Causes of Sudden Spike in Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Do you see sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic?

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

If it is just a couple of days event then following could be the possible reasons of sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic:

#1 Your brand/website was mentioned on a popular website or by an influencer with the massive social media following. 

#2 Someone in your company ran ads on TV or Radio or did some other offline marketing activity which caused sudden and massive spikes in direct traffic. 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 which resulted in a massive amount of direct traffic.

#4 Your website was attacked by a spam botIf you see a sudden and massive spike in direct traffic with a bounce rate close to 100% and an avg. session duration close to 0 seconds, then most probably your website was attacked by a spam bot.

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

#1 Has the overall website traffic increased in the last one month or is it just direct traffic which continues to increase week after week? 

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

It is common for most websites to have ‘direct traffic’ as one of their top five traffic sources. Whenever a referrer is not passed or is dropped because of security reasons, all such traffic is reported as direct traffic by Google Analytics.

However, if the overall website traffic has not considerably increased but direct traffic has relatively and considerably increased then check whether traffic from other marketing channels like ‘Google Organic’, ‘Email’, ‘Paid search’ has declined.

Maybe because of some changes being made to the tracking setup, Google Analytics is now reporting more and more traffic from other marketing channels as direct traffic.

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

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes then that could be the reason for a dramatic increase in direct traffic.

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

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes then that could be the reason for a dramatic increase in direct traffic.

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

  • Did you make any changes to your cross domain tracking or cross device tracking?
  • Is Google Analytics tracking code firing correctly on each page of your website?
  • 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 then that could be the reason for a dramatic increase in direct traffic.

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

The Spam Bots actually visit websites in order to send fake traffic (mainly fake referral traffic). These bots can crawl hundreds and thousands of websites every day and send out HTTP requests to the websites with fake referrer header.

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 ‘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 10 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: Removing referrer spam and fake traffic in Google Analytics – Tutorial

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Himanshu Sharma

Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder of Optimizesmart.com

Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers' purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

He has over 12 years of experience in digital analytics and digital marketing.

He was nominated for the Digital Analytics Association's Awards for Excellence. The Digital Analytics Association is a world-renowned not-for-profit association that helps organisations overcome the challenges of data acquisition and application.

He is the author of four best-selling books on analytics and conversion optimization:

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