For reasons we’ve already discussed, traffic from bookmarks and dark social is an enormously valuable segment to analyze. These are likely to be some of your most loyal and engaged users, and it’s not uncommon to see a notably higher conversion rate for a clean direct channel compared to the site average. You should make the effort to get to know them.
Direct traffic is people who type your URL into their navigation bar, or who use a bookmark. These are your regular visitors, people who’ve discovered you in some other way and are now coming back, and — less now than in the past — people who type in a URL they’ve seen on your offline ads or who guess your web address based on your company name. Direct traffic is often the highest converting kind, but it can also be regular blog readers or your own staff. Filter your workers out if at all possible to keep your data clean. If you can’t filter them, at least ask them to use direct methods (rather than search, for example) and you may be able to identify it when you work in Analytics. Any traffic that Google can’t identify will also show up in Direct traffic, and that can include ads if you haven’t hooked up your ad accounts with your analytics, email or SMS campaigns if you haven’t tagged them for Google, and other sources that aren’t identified. Tag well and you’ll see less of this.
Kristine Schachinger has 17 years digital experience including a focus on website design and implementation, accessibility standards and all aspects of website visibility involving SEO, social media and strategic planning. She additionally specializes in site health auditing, site forensics, technical SEO and site recovery planning especially when involving Google algorithms such as Penguin and Panda. Her seventeen years in design and development and eight years in online marketing give her a depth and breadth of understanding that comes from a broad exposure to not only digital marketing, but the complete product lifecycle along with the underlying technology and processes. She is a well known speaker, author and can be found on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.
Selecting “All Traffic Sources” from Google Analytics left-side navigation will show you a table listing the most active traffic sources and their medium. Direct traffic, as you would expect, has a medium of “none.” Traffic from Facebook, as an example, will have a medium of “referral.” Search engine traffic will have a medium or “organic” or “CPC” as described above.
Direct traffic can encompass a wide range of sources, including those you would have liked to have tracked in analytics. A drop in traffic from a particular source does not necessarily mean a drop in traffic. It could indicate a case in which that source ended up being categorized under Direct traffic. The best advice is - proactively use tracking parameters in cases where you may be risking not properly seeing traffic. There is actually a nice infographic showing the main factors impacting traffic. I use it sometimes to solve the current issues. Taking the right steps to address potentially miscategorized traffic, as well as being upfront with clients about the causes, can help to mitigate problems.
Beyond organic and direct traffic, you must understand the difference between all of your traffic sources and how traffic is classified. Most web analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, utilize an algorithm and flow chart based on the referring website or parameters set within the URL that determine the source of traffic. Here is a breakdown of all sources: