“A ton of ‘direct’ traffic is actually browser homepage loads, dark search, apps, dark social, & mail clients…”
What is direct traffic?
Direct traffic is any traffic that does not technically have any referrer header. In other, words it is traffic where a source cannot be identified. The most common types of real direct traffic are
- manually typing in a web address in a browser
- some type of browser function i.e. bookmark
What is direct traffic really?
No matter what type of analytics you are using it is likely that this “Other category” is giving you some false data. Again by definition it is going to give you false signals. The only prerequisite to be labled as “direct” is that it has an unknown referrer. So let’s look at encryption.
By default all traffic served over https is encrypted so credentials shouldn’t be “passed” to any non-secure protocols i.e. http. In other words, if your website isn’t secured with an SSL this traffic is technicaly “unknown” and therefore direct if the searchengine referring traffic is using HTTPS.
Looking at the top search engines: *show urls images*
They are all secure so technically these would be under the “direct” traffic bucket
Direct vs Organic Traffic
In July 2014, Groupon forever made their way into every digital analysists hearts but intentionally deindexing themselves for 6 hours to simply see what happens.
75% of traffic from Internet Explorer dropped and is therefore labeled as direct traffic
10-20% of Firefox, Chrome & Safari desktop traffic dropped and is therefore labeled as direct traffic
50% of all mobile traffic dropped and is therefore labeled as direct traffic
60% of all pages with long URL (defined as URLs that are too long to be manually typed into a browser) dropped and is therefore labeled as direct traffic.
In March of 2017, a client fired a web developer who still had all of his login credentials, this disgruntled developer decided to remote in and remove deindex my clients site.
We noticed the issue 2 and a half days later, this is what we discovered. This should be a blog post
Again do not think of direct traffic as a exclusive term it is merely a default bucket to throw unknown traffic into. It is a pedigreed digital analytics term which is nothing more than a common mutt.
When reporting to a client, boss, yourself make sure you are aware that data is dirty. Make sure they understand that a part of this traffic belongs to your hard efforts.
Double check your records with your raw data logs (ask your IT department if you don’t know) and see if there are any discrepancies and include an “Actual Projected Organic Traffic” number on a periodic report. – This will make you look really smart!
If your adventurous (NOT recommended) run your own experiment and see what portion of direct & referral traffic is actual organic.