What Exactly is “Direct” Traffic in Google Analytics

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What Exactly is “Direct” Traffic in Google Analytics

Before digging into “Direct Traffic”, you need to understand that Analytics doesn’t work on the principle:

What You See is What You Get

It works on the principle:

What You Interpret is What You Get

This has led many marketing teams take a wrong turn for their campaigns. Let us see how it flows around the “Source/Medium”category in Analytics.

In order to understand what Direct Traffic in Google Analytics is, lets consider a pool of options that leads to the term “Direct”:

google analytics direct traffic

    • Clicking a link from an E-mail campaign can fall under “Direct Source” when you do not use tracking parameters in place – Use UTM parameters to track your campaigns. This way you’ll be able to better judge which campaigns are working for you and which aren’t. This would help your webmasters keep a better track of the overall traffic coming to the website.


    • Going to a Non Secure (HTTP) site from a Link on a Secure (HTTPs) site would always show as “Direct Source” as the secure site won’t pass a referrer to the non secure site. Example, moving from http://xyz.com to https://abc2.com would come up as “Direct” in Google Analytics.


    • Accessing a site from Organic search in some instances will show up as “Direct” due to browser compatibility issues as well.


    • When apps such as Facebook, Twitter are used in Mobile/Tablets, they do not send the referrer information, so all the sessions would fall under direct until and unless there is proper tagging in place.

So to sum up the whole story, anything and everything that goes untagged shows up as Direct traffic in Google Analytics.

Keep in mind visitors/users do not always access the website directly before making a buying decision. They are exposed to multiple marketing campaigns (Social, Organic, Paid Ads, Email) at first and then they decide to come to the website directly and make a buying decision.

So, in case you are missing on the prior acquisition channels, you are seriously letting your orders go in the Direct medium. In order to accomplish such task, you need to implement and focus on Attribution Modelling.

Understanding Attribution Modelling – Mutli-Channel Funnels in GA

Attribution modelling refers to the set of rules, that determines how credit for sales and conversions is assigned to touchpoints (As shown in the imge above) in conversion paths. Through multi-channel funnels you will be better able to understand how:

  • Different sources work together to bring sales/conversions
  • Time taken by a visitor from the initial visit to the final buying decision
  • Roles played by prior paid ads, referrals, searches in a conversion
  • Attributing the conversion to the right marketing channel (source)

Lets look at the video below to have a better understanding,

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