Share this post.

Many marketers make the mistake of living with this pre-conceived notion that direct traffic sources are bad and unavoidable. However, the correct way to analyze direct traffic sources requires understanding the sources of direct traffic and Google Analytics first.

The Mystery of Google Analytics Direct Traffic Sources

Direct Traffic reporting in Google Analytics can be a conundrum compared to the other mediums on reported traffic. Organic search, paid, referrals, and social media sources are all straightforward, however, oftentimes we are asked how to categorize direct traffic and find the direct traffic sources.

Understanding Direct Traffic Sources

Direct Traffic in Google Analytics is when a user has arrived on your website with no referring source or the direct traffic sources have been misconfigured or lost. Secondly, it could be because Google Analytics could not process the specific session to a particular source.

Understanding Google Analytics

Google Analytics uses various ways to processes different traffic sources as listed below:

  • Organic Search
  • Direct Traffic
  • Referral
  • Affiliate
  • Social
  • Paid Search
  • Display
  • Other

Now that we know the different groups under which the traffic is being categorized, let’s take a look at the possible reasons that cause direct traffic sources.

Direct Traffic Sources in Google Analytics

§  Manual Web Address Entry

It is perhaps the only real source of direct traffic sources that is completely unavoidable. After all, you can’t stop a customer or client from reaching your website by directly entering the address into the address bar. Another similar way is to reach the website through a bookmark. In both the aforementioned cases, Google Analytics would be unable to reach an AdWords source, a campaign parameter, or a URL tag and will deem it as a direct traffic source.

§  Users Using Privacy Browsers and Private or Incognito Browsing Modes

With privacy becoming a mainstream issue, across the globe users are switching to more secure and private methods of browsing. We have seen antitrust cases against large entities like Google and Microsoft themselves. Coinciding with this, many of our clients have seen an increase in Direct Traffic in Google Analytics and a decrease in Organic Search traffic. This is quickly becoming one of the biggest direct traffic sources.

Whether the user has decided to secure their current web browsing platform or switch to a privacy-based platform, in most cases this means Google Analytics tracking will be lost and it will appear as a Direct Traffic source in Google Analytics. 

Companies competing with Google are using privacy as a main factor to gain more traction. These privacy browsers are popping up everywhere, DuckDuckGo, Tor, Pale Moon, IceCat, SeaMonkey, the Brave browser, the list goes on. Before these browsers even existed, users often would secure their browsing history and privacy by using plugins in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and other web browsers, as well as modifying their web browsers privacy settings to prevent tracking.

§  Secure Pages and Non-Secure Pages – HTTPS to HTTP

When you move a link from a secure source to a non-secure one, no data is generated and passed to show it as a referral link. It is just one of the direct traffic sources situations where there is zero referral data. In all the other situations (HTTP –HTTP, HTTPS-HTTPS, and even HTTP-HTTPS), referral data is passed to Google Analytics.

If your website lately has been observing a decline in the referral data and direct traffic sources have increased, then perhaps this could be the underlying reason for that.

§  Untagged Link

It occurs when you have sent out an untagged URL, or you have redone your website, and your landing page lacks a Goggle Analytics tracking code. This way, all the traffic that will reach your website will be termed as a direct traffic source as Google Analytics will have no other source to tag in to. An easy way to avoid this is by adding the missing tracking code.

Another reason untagged links happen is that the tracking code is broken. It can be a result of poorly configured triggers. In case of broken codes, the ideal thing to do is an Analytics Audit and make sure that all your marketing is data-driven.

§  Off-line Documents

If your user is reaching your website through a hyperlink in an off-line word document or PDF file, It translates as zero referral information and the traffic would be accounted for as a direct traffic source by Google Analytics. This one is pretty much unavoidable. However, if you publish online guides and documents, the standard way is to tag the hyperlink with a UTM Campaign Parameter to eliminate it from direct traffic sources in Google Analytics.


If you need help analyzing your direct traffic sources, contact us today, we would be happy to help.

Nalu SEO is always looking for ways to improve, ways to stay ahead of other SEO agencies, and ways to provide the best possible value to our clients. With that said, Cloudflare’s updated privacy-first Web Analytics is now available for everyone and we would be happy to set it up for your business.

Having this additional analytic reporting is incredible, as this visibility over traffic sources and behavior patterns allows us to focus in and continue to target the sources with the highest conversion rates. As this becomes more difficult and cloudy through Google analytics, adding this additional analytic resource should provide an even greater ROI for our clients.