Seeing Direct Traffic in Google Analytics? Embrace These 10 Tactics to Fix It

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Published on: July 8, 2022 Updated on: May 20, 2024 views Icon 778 Views

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Sakshi Arora
Sakshi Arora LinkedIn

Assistant Manager- Content Marketing

Sakshi Arora is a seasoned content writer and marketer specializing in B2B topics such as marketing automation and website development. Leveraging her journalism background, she infuses her work with clarity and creativity, captivating audiences. Beyond her professional pursuits, Sakshi finds joy in writing about personal emotions, showcasing her introspective side and adding a unique touch to her portfolio.

Article Reviewed By: Rahul Saini LinkedIn

Table of Contents

Understanding Direct Traffic

Direct traffic plays a role in analyzing the visitors to your website using Google Analytics. It refers to the type of traffic that comes from users who access your site directly without clicking on a link from another website or search engine.

Definition of traffic

In Google Analytics we categorize traffic as direct when we are unable to determine or identify its source. There could be reasons for this;

Bookmarked URLs; Users who have bookmarked your site and access it directly by clicking on the bookmarked link.

Typed URLs; Users who manually enter your website's URL into their browsers address bar.

Untracked channels; Traffic that is not properly tagged or tracked making it challenging for Google Analytics to attribute a source.

Characteristics of direct traffic

Direct traffic often represents visitors who are already acquainted with your site. It typically includes returning visitors and loyal customers. There are reasons why direct traffic holds value;

 brand recognition; Users who navigate directly to your site are likely already familiar with your brand and have a certain level of trust in your products or services.

Word of mouth, from customers plays a role, in generating organic direct traffic. By understanding the traits of this visitor segment you can enhance your website and marketing strategies to maximize its potential.

The adage, ‘the more, the better,’ works everywhere in business except when it comes to direct traffic. That is because direct traffic in Analytics is a misnomer and deeply entrenched in two key misconceptions.

First, direct traffic is only, almost exclusively, seen when your users visit your website by typing your URL in the browser. You might think that the higher the direct traffic, the better your website recall and branding campaigns, because more visitors and potential customers are visiting your site. 

Second, you cannot further analyze direct traffic. Why? Because Google Analytics marks it as direct traffic only when it is unable to identify where the visitor came from. The misattribution of unknown sources to direct traffic is a fall-back option of Google Analytics. Since the data sources are unknown, it is often difficult to analyze and optimize. 

These two factors make it an unavoidable inconvenience in the digital marketing world when in reality, it is not. Even though direct traffic may not affect your SEO campaign, it is valuable to know why your traffic is categorized as direct and how you can sort it out to reflect your optimization efforts accurately. 

Direct Traffic Sources

Here are some possible cases when your traffic can be labeled as direct by Google Analytics: 

  1. When users manually type in a URL
  2. When the user clicks on a bookmark, an untagged link from an email, or a link 
  • from a chat app 
  • from a document file (PDF, DocX, ODF, XLSX, etc.)
  • in a mobile app
  • from a secured site (HTTPS://) to your unsecured site (HTTP://) 
  • from a shortened URL 
  • in any desktop software in general 
  1. Browser issues that re-class organic search visits to direct
  2. Unfixed missing or broken Google Analytics tracking codes 

Direct data dilutes the actual visitor data and potentially impacts your optimization efforts. Hence, there is value in digging deeper and reducing direct traffic to finetune your marketing and business strategy.

10 Ways You Can Reduce Direct Traffic

Now that you know some of the sources of direct traffic to your website, here are a few effective ways to reduce it:

1. Ensure Google Analytics Tracking Code Is Correctly Installed

 The first and most crucial step in minimizing direct traffic is correctly installing Google Analytics' tracking code on your website.

Once you have the tracking code, add it to the header file and ensure it is placed before the closing </head> tag.

You can cross-check if this tool works on your website with 'real-time' reports in Google Analytics. If you find data in these reports, it means your tag is currently collecting data. 

You can check ‘real-time’ reports by following these steps: 

i. Sign in to your Analytics account.

ii. Navigate to a view in the property where you added the tag. You may find only one view if the tag was only recently added.

iii. Open Reports.

Iv. Select Real-Time > Overview.  

2. Use the Right UTM-Tagging Wherever Possible 

Print advertising, radio and television advertising, and in-store advertising are offline channels that are often labeled as direct traffic sources. Others such as App links, SMS links, URL shorteners, and links from messenger programs such as Discord and Facebook Messenger do not pass referral data when users come to your website from these sources. 

To ensure you identify visitors clicking through online links, mark your URLs with additional parameters called UTM, which determine and attribute the visitor to the traffic source mentioned in it. 

