The indicator « direct traffic » and its possible misinterpretation

What is direct traffic

Following our article on the various sources of traffic: Let’s now more address in any detail the indicator of visits from direct traffic that normally excludes users who have gone through third party websites (links referents), or who have found your site after having conducted research in engines, and then clicked on the organic (SEO) links or sponsored (SEA). In other words: this flag should normally indicate the number of visits for which users perform one of these actions:

  • The user typed the site address in his browser
  • The user has clicked on a bookmark of favorite pointing to your site
  • The user has clicked on a thumbnail of your site in his browser (similar to Favorites)
  • The user typed a word on its browser that returned your site address via the auto-suggest

The volume of visits via direct access is an indicator of awareness to your site. In general, it may affect direct traffic by promoting its site for offline (TV, radio, flyers, catalogs paper…) and channels via some online levers which have an impact on the reputation of the trade mark (display, buzz on social media).

Biased results?

The concern of this indicator is that it brings together both real direct access, but also all the other situations where access could not be classified (due to the absence of an intermediary called « referrer »).

This gives therefore statistics more than biased unlike the organic traffic as they are mixed with visits from other channels increasingly more present therefore not comparable to the concept of direct access (applications Smartphones, https connection, etc.).

Visits assimilated to direct traffic

Below the list of cases where Google Analytics (as well as other traffic analysis tools) could not correctly determine the origin of the traffic, because referring it is not populated:

  1. Links that led the visitor to your site are not in HTML (links in Flash, Javascript etc.),
  2. Links that led the visitor to your site comes from an application «desktop»
    • Messaging software (links in an email opened on messaging software),
    • Office automation software (links into a Word or PDF document),
    • RSS feed software (links in RSS opened an application),
    • Instant Messaging software (links sent via Skype, Gtalk, etc.),
  3. The visitor comes from a secure (in some cases) page.
  4. The visitor is from a page redirected in 302 or JavaScript,
  5. The links that led the visitor to your site come from a « smartphone » application
    • Links in social networks applications,
    • Links in the applications of information, RSS etc.
  6. The visit was carried out in a new tab (managed in JavaScript):
    • If right click on link + open in new tab (or ctrl + click)
    • If the link to your page as an attribute « ‘ target = _blank' » (some browsers such as chrome or Firefox are making efforts in this direction: the latest transmit the referer in this case)
  7. Links followed by visitors were on an intranet or gateway corporate network (often configured to not send referer)
  8. Visitors have blocked this information via their browser (many plugins for browsers exist in this sense, Google chrome also has a similar function in its advanced settings or during its private browsing yet)
  9. The visits from a campaign badly tagged (having no Tag Analytics).
  10. The visits come from one of your pages where the tracking code is not informed (or too long to load).

In conclusion the data « direct traffic » is studying carefully since it can easily be distorted.

In case you want to track the traffic coming from some specific sources as an emailing campaign or a social media campaign, the ideal is to configure URLs custom tracking (type UTM for Google Analytics or XTOR for XITI of At Internet). These visits will be automatically classified under « campaigns » and you can follow their evolution.

With the democratization of mobile applications (that often redirect to the Web) and the habits of users increasingly conscious of their anonymity, need more too rely on a simple sorting visits if the links are not tagged prior via markings and campaigns pages.

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