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Reading Google Analytics: Direct Traffic


If you use Google Analytics (which, you definitely should be doing), you know that there are different “sources” of how people arrived to your website. The default types of traffic, or mediums, are: Direct, Organic, Paid and Referrals. Let’s talk about “Direct” traffic.

How about we start with Google’s definition?

“Source: Every referral to a website has an origin, or source. Possible sources include: ‘google’ (the name of a search engine), ‘”’(the name of a referring site), ‘spring_newsletter’ (the name of one of your newsletters), and ‘direct’ (users that typed your URL directly into their browser, or who had bookmarked your site).

Ok, but is there more beyond just direct URLs and bookmarks? Yes. Any kind of traffic that cannot be recognized is categorized as “Direct” by Google Analytics, which means:

  • Users using incognito/private browsing mode

  • As reported from other sources, there can be as much as an estimated 7% of organic traffic being shown as direct.

  • Many times, apps and other mobile traffic sources are often marked as “Direct.”

  • When a user follows a link on a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page

I know, it’s frustrating. The good news is that you can help avoid many false “direct” traffic readings by adding parameters to URLs to identify the campaigns that refer traffic. HERE’S HOW.


Traffic Source Dimensions. Google Analytics Help. (2018). Source:

Google Makes It Even Harder to Estimate Missing iOS 6 Organic Search Data. Search Engine Watch. (2018). Source:

Custom campaigns: Add parameters to URLs to identify the campaigns that refer traffic. Google Analytics Help. (2018). Source: