Have you seen 'Direct Traffic' in your web analytics and wondered what it means?
Direct traffic is a pageview (a visit to a webpage) without the
referrer header sent. Sounds too technical? Press on, it's not as bad as you think!
When a browser visits a web page, it makes a request to the server for a specific resource (URL) and includes some data, called
HTTP Headers (More info).
Headers attach small data to each request that passes technical information. They can include data indicating what browser you are using (
User-Agent), what file formats the browser accepts (
Accept) or what language to send (
Accept-Language). (More about HTTP headers)
The header that determines Direct traffic is called the
Referrer header, which contains the page address that the user was on before this one. It answers the question "What page did I follow to get here?"
When there is no value provided by the Referrer header, the traffic is considered Direct: the user went directly to the site and did not come from another site.
Direct traffic tells you almost nothing about where the user came from; it tells you only "this pageview didn't have one before it". Not too helpful. This is why nearly all web analytics tools have options to 'ignore direct traffic', which devalues direct traffic and avoids giving conversion credit to direct if it can be avoided. If you can't do anything with the credit, why bother assigning it? Let's fix this and give the credit to more deserving channels.
As we learned above, direct traffic happens when the
Referrer header is empty, but why is it empty? Before we can get a handle on direct traffic,
we need to know when it occurs. Here are the most common causes of direct traffic:
It's important to use both qualitative and quantitative views of customer behavior to help reduce direct traffic. Use the top-level metrics to see how much credit the Direct medium is receiving. If it's alarming, check out individual customer flows to see which pages and flows those customers are using to start their sessions. If the url is very long and you get a lot of direct traffic there, it's unlikely that folks are typing it in, and you should research how they got there and how to fix it going forward.