Direct traffic can cause headaches when it comes to reporting, particularly if they’re too high. We show you what direct traffic is and how to reduce its impact.
Google Analytics is a fantastic website analytics tool for marketers wanting to understand how users are engaging with their web content.
The issue with Google Analytics is that it doesn’t offer any kind of visitor-level analytics.
Related: Limitations of Google Analytics
That means users get grouped into categories, giving you very limited capability to understand where your high-value visitors are coming from and what they’re interacting with.
Direct traffic is another area where Google Analytics doesn’t quite hit the mark.
What is it? What does it mean? And more importantly, how can you get around it to understand where your users are coming from?
In this blog, we’ll run through:
So, let’s get started!
⚡️ Pro Tip
Did you know you’re missing a lot of data from your GA account? Here’s how to unlock more from your data.
How to unlock revenue in your Google Analytics account
In Google Analytics 4, head to Reports, under Lifecycle and select Traffic Acquisition. Here, you’ll be able to see your website traffic broken down by channel type.
Channels in Google Analytics include:
These channel reports allow you to see which channels are responsible for driving the most traffic.
With the right tool, you can also apply lead and revenue data to your channels. Learn how to link revenue back to your marketing in Google Analytics 4 here.
Direct traffic in Google Analytics is when users land on your website without any referring source.
It can be a sign of good brand awareness or a sign of poor tracking. It’s up to you to work out which – but we’re here to help make it a little easier.
The issue with direct traffic is that it tells you very little about how users are finding you.
Since Google Analytics tracks users as separate sessions instead of grouped customer journeys, you’ll struggle to connect the dots between marketing touchpoints.
Because when you get leads in your CRM attributed to direct, you need to sit and down and think, what does that actually mean?
A user can’t land on your site for the first time and convert. So it shows missing data for early touchpoints in that user’s customer journey.
Tracking the steps users take when interacting with your website is vital. But lots of marketers struggle to knit those points together. Read our full guide to customer journey tracking here.
But don’t worry, we’ll show you exactly how to track full customer journeys, plus how to connect leads and sales attributed to direct back to the influencing channels.
You should hopefully see direct traffic account for anywhere between 5% and 20% in your Google Analytics account.
Too little direct traffic could be a sign of low brand awareness or poor-quality website experience and too much could be a sign of low-efficiency user tracking.
🔗 Want to keep learning? Follow Laura on LinkedIn to keep up to date with tips and tricks on tracking your marketing in Google Analytics
Direct traffic can be caused by things like autofill in a search bar, or a link in a PDF.
Direct traffic can be caused by:
Remember, Google will try and minimise direct traffic in its reports for you automatically.
If a user visits your site via an organic search and returns via a direct search a week later, both sessions will be attributed to organic search.
But, this is only for a particular lookback period, as set by Google.
We’ve grouped these because it’s the classic reason for direct traffic in Google Analytics. And as far as Google Analytics 4 is concerned, there’s no way around it.
Think about it in practice.
A user might land on your website for the first time via an organic search. They might return a week or two later.
This time, they start writing your website name into the search bar. Your computer, using cookies and cache data autofills and the user clicks enter.
That’s a direct session.
The same goes for manual address entry, for example, if they’ve swapped devices, or if they’ve bookmarked your website to come back to later.
We’ll come onto how to reduce direct traffic in a moment, but for now, it’s worth remembering that attribution is the best way to get around examples like the above. With marketing attribution in place, you can see every marketing touchpoint.
Complete guide to marketing attribution
Another common cause of direct traffic in Google Analytics is missing or broken tracking code.
If you’re developing your site or creating new templates, then you need to be careful that any new pages include the Google Analytics code. Ideally, your code would just sit in the body tag, but not all sites are configured this way.
Without the code in place, GA can’t track where a user has come from.
And so, if a user lands on this page and then moves to a second page, that does have the code, Google Analytics 4 has no choice but to attribute it as a direct search.
Links embedded in docs created with Word, Google or Acrobat will not pass on referrer information.
And so, by default, any user who visits via this link will be categorised as direct.
To a degree, this is inevitable and will account for a small quantity of your direct traffic. But, where possible, use tagged links by adding UTM parameters. It allows Google to still scrape referral data even if it’s coming from a non-trackable source.
If a user follows a link on a secure page (HTTPS) that leads to a non-secure page (HTTP), no referrer data is passed on. So, all sessions of this type are listed as direct traffic instead of as a referral.
This is part of how the secure protocol was designed and so cannot be avoided. If you find your referral traffic has dropped but your direct has increased, it could be that a major referrer has migrated to HTTPS.
By now, the majority of sites have migrated to HTTPS, so this is unlikely to be a huge contributor.
Dark social basically refers to social shares that can’t be properly attributed. It could be links shared in Facebook messenger, over WhatsApp, via email or Skype for example.
