lack of data. This brings us to the true definition of direct traffic: Direct traffic is traffic that cannot be attributed to a particular source. In other words, it’s traffic from an unknown source.
Is Direct Traffic Good or Bad?
You might notice that when some people talk about direct traffic, their tone dips as though it’s categorically a bad thing. This isn’t because direct traffic harms your website in any way but because it’s viewed as mysterious and therefore unhelpful. But in fact, direct traffic isn’t so bad. It’s an inevitable piece of your analytics that you can use to make proactive data-driven decisions for your business. Plus, there are tools you can use to reduce the amount of direct traffic in your analytics reports.
How Can You Reduce Direct Traffic?
Eliminating direct traffic is virtually impossible, but you can use these techniques to reduce the amount of direct traffic reported in your analytics:
- Consider moving to HTTPS. As we mentioned above, when a user clicks from an HTTPS page to an HTTP page, the session is considered direct traffic. So if your referrers have transitioned to HTTPS, you should do so as well. Since HTTPS enhances your website’s security and is encouraged by Google, this is a no-brainer. In addition, be sure to update your backlinks to point to HTTPS URLs.
- Fix missing and broken tracking codes. If your page lacks a tracking code, you can perform a short-term repair by adding a code. In the long-term, however, you’ll need to conduct an Google Analytics audit and consider using Google Tag Manager (GTM) to manage your tracking codes.
- Use UTM campaign parameters in non-web documents. Do you frequently publish whitepapers or offer PDF guides? Use custom URLs with UTM campaign parameters to identify the traffic that arrives at your site from these non-web documents.
- Perform a Google Analytics audit. And don’t just check for missing tracking codes! Review the nitty-gritty of your measurement plan and conduct page-level and property-level testing.
Now that you’ve minimized your direct traffic, take a closer look at the direct traffic that remains. Although some people might turn up their noses or roll their eyes at it, it can actually be incredibly insightful.
How to Make Better Use of Your Direct Traffic
For example, you may wish to use the following strategies to better understand your direct traffic:
- Divide your direct traffic into custom segments based on their landing page, location, device, etc. Transform that mysterious blob of traffic into something you can pick apart a little.
- Use GTM triggers (such as element visibility and native scroll tracking) to track forms of engagement that you find meaningful. By doing so, you can better understand how your direct traffic is using your website.
- Create a custom alert so that you’ll be notified when there’s a spike in direct traffic. When this happens, consider how it might be related to your marketing tactics.
- Review your flow visualization reports to better understand the routes your direct traffic visitors take as they travel through your website. For example, using a Goal Flow or Behavior Flow report with segmentation may help you reap some valuable insights.
- Go the obvious route and ask your visitors how they found your website. For example, you could use a contact form plugin to ask visitors how they discovered you. If you want to get more responses, consider offering a reward in return (such as a discount or a free PDF).
So, what is direct traffic? Direct traffic is the category that Google gives to traffic when it’s unable to recognize that traffic’s source. Although it often remains a bit of a mystery, that doesn’t mean that it is bad or useless. Take steps to reduce the amount of direct traffic in your analytics and use the strategies suggested above to better understand these enigmatic visitors.
If you’re hoping to build a beautiful, effective website that will rank on Google, contact 417 Marketing for help. Our team of knowledgeable, creative, and passionate professionals specializes in SEO, web design and maintenance, and Google Ads, and we have successfully completed over 700 websites since our inception in 2010. Contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.
Last Updated: February 4, 2022