How does Google Traffic know about traffic

Direct traffic in Google Analytics: what does it mean?

The various sources of traffic in Google Analytics are not always as transparent as they seem. There is more to the direct access than is obvious at first glance. In this article you will find out what all falls under this type of traffic and how you can assign it more precisely.

Google Analytics divides the access to the website into different access types. This classification takes place automatically according to source and medium.

Screenshot from report from source / medium

Almost every website accounts for a large part of the source (direct) with the medium (none).

What does direct traffic fall under?

Normally, direct access is understood to be the calls made by typing the URL in the browser. In this case, no referrer information is passed that Analytics could evaluate as a source. You don't know how the user got the idea to enter this URL in the first place.

However, many are not even aware that behind the source designation: "Direct Traffic", combined with Medium: "None", there is much more hidden and that it is actually a catchment basin for all "non-allocable traffic" with none Referrer information is passed on to the target URL.

Possible causes for the non-assignability of traffic:

  • Call via a bookmark
  • Links from emails in e.g. Outlook
  • Access from mobile apps
  • Links from documents (PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Visits by JavaScript-enabled bots (e.g. comment spam bot)
  • 302 Redirect, if the redirect server does not transmit any referrer information
  • Redirects through some shortener services (server-side redirects without referrers)
  • Incomplete tagging with parameters (e.g. in newsletters that are not equipped with campaign parameters)
  • Suppression of the referrer in protected web environments (e.g. jump from https to http)
  • Redirects through ad servers that delete the referrer in order to hide the exact origin

Tagged as much as possible with clear parameters

There is a tried and tested solution against the great unknown direct traffic: everything that is possible is tagged with clear parameters: QR codes on brochures, links in newsletters, PDF links and, as far as possible, links in social networks. Then Google Analytics knows exactly where the visitors come from.

Use the Google URL Builder to add custom campaign parameters to your URLs. You can find out exactly how this works in the article Tracking Third-Party Marketing Campaigns.

Example URL with attached campaign parameters, created with the URL Builder:

To capture mobile apps, use the URL creation tool for Google Play.

Eliminate ambiguity in direct traffic

As you can see, there is much more to the "Direct Traffic" size than just direct entries in the browser. If the tagging with campaign parameters takes effect, then the amount of "direct traffic" should become smaller again and thus more realistic.

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