According to a recent study, upwards of 80% of link sharing is now done via these channels, making attribution even more difficult for marketers.
You can basically think of dark social as word-of-mouth marketing taken online; elusive but highly rewarding.
Since this is a growing form of communication and link sharing, you need to account for it somewhere. There’s a lot of merit in self-reported attribution for understanding the impact of dark social.
Linking impressions from social posts can be a battle of its own. Marketing mix modelling is a solution to consider when looking at linking views of your social posts and channels back to new leads and closed revenue.
Head to your Traffic Acquisition report by selecting Reports and then choose Traffic Acquisition under Lifecycle.
Here you’ll be able to see some reports on your traffic and channels. Scroll down for complete figures on your direct traffic compared to your other channels.
It’s that simple!
You can apply comparisons to your direct traffic data.
You could view it by:
Still using Universal Analytics?
You can see a similar report by heading to Acquisition and then Channels under All Traffic.
The reason why direct traffic is so high is that it’s Google’s catch-all. If a session can’t be attributed, then Google Analytics will add it to direct.
So, anytime your tracking isn’t set up correctly, you’ll likely see significantly higher direct traffic.
It could also be a sign of high brand awareness or success via an offline campaign like TV or print.
We know how difficult it is to get past direct as a source for leads and sales. So we decided to investigate our own data.
We correlated attribution software data and ‘how did you hear about us’ data, to better understand what drives users.
Read the full article here
There are 7 ways you can reduce direct traffic in GA4:
Minimising your direct traffic is key. After all, the less direct traffic you have, your channel attribution is more accurate.
Let’s look at the ways you can reduce direct traffic allocation in Google Analytics 4:
While there are some technical fixes to reducing your direct traffic, marketing attribution is the best option when it comes to getting a complete fix.
Related: Best marketing attribution tools
At its core, having direct traffic isn’t an issue. The issues behin when you look at the association of direct traffic and what it means you start measuring your marketing.
When users are typing your URL directly into their search bar, you’re always going to see direct traffic as part of your acquisition report.
Marketing attribution can allow you to see beyond that last session and view their full journey from end to end.
👉Book a demo to see how Ruler can help you link full customer journeys to your leads and sales.
You should also consider self-reported attribution too. That’s asking your leads where they heard of you. While this is a totally free option, it’s also not hugely reliable.
We like to use both attribution software as well as self-reported attribution to get a better sense of where our leads are coming from and what content or channels stuck out to them.
Tagging your URLs should be standard practice as a marketer. Campaign tracking, also known as “UTM tracking codes” simply allows you to add special tracking code to your URL. It helps to identify how users are getting to your site and ultimately, how your campaigns are performing.
We wrote a quick guide to tracking links with UTM tags.
Doing this will allow Google Analytics to pick up source and medium data directly from the links. This means for links that can’t be tracked, you can ensure they’re attributed to the right channel.
If you want to decrease direct traffic, then a good solution for that (and for general site security) is to migrate to HTTPS.
This is a really easy fix. Here’s a good guide you can follow.
Vanity URLs are great for roundabout tracking the impact of particular campaigns. But managing your redirections is key to good site structure and user experience and it also helps with tracking.
When using plain vanity URLs with no UTM tags, remember you’re going to get quite limited referral data.
Redirect your vanity URLs to a page with all the appropriate tags and you’ll be able to guarantee that Google Analytics will accurately track those sessions.
You will already have your code set up on-site if you’re seeing data in your Google Analytics 4 dashboard.
However, you will need to check where the Google tag is stored on your website. If it’s not in the right place, it could mean that new pages and templates aren’t tracked bt GA.
Chances are, your team is visiting your website on multiple occasions throughout the day. It’s a great hub for your employees just as it is for your customers.
The issue with this is that your employees will definitely be using a bookmark or relying on autofill. And you know what that means; direct traffic!
It’s good protocol to block internal traffic anyway, as you don’t want to be counting any growth that could include irrelevant traffic.
Blocking your internal traffic is simple.
Head to Admin and then from there select Data Streams under Property. Then select Configure Tag Settings.
Choose to show all under settings and then select Define internal traffic.
Here, you’ll be able to add the IP address of any offices you have, so that it’s no longer included within your reports.
Marketing mix modelling offers more flexibility when it comes to measuring your marketing. While it can be complex at first, once your data is flowing in, you’ll be left with more meaningful data.
Marketing mix modelling will track touchpoints and also indicate how offline marketing and untrackable marketing initiatives like social media posts are impacting your bottom line.
While direct traffic in Google Analytics 4 can be a nuisance, hopefully, these steps will help you minimise your direct referrals. And remember, with an attribution tool you can completely omit the reliance on direct traffic completely.
You’ll be able to see full customer journeys and attribute your closed revenue on your own terms.
Or, if you’re already sold, book a demo with our team to see our data in action.