Use UTM parameters to tag your marketing campaigns including email marketing, social media posts, paid advertising, and custom channels (like ebooks). Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder tool lets you quickly add these parameters to the URL. So, when a user lands on your website from these sources, Google Analytics will attribute that session to the source mentioned in those parameters. 

3. Migrate to HTTPS

A backlink from HTTPS to an HTTP website can be a loss of referral data and will show up as direct traffic. 

This is why getting an SSL certificate for your website is important—it will change the site's URL to an HTTPS and fix any faulty direct traffic source reporting in Google Analytics. Not only that, an SSL certificate helps:

  • Build trust among your visitors. It shows that their data is safe on your website.
  • Reduce site vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
  • Secure your web form's information or any other data you collect. 

4. Enable Bot Filtering 

The filter for disabling bots in Google Analytics is, by default, turned off. It has to be activated individually for each view and property in the GA settings.

To enable the filter:

  1. Go to your Admin settings.
  2. In the View panel, you will find View Settings.
  3. Toward the end, and right before Site Search Settings, there will be a small heading for Bot Filtering with the checkbox text: Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders.
  4. Check the box, and Google Analytics will automatically filter known bots and spiders.

5. Modify or Create Channel Rules for Direct Traffic 

Google Analytics can only second guess the traffic channel as far as you define them. This means other traffic categories such as existing groupings (social) or new groups (influencer) must be updated or created. 

By merely updating and mapping the pre-existing channels like social or ensuring incoming traffic's source matches the specified medium with the right UTM parameters, you can significantly reduce your direct traffic. As many predefined channels are given for Google Analytics to process, it will result in direct traffic getting processed right at the end. 

To do that, go to View Settings> Channel Settings> Channel Groupings and modify the settings of your Google Analytics accordingly.  

6. Change Cooking Consent Solution

The traffic becomes direct when users ignore the cookie consent popup on the first-page view. Why? Because the traffic source is available only on the first page. In other words, if the visitor goes to the next page, the URL changes, and your UTMs are also gone. Ensure that your cookie consent popup/bar catches your page visitor's attention and makes them either accept or decline it. 

Your cookie consent tab or bar should be eye catchy and should not redirect them elsewhere. It should compel users to act and then let them browse naturally while firing the tracking codes of your website. Your goal is to make the user select their cookie preferences on the first pageview.

7. Exclude Internal Users 

A large chunk of your webpage traffic comes from your company employees, which can skew your customer numbers. You can remove these numbers through Google Analytics by logging in to your account and following the steps below:

  1. Click on the Admin tab
  2. Select the account and corresponding property
  3. Click Filters
  4. Click New Filter
  5. Name your filter
  6. Set the drop-down to Exclude > From the IP addresses that are equal to > 
  7. Enter the IP Addresses you want to exclude

8. Implement the Measurement Protocol Correctly

Measurement protocol lets marketers/ analysts/ developers send website data directly to Google Analytics. It requires no tracking codes as the communication is done server-to-server.  

Measurement protocol allows developers to link offline to online behavior and send user activity to Google Analytics with a Client ID, also known as User ID. It is usually beneficial in cases where a user abandons a cart and completes the purchase after hours. That is because there is a four-hour processing limitation in the measurement protocol. 

This means that the developer may not be able to pass this traffic to GA since it is beyond the given time threshold. In such cases, most of the sessions are attributed to direct traffic, and even the most frequent visitors are displayed as New Users.  

To ensure that your regular traffic is not labeled as direct, retrieve the client ID during the point of sale or online checkout process and then store it in the database. Use these IDs when a request is sent to the Measurement Protocol after a transaction is successfully completed. 

9. Fix the Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) is a privacy-enhancement mechanism applicable to Safari and browsers on iOS. It affects the cookies set by Google Analytics as its tracking codes expire in 7 days unless the website visitor returns sooner. 

Further, cookies from ad networks (such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads) expire in 24 hours unless the visitor continues to browse your website. Any visitor who revisits your website after the given timeline is treated as a new user and direct traffic.

To avoid marking of repeat traffic as new users, you can ask your developers to create a service that rewrites cookies and extends their expiry date. Or use a Cookiesaver , which, even though, is easier to implement has some privacy concerns that must be kept in mind. 

10. Configure Settings Carefully During Domain Changes

Sometimes, your direct traffic numbers increase after a rebranding process or launching a new website. This is primarily because of improper redirects from old to new domains, which may have caused a loss of referrer data. It may require you to examine the backlinks to your business to identify what is broken.

It also means that you need to implement Google Analytics’ cross-domain tracking. Because if you misconfigure something, chances are that part of your traffic will become direct in GA reports.  

The difficulties and obstacles associated with Direct Traffic Data

Uncertainty in attributing sources

In Google Analytics direct traffic is often seen as a catch all category, for sources that cannot be accurately identified. This presents challenges in determining the sources of traffic.

