What Does Direct Traffic Mean in Google Analytics?

Since I’ve been looking this up for my own reaons, I thought I would share my findings. Direct Traffic means of course that there’s NO referrer when the visitor came to the site.

This could be because someone:

  • typed in the URL directly in their browser
  • used a bookmark in their browser
  • clicked a link from an email  with a non-web-based email client (like Outlook)
  • clicked a link in a document (PDF, Word)
  • clicked a link from within a secure site (https://)
  • used a mobile app (which could come from twitter, stumbleupon, email, etc.)
  • some JavaScript redirect links may not set a referrer
  • some corporate intranets may strip out referrers
  • if the user has browser plug-ins to mask their referrer
  • some banner/PPC campaigns may not pass a referrer correctly
  • The IE browser can sometimes be problematic & not send a referrer under certain conditions

 

Has anyone heard of any other reasons traffic would be identified as direct traffic in Google Analytics?

8 Comments

  1. Chris, this is what I was looking for and all are valid points.

    But I really didn’t get the “clicked a link from within a secure site”. How? Twitter and Facebook also are secured sites..

    Reply
  2. Thanks I was looking for this particular issue. Now, I have a clue what direct means in analytics.

    Thanks

    Reply
  3. I have wondered about this. I have apache running on my desktop, so that I can view and test website pages in “localhost” before uploading them to a live site. Of course, I test links, etc., and I have always wondered what a site owner sees in their analytics reports when I reach their site by clicking on a link in a localhost page. I assume it reads as “direct”, but does anyone know for sure?

    Reply
  4. I think they include traffic from mobile app. I’ve seen in my analytics traffic from m.facebook.com, m.digg.com & m.twitter.com.

    Reply
  5. Atul,
    The guidelines that browser behavior are based upon recommend not to pass the referrer when transferring from Secure to unsecure protocol pages. As far as I am aware, all browsers currently obey this rule, for privacy reasons. Here’s the source: http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc2616#section-15.1.3
    Does this help clarify? In almost any case where referrers ARE passed from a secured site, it is because the site developer has chosen to implement an interstitial step that sets the referrer, often by passing you through a non-secure page where this is set. In other words, Twitter and Facebook are being generous to you by intentionally preserving this information so you can know they sent you traffic, and you can thank them accordingly. ;)

    Augie,
    The page being served to you from your local machine still has a URI that the browser passes to the next page. However, that URI is most likely “127.0.0.1:xxxx/mypage.html” This is what the analytics software would detect as the traffic source of the click-through. You can see this for yourself after clicking a link on your own page, put the following in the address bar to tell you what the current page’s referrer is: javascript:alert(document.referrer)

    The rule of thumb is, any time a link is clicked in a browser, except for the exceptions mentioned above, there will be a referrer. Direct Load is any case where referrer is empty. In Omniture, we call these ‘Typed/Bookmarked’ for short, but it may signify any of the above.

    Dan,
    It is important not to confuse a mobile-optimized web page, loaded in a mobile browser, with a link inside an app or program. Mobile web pages inside a mobile browser still carry referrers from one page to the next. An app click actually OPENS the mobile browser, in which case the browser usually doesn’t know if it is opening a typed or bookmarked URL or if another program requested the page. The same is true on PC’s for programs (analog to Apps) like Outlook and PDF readers, etc. Does this make more sense?

    Chris,
    Thank you for gathering this information in one place and sharing it with all of us.
    Another scenario you may want to add to your list is the new referrer meta tag – I believe it is currently only supported by Chrome. This is how Google will soon be choosing to mask secured search referrer keywords. It can also be used to clear the referrer entirely. See http://wiki.whatwg.org/wiki/Meta_referrer

    I hope this is helpful.
    Jorgen Sorensen
    Adobe ClientCare

    Reply
  6. What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing it on your site.

    Reply
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  8. Nice Info, Direct Traffic is nothing but also user bookmarked a page in their browser, entered the URL in the web address bar, or clicked a link in an email.

    Reply

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