Finally! Get to the bottom of Google Analytics direct traffic

Category: Marketing attribution

Ever gone to the channels report in Google Analytics to check where your traffic has come from? You probably noticed an awful lot of traffic in the ‘direct’ category, like this:

Graph of high direct channels.

Frustrating, isn’t it. So much traffic but a large percentage gets labelled as ‘direct’ and, as a result, becomes unattributable. It makes accurate marketing attribution impossible. And it means there will be holes in your understanding of the customer journey, too.

What is direct traffic?

Direct traffic is any traffic that Google Analytics can’t attribute to a source. That means people who have bookmarked your website, for example. But it could also be everything from people who clicked an untagged email link to clicks on embedded buttons in PDFs.

Does direct traffic matter?

In a word, yes, it does.

In fact, a commonly held belief among marketing experts is that direct traffic could actually be made up of your most valuable web visitors.

Let me explain.

While new visitors often arrive to a website via paid ad campaigns, social media posts or organic searches, those who are much further along their customer journey may arrive directly. For example, someone who is on the brink of making a purchase with you may have bookmarked your website and is returning for the second, third or fourth time to gather more information.

Therefore it’s vital not to dismiss direct traffic – and to do everything you can to break it down and analyse it in detail. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on understanding how prospects interact with your marketing activity in those crucial later buying journey stages.

How do you analyse direct traffic?

According to Moz, there are some key things you need to do to make sure you can know where direct traffic is coming from.

One of which (and the most important in our opinion) is to get really good at tagging everything that moves.

Make Google’s UTM building tool your new best friend and tag the life out of every campaign you create. Those email links and embedded buttons in PDFs should all have UTM code applied to them.

The idea being to minimise ‘direct’ traffic to only the sources that can’t be tracked – such as when people bookmark your URL or type it directly into their web browser.

When you do this, you’ll see your traffic broken down much more accurately in Google Analytics – like this:

Graph of traffic channels after correct marketing attribution.

From there, you can run reports to understand which channels are driving the most traffic to your website.

How to go much, much further

Google Analytics is very limited in how you can analyse your data. Once you have your direct traffic broken down, you’ll want to know, not just how visitors arrived at your website, but what they did next.

With Mediahawk, you can track and analyse the entire customer journey. For example, if a visitor to your website goes on to make a phone enquiry, you’ll be able to attribute that call right back to the source in Mediahawk.

This applies to all offline sources – such as magazine ads, billboards, mailshots and events etc – where your call to action is a phone number.

With all this in mind, you can start to break down that unhelpful direct traffic and get a far clearer picture of where your leads and sales come from.

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About the author - Natalia Selby

Marketing Executive at Mediahawk, with 20 years experience in analytics and content management.

Man and woman looking at a laptop.
Is high 'direct' traffic stumping you?

If ‘direct’ traffic is outstripping your other channels, it’s time to get clarity. Book a call with us and find out how you can get much more accurate attribution.

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