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What is Direct Traffic?

If you're looking to optimize landing pages for search engines, it may be difficult to know where to start with the multitude of different metrics for measuring success.

Between paid search, organic and direct traffic, it can be a challenge to get a firm grasp on what all these aspects mean for your website. Today we're going to take a closer look at the paradox of direct traffic and how can you can get a better sense of it with Google Analytics.

While website analytics often make it possible to identify how a visitor arrived on your site, this method isn't foolproof. When there isn't a clear indication of the referral source, traffic is often reported as direct, according to Search Engine Land.

The assumption was often if you couldn't identify the source, the user must have typed the URL or clicked a bookmark in his or her browser. However,SEO has undergone a significant number of changes in a relatively short time, and this has had a huge impact on traffic source.

What's the Big Difference?

Mobile Internet use has skyrocketed recently. When Apple released iOS 6 in September 2012, many sites lost nearly all of their organic results, but direct traffic increased. Apple eventually corrected this issue and the same websites saw their numbers revert.

However, people using older versions of iOS on their iPhones and iPads will be reported as direct traffic.

Another major development in this area came from Google's move to encrypted search, which did away with referral sources. Internet users have greater concerns about their personal online privacy, and many Web browsers have evolved to give individuals the option to turn off tracking, much to the frustration of many marketers.

Plus, these numbers can be somewhat unreliable at best. Google Chrome allows users to perform a search from the URL bar, and tests have revealed there's a difference in organic vs. direct results compared to when people type searches directly into Google.

Groupon recently conducted a massive experiment regarding direct traffic compared to organic search by de-indexing its entire website for six hours (even Groupon does not recommend trying this yourself!) to measure the differences.

At the end, the researchers discovered up to 60 percent of their direct traffic was actually organic search. In many cases, people don't want to type out a long URL, even if they know exactly where they intend to go. However, this was not the case for certain deal pages. Direct traffic stayed consistent.

Using Google Analytics to Measure Traffic

Despite the absence of referral sources, Google Analytics is still a powerful tool that can deliver a number of insights about your target audience. Especially if you're going through a website redesign or launching a new ad campaign, analytics provide behavioral insights, CMS Wire stated.

For example, the Audience feature offers demographic information, such as age, gender, visit frequency and certain lifestyle categories regarding personal interests to help you get a better read on what your customers care about.

The platform can help you create detailed, advanced customer segments, allowing you to then refine your targeted marketing campaigns. You can group users who share similar interests together for more effective marketing efforts and landing page design.

No matter how users get to your landing page, analytics gives you the tools to reach them more effectively. SEO is rapidly changing, but Google Analytics in particular can help inform your future decisions.

For instance, referral reports can tell you which social media sites generate the most engaged visitors, enabling you to focus more effort on this network.