Reasons for Direct Traffic

Let’s talk about web analytics. After all, I am a Math Detective. An International Math Detective.

One mysterious thing that comes up again and again is Direct Traffic. Technically, it’s anything that doesn’t have any information in the referrer field of the request. In theory it accounts only for people who type your URL into their browser, or arrive via a bookmark. In practice, there are a LOT of other ways for the referrer to get stripped from a request. I keep looking around for these lists, so I’m compiling my own here. I reserve the right to update this when I find more.

  1. URL typed directly into the browser
  2. Visit came from a bookmark
  3. Came via link in an email–though if it’s webmail, the webmail domain will show up as a referrer
  4. Came from a link in a document
  5. The origin page is secure (https) and your page is not (http)
  6. The link to your site was via javascript or Flash, and the viewer was using IE
  7. The link came from a page behind a proxy or firewall that strips referrers (like an intranet)
  8. The visitor set their browser to strip out referrer information
  9. Another site is calling your content via an iFrame
  10. Some of your site’s pages aren’t tagged, and the visit came from one of those (referrer traffic from your own domain may show up as direct traffic)

So, the question becomes, how do you figure out which of these is applicable? Here are some ideas:

  1. In Google, search for “link:www.yourdomain.com” to get a list of links pointing to your site (as indexed by Google. Research those to see if any of these options apply.
  2. If there was a sudden increase/decrease in direct traffic, look at your referrers report for a corresponding sudden decrease/increase. Site technology on a major referrrer may have changed.
  3. Review your New vs. Returning visitors percentage. In theory, people who have bookmarked you should always look like returning visitors (unless they’re deleting cookies). If your domain isn’t immediately guessable by someone that’s never visited, then theoretically most direct traffic should be returning. If the numbers don’t match up, there may be other forces at play.

Edit 3/21/2011: Another reason: It’s a frameset site, and the frameset page is not tagged with GA code (even if individual pages are tagged).

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