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.
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.
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Everyone wants to rank for those broad two or three word key phrases because they tend to have high search volumes. The problem with these broad key phrases is they are highly competitive. So competitive that you may not stand a chance of ranking for them unless you devote months of your time to it. Instead of spending your time going after something that may not even be attainable, go after the low-hanging fruit of long-tail key phrases.
Fantastic post Tom! There's a lot of confusion on direct traffic to begin with. These are even more finer nuances that you have explained. I have a client whose top source of traffic is direct, and part of it is maybe due to the fact that they don't do any promotion, and it's mostly shared around internally within their team. But I just noticed that their URL is http and not https so this might be something for me to take back to the team. Thanks!
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:
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