Attribution challenges further complicate the analysis of traffic data. Since visitors can access a website through channels it becomes challenging to attribute traffic to the direct channel. Other sources such as email or social media referrals might mistakenly be categorized as traffic resulting in a representation of the true direct traffic sources.

Tracking behavior across devices

Effectively analyzing traffic becomes complex when trying to track user behavior across devices. With the increasing use of devices and people utilizing platforms it becomes crucial to monitor their interactions, across different devices.

Cross device sessions impact the analysis of traffic. When users switch between devices during their browsing sessions it can lead to sessions being counted as traffic. This makes it difficult to differentiate between traffic and cross device sessions which can result in misinterpreted data.

Website owners often face challenges when it comes to tracking and attributing traffic across devices. This can make it difficult to accurately understand user behavior and measure the effectiveness of their websites. The methods used for device tracking can vary, making it even more complex to analyze and compare data. However Google Analytics provides insights into traffic analysis. By exploring the data provided by Google Analytics website owners can gain an understanding of how visitors are accessing their sites and what actions they take once they arrive. In order to effectively analyze traffic it is important to be familiar with the sections and reports in Google Analytics that are related to this area. Additionally understanding metrics such as sessions (the number of visits, from direct traffic) users (the total number of unique visitors arriving through direct traffic) and pageviews will help website owners gain valuable insights into their websites performance. The number of times pages were visited through traffic.

  • Bounce rate - The percentage of sessions, from traffic that resulted in visitors viewing one page.
  • Conversion rate -  The percentage of sessions from traffic that led to a desired action like making a purchase or signing up.
  • Apart from these metrics Google Analytics provides dimensions that can enhance your analysis, including:
  • Source/Medium- The source or medium that brought visitors to your website through direct traffic.
  • Landing page -  The page where visitors land when they come through traffic.
  • Campaign -  If you're running any campaigns this dimension helps track the effectiveness of your efforts on directing traffic.

By exploring these metrics and dimensions you can gain insights into how your direct traffic audience behaves and engages with your website. 

Understanding Direct Traffic Data

Identifying sources of traffic

There are techniques you can use to analyze URL patterns and query parameters to discover specific sources of direct traffic. By examining the URLs and query parameters associated with traffic carefully you can gain insights into where this type of traffic comes from.

Analyzing URL patterns; Look for similarities or commonalities, in the URLs of pages receiving traffic. This can assist in identifying sources and patterns.

Analyzing the query parameters found in URLs can provide insights into the origin of traffic.

To track the performance of campaigns like print ads or billboards within traffic you can add UTM parameters. This enables attribution of these campaigns.

To gauge the quality of traffic it is important to evaluate user engagement metrics. These metrics include factors like time spent on a page bounce rate and number of pages visited per session. They provide insights into how engaged users are when they arrive via direct traffic.

By examining the paths that users take after arriving on your site through traffic you can identify any pages or sections that tend to be more popular. This analysis helps gain an understanding of user behavior within this traffic source.

Analyzing the conversion paths of users who arrive via traffic can help identify bottlenecks or areas for improvement in terms of your website's user experience.

Understanding and optimizing traffic is vital for comprehending your website's performance, in Google Analytics.

To enhance the number of visitors who directly access your website and boost brand visibility, optimizing traffic is crucial. One effective approach is to focus on branding in your URLs using concise links that reflect your brand. This helps users remember and directly type them into their browsers.

Encouraging users to share links to your site can also increase traffic. Make it easy for users to share links through social sharing buttons placed across your website. You can even provide incentives or rewards for sharing your links, which motivates users to spread the word about your website.

Leveraging marketing channels is another strategy for driving direct traffic. By aligning offline marketing efforts you can raise brand awareness. Attract more visitors who directly access your site.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram play a role in driving traffic. Regularly promote your website on these platforms by sharing links to landing pages attracting users interested in your brand to visit directly.

Email marketing campaigns are also an opportunity for boosting traffic.One effective way to increase the number of people who visit your website is, by including links to your site in your email newsletters and promotional emails. Additionally offline advertising through mediums, like television, radio or print ads can also influence traffic. By featuring your website URL and encouraging viewers or readers to visit your site you can drive more visitors and improve direct traffic. Overall optimizing traffic involves enhancing URL branding and link sharing well as utilizing various marketing channels to attract more individuals to access your site directly. By implementing these strategies you can maximize the potential of traffic. Boost the performance of your website.

Final Words

Identifying the exact sources for your traffic is essential for making informed decisions about your website. Identifying some of the sources and implementing the techniques mentioned here is a great way to lower your site's traffic sourcing misadventures.

At Growth Natives, our experts can help you attribute your traffic sources correctly in Google Analytics and lower direct traffic. Write to us today at info@growthnatives.com to learn how our digital marketing services can provide an accurate picture of your website and help you create online marketing campaigns that convert. Book a consultation today.

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