Is Direct Traffic an Issue to Marketing Agencies 

One of the jobs marketing agencies have is to drive traffic to their client’s websites or certain platforms. Unfortunately, they run into issues when Google Analytics is unable to identify the source of user traffic and categorize it as direct traffic. We want to help out marketers by providing educational content about direct traffic, the factors that contribute to it, and whether or not marketing agencies should attempt to mitigate them.

Dominyka Vaičiūnaitė

Jul 22 2021 7 min read

Table of Contents

    What is direct traffic?

    When a traffic source does not provide any data, Google Analytics will use the term 'direct'. It's a classification made automatically by the analytic tool GA when it has no idea how a session ended up on your site.

    In other words, DIRECT traffic = UNKNOWN traffic.

    What's the difference between direct and organic traffic?

    Direct traffic- As previously stated, direct traffic is defined as traffic that does not originate from a referring website. If the unknown source receives traffic, it is highly likely that it will be classified as direct.

    Organic traffic - This is any traffic that comes to your website unpaid from a search engine. Any organic traffic generated by your inbound marketing and SEO efforts will be a result of those efforts.

    The amount of organic traffic you receive is simply a reflection of how well you rank for specific search terms and how well you develop your digital presence to be user-friendly (search engine optimized).

    When you receive a high volume of direct traffic, you either 'suffer' from a high level of brand awareness in your industry or from the issues we will discuss later.

    Should you care about direct traffic?

    Without a doubt, digital marketers will say yes.

    Every marketing strategy is data-driven, and in order to optimize it, marketers must understand where their traffic is coming from, what attracts people, and what they are searching for.

    However, if the source of the traffic is unknown, it is impossible to truly meet demand and give people what they want.

    What exactly causes direct traffic?

    • Manual entry

    It's precisely what it sounds like - someone is directly typing your website's address into their browser. Unfortunately for marketers, this means that the source of traffic will be classified as direct.


    There isn't much you can do about it. If someone does that, they are truly a direct visitor, as they have typed your website URL directly into their search engines.

    • HTTPS → HTTP

    When a user clicks on a link to a secure page, it is encrypted using HTTPS with well know brands like Comodo SSL. Then, if they click on a non-secure page, an HTTP page, the referral information is deleted, or, more precisely, Google deletes it. In simpler terms, without HTTPS, you will be unable to receive traffic sources.

    Which means... yup. A user's source of traffic goes straight into the direct traffic bucket.


    Secure HTTPS is critical to preventing the loss of UTMs, tracking, and report creation. Make sure you get an SSL certificate in order to collect referrer data.

    • Missing or broken tracking codes

    UTMS, or tracking code, contains all of the user's information who landed on your page. When a landing page does not contain the Google Analytics code and a visitor lands on it, GA treats the session as direct traffic. And we don't want that because UTM parameters have all the campaign metrics, medium & meaningful data.


    Use Google's campaign builder to create and test your UTMs before implementing them across the board.

    • Improper redirections

    Javascript redirects and meta refresh redirects result in direct traffic. They can be the cause of wiped-out referral data.


    Make sure you use the right types of redirects, set them up correctly and audit your files frequently.


    Avoid redirect chains. This occurs when a blog user is redirected to another blog, and the second blog is redirected to blog three, and so forth. Because the first link must pass through a second link, and the first two links lead to blog 3, this can wipe out referral data and mess up your data when you are focusing on SEO.

    • Non-web documents

    Things like Word documents and PDFs do not pass referrer information. These documents send direct traffic to links. If you offer PDF guides and people download them, they cause direct traffic.


    Add UTM parameters and the problem is fixed.

    To be more specific - include a hyperlink containing UTM campaign parameters. Even if Google Analytics drops the data into the direct traffic bucket, you can at the very least sort it and gain some more meaningful insights using those campaign parameters.

    • Dark social

    Social tools like Facebook & Instagram or email & texting all play a part in social sharing where a particular source is hard to track. And when it is hard to track for Google, it classifies it as direct traffic.

    This is one of the reasons why marketers are now focusing on social media marketing because a lot of communication happens inside of these platforms.


    There is little you can do, but the bare minimum is to develop proper sharing buttons for private platforms such as email or WhatsApp that ensure users share URLs with UTM parameters. By the way, if your agency uses WhatsApp for business communication, Zoko.io is a great tool to try out.

    Three ways to analyze direct traffic

    • Use channel analysis.

    Whatagraph provides insights into user engagements with the site, goal conversions, traffic acquisition, and e-commerce transactions.

    You can view your or your client website's direct traffic by creating a Web Traffic Report or by using a Google Analytics dashboard template to see a performance overview that includes the number of direct users.

    Additional useful tabs may include 'Social,' 'Paid Search,' 'Organic Search,' and 'Referral.'

    • Track bounce rate.

    Actual visits are indicated by the time spent on the site and the bounce rate. If, for instance, both traffic and bounce rates are 100% and yet no time is spent on the website, we can be certain that spam has taken over.

    With a Whatagraph account, you can monitor and track direct traffic. It allows you to view the time spent on your pages, which can help you determine which pages receive the most traffic and which ones could benefit from an update.

    • Analyze, analyze, analyze!

    Investigate further to determine why some landing pages garner more attention than others.

    Recognize the visitor's behavior and the steps they take on your or your client's website. Consider the following: which buttons and links are most frequently pressed, and does the URL placement have an effect on the audience's willingness to tap on it?

    It will assist you in determining the manner in which direct traffic interacts with your website and may reveal some interesting insights.

    Bear this in mind!

    Direct traffic is almost always made up of your most devoted and engaged users. Someone is so familiar with your client's brand or website that they simply type the name or your website's URL into their browser. This is fantastic news!

    Even if you are unable to collect much data from it, you can be confident that you are doing well because their brand has enough awareness to be manually typed in.

    On a final note

    Making data-driven, informed decisions is critical for marketers when developing digital marketing strategies and, eventually, analytics reports.

    Make extensive use of Google Analytics and Whatagraph to gain insight into the patterns, behavior, and progress of the best practices you incorporate into your marketing activities.

    Published on Jul 22 2021

    Dominyka is a copywriter who uses simple words to explain tough ideas. Her content is inspired by the good old brand “For Dummies.” Anyone can read and learn all things marketing with her.

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