What does direct traffic in Google Analytics mean?

Digital Marketing

If you've ever ventured into your Google Analytics account to see where your traffic comes from, you may have seen a row that is referred to as "Direct traffic" in addition this is most likely one of your top 5 sources when it comes to your website traffic sources.

So what is it?

Direct traffic was traditionally seen as "branded" traffic or traffic that happens when someone types your URL directoly in the search bar, however it really is a "catch all" bucket - which means Google has no idea where it comes from, so they put it all in a bucket called "direct traffic".

It can be any of the following types of traffic:


  • Visitors typed in the URL directly on their browsers
  • Visitors are visiting via a bookmark item
  • Visitors set the website as the start page when their browser first open
  • URL shorteners, when it doesn't register properly - a known problem in Google Analytics.
  • Other Traffic Sources Possibly Tracked as Direct Traffic in Google Analytics
  • Untagged Emails, any links in emails that don't have a source tag.
  • PDF Documents and clicking on links from PDF documents.
  • Missing or undefined Analytics Tag
  • Visitors from untagged landing pages. When a visitor lands on your website from a source (say organic or paid) and the anding page does not have an analytics tag, this visit will not be tracked. But if the visitor clicks through to another page which has an analytics tag, it will be registered as direct traffic.
  • Mobile Apps 
  • Other apps such as Twitter clients (e.g. Tweetdeck).
  • Mobile OS that loses referrer data as it is being used.
  • Redirects
  • Right Click > Open a New Tab which is a common occurrence on browsers that set this as a default action when clicking on any link.
  • Incorrect Google Website Optimizer Code


How can you track your sources better?


The simple answer is to tag all your links that go out, which is a huge resource intensive task in itself, but necessary if you want to accurately track the success of your online marketing.

You can utilise the UTM tagging feature to do this, even before you use the link in a URL shortener. 

I will writing an article about UTM tagging next week, so please follow me to keep track of my updates.



Nick Chernih

Founder at LinkBuildSEO

I help clients rank their pages and get more traffic on their webpages.