It might sound obvious, but direct traffic is a bit more complicated than it seems, particularly in Google Analytics.
And with many small business owners and marketers primarily focused on driving social media and search engine referral traffic, it’s easy for direct traffic to get largely overlooked.
So, what is direct traffic, and why does it matter?
What is direct traffic?
To state the obvious first, Google Analytics considers all website visits that arrive on your website either by typing your website URL or through browser bookmarks to be direct traffic. In other words, direct traffic refers to visits without a referring website.
That means that for Wells Fargo, for example, anyone typing in “wellsfargo.com” into his or her browser window to get to the website would count as direct traffic. Or, to continue this example, if another internet user has the Wells Fargo website bookmarked, and he or she clicks on that bookmark, that would also count as direct traffic.
But here is where it can get tricky: If Google Analytics doesn’t recognize the traffic source of a website visit, it also will designate that traffic as direct traffic.
Examples where this can happen include (but are not limited to):
- Email marketing campaigns (depending on your email marketing tool)
- Offline documents (such as PDF, Microsoft Word, etc.)
- Social media apps (otherwise referred to as “dark social”)
- Organic search traffic can also sometimes get categorized as direct traffic if there are any browser issues
- Visits from within a secured environment (such as a firewall, intranet, etc.)
- Instant messengers
Despite these murky waters, it’s still worth your time to look at which pages on your website are getting the most direct traffic and optimize accordingly to deliver the best possible user experience when visitors arrive there.
Why is direct traffic important?
Not counting the false direct traffic sources, pure direct traffic equals warm leads.
Think about it: If you are going to a website by typing in the URL or clicking on a bookmark, what is your intent? It’s likely more serious than a website you visit through a social media link.
Warm leads have a higher conversion rate than cold leads. They are the low-hanging fruit for selling your products or services.
As previously mentioned, it’s important to monitor which pages are getting the most direct traffic so that you can optimize the user experience. Many times, this can be your homepage, but it’s not always.
Of course, taking a hard look at the useability of your homepage is always a good idea at least once per year. Is it obvious where visitors can navigate to in order to see your pricing, services/products, contact information and more?
Sometimes, we forget what it’s like being in the user’s shoes when we’re looking at our own website. But you don’t have to hire a whole team for that feedback. Simply ask a handful of family, friends and/or colleagues who can give you an honest opinion when they arrive at your website and navigate through it.
How to minimize false direct traffic
Of course, all of this still leads to an unknown amount of “dark social” and other types of unknown traffic arriving on your website.
In general, it’s important to be able to identify the specific sources of your traffic. This will help you make informed decisions not only about your website but your overall marketing strategy (what’s working and what’s not).
A solution is using UTM codes in your shared links (whether in email, social media and so on).
UTM codes are sticky tags at the end of your content’s original URL that do not impact the user experience. They add insight into where your web traffic is coming from.
Check out our guide on using UTM codes in your digital marketing efforts.
While direct traffic tends to take a backseat in many marketing efforts, it’s important to not ignore it entirely. The warm leads that are coming to you directly are prime for that conversion. Definitely pay attention to where they’re going on your website.