The Mirage that is Direct Traffic

All of us have seen it. Few talk about it. Most of us don’t want to admit it.

What is this ghost called direct traffic? How could customers/readers suddenly divine my name and land on my homepage. There are various reasons that someone can be captured in this catch-all bucket. All of them point to either incorrect implementation of the Google Analytics code or limitations of it.

These days, with lots of fragmented social networks, much of this direct traffic can also be attributed to links shared via Whatsapp and other channels with no attribution tagging. I would urge marketers to consider these channels too within the share buttons.

So, should we just ignore it? In essence, all that is happening is that the referrer domain is nullĀ for some sessions landing on our site.

I posit that we can still find some uses for this nullity. What can they possibly be?

  1. Proportional allocation: Attribution of traffic in such terms as Google Analytics can show us, is not only simple but also simplistic and illusionary. An article about your business or a mention of it somewhere online does not mean that a user will click on it immediately. I see a lot of ads for products that might be interesting and then just go type the URL. Does that make me [direct]? Not at all. I am responding to your branding in media channels. I have known social campaign launches to create a significant increase in direct traffic. I would actually attribute an increase in direct traffic proportionately to all my branded marketing spends.
  2. Use as Control: Some marketers have argued that as much as 60% of direct is actually organic traffic. While that maybe true in experiments that they ran, it will not be the case for you if your implementation is correct. I would propose to use direct traffic as your control traffic. They are not attributed to your marketing efforts so the behavior of this traffic should contrast with your mailings (be a dear and use UTM parameters), social media, paid media etc. This difference in behavior (read conversions to goals) that you will have induced from your marketing will tell you how successful your marketing efforts really are.
  3. TV spends: It is notoriously hard to determine the success of TV spends. Several great analysts have written about it but no one really has a rock-solid method to determine the success of TV campaigns. However, if your Direct traffic goes up in the vicinity(time and place) of TV spends, you know they are working. We can slice and dice our traffic based on geography as well as DMA and have a clearer idea of the impact of TV. One thing to remember is that TV will impact other channels too so please compare and contrast direct with all of them. It has been shown that direct will move the most. Of course, this is quite subjective and I would use it carefully.

Anyone else using direct traffic in their analysis?

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