Causes of Sudden Spike in Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Last Updated: May 23, 2022

Do you sometimes see sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic in your Google Analytics reports? 

sudden spike in direct traffic in Google Analytics

If yes, was it just an event over a couple of days, or do you see a continued increase in direct traffic over weeks and months?

The following could be the possible reasons for sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic that lasted only for a couple of days:

#2 Someone in your company ran ads on TV or radio, or was there some other offline marketing activity which caused sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic.

Remember,

People will not automatically find your website and visit it directly. They find and visit your website in response to some marketing activity.

#3 Someone in your company ran a marketing campaign with incorrect UTM tracking parameters, resulting in a massive amount of direct traffic reported by GA.

incorrect UTM tracking parameters

#4 Your website was attacked by a spambot.

website was attacked by a spambot

If you see a sudden and massive spike in direct traffic with a bounce rate close to 100% and an average session duration close to 0 seconds, your website was probably attacked by a spambot.

If the sudden and massive spike in direct traffic continues for weeks or months, then ask yourself the following five questions:

  1. Has the overall website traffic increased in the last month, or is it just the direct traffic that continues to increase week after week? 
  2. Have you recently made any changes to the settings of your Google Analytics property?
  3. Have you recently made any changes to the settings of your Google Analytics reporting view?
  4. What changes did you make to your tracking set-up in the last month?
  5. Has your website recently started getting a lot of traffic from spambots?

Q1 Has the overall website traffic increased in the last month, or is it just the direct traffic that continues to increase week after week?

If overall website traffic has increased in the last month and direct traffic has increased in proportion to the overall website traffic, then the spike in direct traffic may not cause concern.

It is common for most websites to have direct traffic as one of their top five traffic sources:

direct traffic

However, if the overall website traffic has not considerably increased but direct traffic has relatively and considerably increased, then it may be a cause for concern.

Check whether traffic from other marketing channels like Google organic, email, paid search, etc., has declined.

If yes, then maybe all such traffic is now being reported as direct traffic. This could be because of some tracking issue.

Q2 Have you recently made any changes to the settings of your Google Analytics property?

#2.1 Did you change the session timeout or campaign timeout setting?

session timeout or campaign timeout setting

#2.2 Did you change the User and event data retention setting?

user and event data retention setting

#2.3 Did you make any changes to the referral exclusion list?

referral exclusion list

#2.4 Did you make any changes to the Search Term Exclusion List?

search term exclusion list

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, that could be the reason for a sudden spike in direct traffic.

Q3 Have you recently made any changes to the settings of your Google Analytics reporting view?

#3.1 Have you added or removed any view filter? Maybe you are no longer blocking internal traffic?

no longer blocking internal traffic

#3.2 Have you changed the default or custom channel groupings?

changes to the default or custom channels grouping

#3.3 Have you made any changes to the definition of default marketing channels esp. the direct traffic?

definition of default marketing channels

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, that could be the reason for a sudden spike in direct traffic.

#4 What changes have you made to your tracking set-up in the last month?

  1. Did you make any changes to your cross-domain tracking or cross-device tracking?
  2. Is Google Analytics tracking code firing correctly on each page of your website?
  3. Did you make any changes to the way you tag your URLs? Maybe you stopped auto-tagging or made some changes to your UTM parameters?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, that could be the reason for a sudden spike in direct traffic.

#5 Has your website recently started getting a lot of traffic from spambots?

Sudden Spike in Direct Traffic?

Some spambots visit websites to send fake traffic (mainly fake referral traffic).

These bots can crawl hundreds and thousands of websites every day and send HTTP requests to websites with fake referrer headers.

They create and send fake referrer headers to avoid being detected as bots. The fake referrer header contains the website URL which spammers want to promote.

To find referrer spam in Google Analytics, follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate to the Referrals report in your GA view.
  2. Change the date range of the ‘Referrals’ report to the last three months.
  3. Sort the report by bounce rate in descending order.
  4. Look for referrers with 100% or 0% bounce rate and ten or more sessions. They are most likely spam referrers.
  5. Make a note of all of the spam referrers whose traffic you want to block from your Google Analytics view.
  6. Once you have identified spam referrers, block them from visiting your website again.

To learn more about spambots, referrer spam and how to block them, read this article: How to Stop Google Analytics Spam – Remove Referral Spam

  1. What is direct traffic in Google Analytics & why is it so high?
  2. Difference between direct traffic and referral traffic
  3. Why is direct traffic increasing and how to fix it?
  4. How to reduce Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

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