Direct traffic has been often misunderstood as the fortune of marketing campaigns or a goldmine where your customers are directly reaching out. The fact is that Google Analytics or GA thinks otherwise. Any unknown source of the web traffic for Google Analytics is direct.
Let’s first see some statistics around web traffic before understanding the GA’s way of seeing web traffic,
- According to Statista, mobile traffic is set to reach 77.5 exabytes per month worldwide.
- A Cisco Internet Report suggests that more than two-thirds of the worldwide population will access the internet by 2023.
So, there is no doubt that website traffic will grow enormous for every business on the internet. While this is excellent news, identifying traffic sources and handling them are challenging tasks. Here, we will discuss what is direct traffic and how to handle it for better rankings?
What is Direct Traffic?
Direct traffic is often misunderstood as website visits from internet users through direct typing your URL on the search bar or even bookmarking. However, this is more of a definition that Google defines and not the exact one.
Google Defines, “ A direct traffic is defined as the search for your URL or direct typing of the site address by users and even through bookmarked links.”
However, what direct traffic means is,
- Users who type the URL directly into the browser
- Users that bookmark your website and click on them to access it.
- Users visit your website from a source that goes undetected by GA.
Now to the last point where Google Analytics deems website traffic from an unknown source, you must identify the causes. So, here are some scenarios in which GA can consider your website traffic to be “Direct” or unknown,
- Web traffic from different marketing campaigns like email channels has a website URL shared with the client directly over the email.
- Traffic from users having access to your ebooks, white papers, etc.
- Traffic from your web applications or even social media apps
- If there are issues with specific browsers, Google Analytics can even declare organic traffic direct traffic.
Now that you know the traffic source let’s discuss some practical ways to handle such traffic and avoid Google’s analytical negativity.
#1. URL Tagging
URL tagging is one of the most essential and standard practices employed to handle direct traffic. Here, you can leverage Urchin Tracking Module or UTM code. These are attached at the end of the URL for the identification of traffic sources. In addition, it contains a traffic source, medium, and campaign name, making it identifiable for GA.
Five UTM parameters are recognized by Google Analytics,
- Campaign Source (utm_source)
- Campaign Medium (utm_medium)
- Campaign Name (utm_campaign)
- Campaign Term (utm_term)
- Campaign Content (utm_content)
Another critical approach that can help you avoid scrutiny from Google Analytics is adding tracking codes.
#2. Tracking Codes
Google Analytics can report traffic from your web pages to be direct or self-referred if there are no tracking codes. So, it becomes paramount to ensure that all the web pages on your site have valid GA codes.
Let’s consider a scenario where a user lands on your site through web page “A” without a tracking code. If your website’s domain name is mentioned in the referral exclusion list on GA, then the navigation of users from webpage” A” to webpage “B” will be deemed direct traffic.
So, you need to ensure that there are proper tracking codes added to the web pages. But, not just tracking codes or URL tagging, browser security and compliance are also essential for your website.
#3. Security & Compliance
The first and most important part of the security measure that you can take is opting for HTTPS protocol that ensures encrypted data exchange. HTTPS protocols can be executed through SSL or Secure Socket Layer certificates. However, leveraging cheap wildcard SSL makes more sense if you have several different first-level subdomains under one primary domain.
It can protect all your level one subdomains from phishing attacks without the need for investing in individual SSL certificates. Other security and compliance measures that you can follow are,
- Keep different browser settings and compliance in mind while you redirect users to the website.
- Avoid redirects and add-ons that can hurt SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
Apart from these measures, another essential thing to keep in mind is the internal traffic. Google Analytics often deems the internal traffic to be unknown or direct, making it difficult for you to rank on search engines.
#4. Internal Traffic Issues
Several web pages are interlinked in the website, which produces an ample amount of internal traffic. Apart from the tracking codes, you can also block such traffic from being recognized by Google Analytics. There are two ways to do it; the classical approach blocks traffic through the IP address, which can only work with static IP.
Another is to leverage Google Analytics Opt-Out Add-on. This add-on blocks company’s internal traffic from being recognized by GA. One classic example of this is the traffic generated through website testers who constantly visit the site to test different features. Again, these are excellent practices, but specific businesses require unique solutions.
#5. Alternate Solutions
Unique websites with specific use cases need alternate solutions. For example, if your website is involved in direct sales through phone calls, you can use a call tracking solution that helps with referral data and avoids scrutiny by Google Analytics.
Similarly, with a TV attribution model, websites that source traffic through commercial ads on TV can identify the source and indicate it to the GA through specific identifiers.
There are no fixed best practices that you can leverage for handling direct traffic as it can be different for several use cases. However, it would help if you were innovative and devised new methods to identify the source.
For example, you can ask your audience to disclose the source from where they got the URL of the website. Similarly, you will need to come up with new ways to get referral data.