What Is Direct Traffic In Google Analytics?

Digital Alex defines Direct Traffic perfectly at Search Marketing Gurus as

These are visitors who came to your site without first visiting a search engine, another site or some marketing tactic.

This post will take that last part – “some marketing tactic” a little further and demonstrate how small businesses can learn more about traffic from other online advertising by having Google Analytics give you all the goodies that most other portals won’t show you.

Then it will show you how to segment Direct Traffic to help figure out how many visitors came through a bookmark (favorites) and how many likely came through some offline media like yellow pages.

Let’s start by looking at Traffic Sources in GA:

Traffic Sources Google Analytics

Traffic Sources Google Analytics

Looking at the 2 different line items for superpages.com in the above report provides a good example of how Google Analytics reports traffic. In a nutshell, Google will report traffic from all “free sources” and show it to you. However, if you pay for it, it will get buried in Direct Traffic (unless it’s Adwords… now that’s marketing). So, if it comes from superpages.com for free, this is a referral and GA shows it , however if it is superpages pay per click … it will go into Direct Traffic – that’s what Digital Dave, means when he said “some marketing tactic.”

So, how did I get Superpages/PPC out of the Direct Traffic bucket and have it report like other sources? The answer is you tag the url. That sounds complicated but Google makes it kindergarten simple. Simply, go to the the Google Url Builder and create the new url and then use that at the sites you want to track. For superpages I created a new url for each category (keyword) I wanted to track and then let the magic begin.

Now instead of this traffic getting mixed in with Direct Traffic I get this:

Superpages.com PPC Traffic As Reported In GA

Superpages.com PPC Traffic As Reported In GA

This is already way more information than I would get from the reports provided by Superpages but I can also segment it by keyword, city, landing page or anything else I can do with GA.

Perhaps even more important is that my Direct Traffic bucket now represents uh… well… direct traffic; so I can learn more about how folks are really ending up on the site… and since this traffic is VERY high quality and converts at twice the rate of Organic traffic and Three times the rate of PPC understanding it could be critical to future marketing decisions. To get a clearer picture a few more graphics will help; but first back to Digital Alex… where he explains how to figure out WHAT pages are being bookmarked on your site, which is cool info.

And then you can use this same technique to segment by Visitor type to determine which people came from bookmarks and which typed in the url directly, which in my case, probably means they came from yellow pages. Also, you can find out where the searchers are located, which is obviously important for a local business to learn whether the traffic is really quality.

Segmenting Direct Traffic In Google Analytics

Segmenting Direct Traffic In Google Analytics

Now I click on VISITOR TYPE and see this:

New vs. Returning Visitors

New vs. Returning Visitors

Using some educated guesses, I can surmise those who are returning, originally found the site through search engines, bookmarked it and returned later. The new visitors typed the url in directly and since the url is not intuitive I further surmise most of these folks came through yellow page advertising.

Now, by clicking Goal Conversion, I can see which is converting at a higher rate.

New Vs Returning Conversion Rate

New Vs Returning Conversion Rate

This actually surprised me… I had sort of assumed the conversions from direct traffic were latent conversions and represented business obtained from our search marketing; but having seen this it looks more like it came from yellow pages or another offline source… yellow pages dissed again! This really shows how important it is to segment the traffic to better understand it. Without this information we could have easily underestimated the business coming from offline media.

If I wanted to be certain which offline media it was coming from I could do that… here’s how:
Tracking Offline Advertising With Google Analytics

And believe it or not if I wanted to track the phone calls from the Yellow Pages using Google Analytics, I can do that easily. Go to Mongoose Metrics buy a unique telephone number and place it in the ad. Mongoose Metrics will allow you to configure the phone number to a hidden page on your site so you can track the call to a thank you page on your site. Then you just need to set that up as a goal in GA. Here’s how it will look when your done:

Tracking Phone Calls In Google Analytics

Tracking Phone Calls In Google Analytics

But don’t forget to tag the url to the hidden page or the phone call will show up in Google Analytics as… you guessed it – Direct Traffic.

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24 Responses to What Is Direct Traffic In Google Analytics?

  1. Alex says:

    Thanks for the link!

    If you’re curious about how to tag other marketing campaigns besides AdWords, I wrote an article about campaign tracking in Google Analytics:



  2. Good stuff Alex… glad you dropped by.

  3. WCR SEM Blog says:

    Great post with a lot of good links I’m about to follow up reading (mongoose metrics) – one question though – doesn’t direct traffic also include those with java turned off in their browser? I realize this is quite a small % of visitors, but is this the case?

  4. WCR, that’s a good question and I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the answer to it.

    However, I’m glad you stopped by… It gave me the chance to check out your blog, which was some good reading and gave me another good one in my reader.

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  6. Richard says:

    The MongooseMetrics stuff is ntot great. We kept getting calls for completely different companies. The data in google analytics did not match the numberof calls either. So – not accurate information and useless calls. Big deal.

  7. Great Post Alex! Many people shy away from Google Analytics but it really is relatively easy to set up. I work for a company called Ifbyphone, and we provide hosted telephone applications to all phones and provide some of the same services as MongooseMetrics. Believe it or not, the telephone is still critical to sales in almost every business and we help those businesses save money. A unique telephone number is that missing piece of the puzzle between online to offline tracking.

    Call Tracking

  8. How can I see the complete full URL address of incoming links, in Google Analytics?

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  10. John says:

    I am having an issue where 100% of my traffic shows up as Direct. I use adwords and get probably 20 clicks a day from that, but it still shows up as direct. Why would this be happening?

  11. Thanks for great , it really help me to find out what missing in my traffic report … thanks so much.

  12. It helped me lot in identifying the direct traffic, and were they are coming from…thanks a lot.

  13. Thanks a lot! this post was extremely helpful for me. The new visitors under my direct traffic is what makes a difference.

  14. harris david says:

    Hi, Nice explanation. I need to more about country specific keyword search. How to check it in analytics report that which keywords they used to reach our web site. Is it possible?

  15. Hello, nice tips and explanation. I can see a lot of direct traffic to my web site through analytics.. Is it coming from book marking sites? Is it good in conversion ratings?

  16. mike smith says:

    Great article help me a lot thanks

  17. mike smith says:

    one of the best articles i find online help me a lot thanks

  18. David Frankk says:

    Awesome article. Helped me understand google analytics to an extent. Could you also provide me with links where I can learn Google Analytics properly?


  19. musadavid says:

    Very good information. I did not understand google analytics much before. Many thanks.

  20. Really helpful.Its anew info for me.Thanks for sharing

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  22. shriya says:

    nice information…thanks for the information.

  23. Suriel says:

    you can track multiple twbsiee profiles, but as I am understanding your question you want to create another domain for the same site and also you wish to make both of them active.But beware of this strategy this will amount to duplicate content penalty of google, so if you wish to make a new domain for the same twbsiee then you should 301 redirect the old domain to the new domain. So that only one domain gets indexed by google.