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If you hop onto your Google Analytics account, you’ll notice a large chunk of traffic and conversions attributed to “Direct.” 

Getting traffic to your website is arguably the most difficult—and most important—task as a business owner, which is why it’s tempting to think that this traffic represents visitors who already know your brand or those who are responding to effective offline advertising. 

The truth is that Direct traffic paints a more complicated picture of your brand strength. It’s merely one piece of the puzzle. 

Read on to learn how Direct traffic, in combination with other metrics and traffic sources, can best indicate how many online visitors know your name.  

What is Direct Traffic? 

Google has defined Direct source traffic as “users that typed your URL directly into their browser, or who had bookmarked your site.” 

Unfortunately, the definition fails to include these more comprehensive (and complicated) traffic sources:

  1. Users who type your URL directly into their browser
  1. Users who bookmark your site and navigate to it from their bookmark
  1. Users who come from a source but no referral data is passed to your analytics platform 

This third and final group may appear when an HTTPS website refers a visitor to a site that is HTTP (i.e. not secured). Visitors may also be arriving from a link not on a site such as Word, Excel or PDF documents. It’s also common for 301 or 302 redirects to lose the tags that help to transfer referral data. 

Why Does Direct Traffic Matter? 

Direct traffic converts. These visitors have often already had contact with your website and pose less resistance to purchasing. 

For this exact reason, omnichannel marketing strategies are typically effective, magnifying the performance of each of your channels of traffic. 

What Happens When Direct Traffic Goes Dark? 

The problem with attributing all of your Direct traffic to highly qualified visitors is that Google Analytics incorporates sources stripped of referrer information into the category. 

In other words, the source is not attributed correctly within your Analytics platform but often appears within your Direct traffic metrics. 

For example, if you’re finding Direct traffic to pages deep within your website or to URLs that would be an unlikely option for someone to type directly into a browser, then that traffic is likely “dark” traffic. 

It’s important to remember that “dark” doesn’t always equate to “bad.” It simply means that Google Analytics can’t track the user’s referral source. 

Usually, these come from the following sources:

  • App referrals
  • Text messages
  • Incognito/secure browsing
  • Social platforms
  • Bots

One way to address the misattribution is to build your own custom segments as opposed to relying on Google defined segments to capture some of the “dark” traffic. 

Visibility and Truly Direct Traffic

While the Direct traffic metric can be complicated, there’s a portion of your traffic that is direct by definition. 

Looking at your landing pages can be a positive sign of a legitimately direct source since homepages and URLs with short page paths are likely to be typed into a browser. 

In reality, big brands tend to have higher volumes of Direct traffic in comparison with smaller businesses because of differing levels of brand recognition. 

How to Use Direct Traffic to Determine Brand Strength

Using Google Analytics to define how well visitors “know” your brand and are likely to convert is best determined by the following sources:

  1. Direct traffic that is by definition “direct.” If visitors are directly landing on homepages and other likely pages on your website, these are considered legitimately direct traffic. 
  1. Organic traffic to the homepage. This includes people who search for brand names and click a homepage link in the search engine results page.
  1. Traffic from Paid Search campaigns that indicate a brand search. Similar to the organic traffic above, these are people who click on paid branded ads.  

This isn’t the only way to determine how well people know your brand, but it is the easiest way to use Google Analytics to understand how many visitors know your name. 

Want more insights? Contact our digital marketing experts at RLC Media to start growing your online business today. 

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