Why Is My Direct Traffic So High?

When it comes to Google Analytics data, there are basically two major things an SEO is looking for: 1) Consistent organic growth reflecting the awesomeness of their ideas and efforts & 2) Clean, accurate data that actually reflects where visitors are coming from.

There’s a very good chance that right now the direct traffic portion of your Google Analytics is muddling the accuracy of all your data. Here’s why and what you can do about it.

This is not a new problem, but it’s one that still doesn’t get the attention it deserves given the implications.

The problem is this: Apple’s release of the iOS 6 operating system (late September 2012) gets filtered into Direct Traffic regardless of the visitor’s actual source.

So all those iPhone searches you may be getting? They’re not counting towards your organic traffic the way they should be!

Take a look at your direct traffic metrics dating back to the start of September. Notice an inexplicable rise starting towards the end of the month? There’s a good chance you will.

This can range anywhere from “kind of annoying and confusing” to “I HATE YOU ANALYTICS YOU HAVE SURELY SENT ME TO MY DOOOOOMMMMMM!!”

Dr. Doom

Doom Reigns Eternal (Photo credit: yum9me)

If you’re a webmaster who’s just interested in seeing what’s going on with your traffic, this likely remains in the “quirky things to know” category. It’s good info to have, you can follow the steps below and straighten everything out, and keep on blogging like nothing every happened.

But if you’re an SEO Manager for various clients? This stinks. There’s no way around it, it stinks like cat litter in a high school boy’s locker room (what are they even doing with the litter in there?).

The reality: you’ve been missing mobile visits. The good news? You can start to estimate just how much mobile traffic you should be counting towards organic and boost your reporting figures moving forward.

The Direct Traffic Solution

To be honest, direct traffic is confusing enough as is. Any normal person would assume ‘Direct’ included only instances of visitors typing your URL directly into their address bar.

In reality, Google expands their definition of direct to include quite a bit more.

This is why you see a wide variety of landing page URLs in your direct traffic when you view that section in GA. This really threw me at first. 

You mean twelve people typed in “www.davebuesing.com/google-thinks-im-a-thug” on the same day? How did they even know to do that?

The answer of course, is they didn’t. Your direct visitors may have bookmarked a page, or added you to a reader, or had the URL auto-appear in their browser because of previous browsing history.

Image representing Google Analytics as depicte...

Do you, GA, do you.

Given all that, adding iOS 6 mobile traffic to the cluttered mix doesn’t exactly help clarify source attribution.

Here’s what you can do: Read this post by AJ Kohn and execute.

Seriously. Back in December, Kohn laid out a fantastic strategy for analyzing and filtering your iOS 6 traffic.

The post will make it very clear how you can quickly view your iOS 6 traffic using advanced segments.

ios 6 direct traffic

iOS 6 Traffic Creeping Up on Direct

Analyzing Direct Traffic for Legitimacy

I wrote recently about ways your Google Analytics data might get ‘hacked.‘ One of the first steps in that process was analyzing direct traffic for unexpected spikes that could be considered glaring anomalies.

Taking a look at the graph above, you can see that my most recent day of traffic saw a big surge in direct visits. Is this a bot infiltrating the system?

When you factor in the iOS 6 advanced segment, it becomes clear that this is probably not a bot and instead totally legitimate traffic. What am I basing this on?

You’ll find once you implement your iOS 6 advanced segment that it follows the trend line of your direct traffic. Meaning – as your direct traffic appears to increase, your iOS 6 traffic increases at the same rate.

The assumption here is that the direct traffic line is being proportionally boosted by a good day of mobile search traffic.

If you find a situation where the direct traffic line and iOS 6 line do NOT correspond, you”ll want to analyze further where all that direct traffic might be coming from. In that case, an annoying bot hack is more likely.

Direct Traffic is Stealing From Organic

There’s no two ways around it – because of the new iOS 6 implementation, work you’re doing to rank well for mobile searches might not be getting credit. Which means you might not be getting credit. Which is of course a travashamockery.

As you report on organic results, the increasing prevalence of mobile search is going to make the accuracy of your data even fuzzier. Better to get on top of this confusion now, than have to explain to a client after the fact that their traffic really was doing great all along!

What do you think? Seeing sites with enormous percentages of “lost” organic traffic? Found better ways to deal with mis-attribution? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.