Google Analytics

What is Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

And Why It’s Important

Google Analytics is an incredibly useful tool for website owners who are looking to understand how people are interacting with their websites. As useful as Google Analytics is as a tool, understanding the data it provides you can be a challenging task. Today we are breaking down the Direct Traffic element of the tool for new users.

What is Direct Traffic?

Direct Traffic in Google Analytics refers to the entrances of users who do not use a link to access your page. Entrances are basically the first page people enter on your website. The time they spend browsing your site is called a session. Learn more about entrances and sessions in the Google Analytics tool.

Some examples of Direct Traffic to a website would be a manual input of the website’s URL or accessing a website using your bookmarks. Your history tab in your web browser also counts as Direct Traffic. A good example of a website many people access using Direct Traffic would be Google.com or any search engine in general. Most people either have these sites bookmarked on their computer, or type them into the URL search bar to access them directly. Google Analytics will also categorize an entrance to a session as Direct Traffic if the link is missing source data.

An arrow showing where you can find direct traffic in Google Analytics

This image shows us where you can find the Direct Traffic data in Google Analytics. It, alongside the other traffic sources, are found in the Traffic Acquisition tab of Google Analytics. Image Courtesy of Monsterinsights.com

Direct Traffic and The Default Channel Grouping

In general, links that you find on the internet that send you to another website are not considered Direct Traffic links. Google Analytics categorizes the start of each user’s session on your website into what is called the default channel grouping. The default channel grouping consists of the following:

  • Organic Search
  • Email
  • Referral
  • Direct
  • Social
  • Affiliate
  • Paid Search
  • Other Advertising
  • Display
  • Other

Let’s touch on the most commonly used link types in the default channel grouping.

First up is email, this one is pretty self-explanatory. These are links that send you to websites from emails. The interesting thing about this category is that under certain circumstances email links can actually be Direct Traffic links. This only occurs when the email link is untagged and is often caused by the program the individual is using.

Organic searches are the non-sponsored/paid search results listed on search engines when you search for a website. This is probably the most common link format people are familiar with and will likely be the highest ranking in the default channel grouping section of your Google Analytics breakdown. 

Social links refer to links from social media websites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Referral links are links from other websites that don’t classify as social or organic links that refer you to a different website.

A highlight of the Default Channel Grouping box in Google Analytics.

Here we can see what the default channel grouping section of Google Analytics looks like. Image Courtesy of datadrivenu.com.

Other Direct Traffic Sources

Believe it or not, there are other links that end up being classified as Direct Traffic for Google Analytics. The first are links found in programs like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other office products. PDF viewers also tend to have this issue. This is because these programs don’t provide any web source data, so they are treated as direct links that you would have typed into the URL search bar.

Another link type that will oftentimes result in a Direct Traffic source are mobile links. These are links that originate from mobile apps, the most popular of which are social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This is because some social media links on mobile apps may not send referrer data to Google Analytics. When this is the case the link is marked as Direct Traffic. We should clarify, links categorized as social in Google Analytics are often links from social media websites, not apps. The desktop version of the site, not the mobile app on your phone. The mobile version of the website that you can access using your phone’s internet browser counts as a social link, not a Direct Traffic link. 

Here is a pretty interesting one. Most websites you visit will be https secure. This is the “https://” that comes before the actual website URL you’re visiting. This is basically a way of letting you know that your user data is encrypted while visiting the site. It is designed to keep user data protected while browsing the internet. A good practice while surfing the internet is to avoid websites that don’t have https before their URL because that means your data isn't encrypted and may be at risk. We bring all this up because Google Analytics will mark a source as Direct Traffic if it is a link from a https-protected website to a none https-protected website.

A bunch of small burglars stealing your internet data.

Try to only use secure websites while surfing the internet. Image courtesy of Tenfold-security.com

Why is Direct Traffic Important?

Direct Traffic can be useful for understanding where users are finding out about your site. It’s hard to make use of Direct Traffic data on its own, its true value comes from comparing it with the rest of the session sources in the Default Channel Group section of Google Analytics. Your Direct Traffic data can also tell you how popular your website is outside of search engines and social media. 

If people are constantly entering your site through Direct Traffic that means they are getting the website URL from places like friends or family telling them about it. It could also mean that people are favoriting your website and returning to it that way which would imply that you have something on your site that motivates people to bookmark it. If your Direct Traffic data is low then you can infer the opposite about your website. People are likely not favoriting the site and coming back later which means most of your visits are probably not returning users but entirely new users.

December 2, 2022
by 
Elizabeth Grobstein
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