How to reduce Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

Use the following methods to reduce direct traffic in Google Analytics:

#1 Tag the URLs of all marketing campaigns.
#2 Tag each marketing campaign correctly
#3 Make sure all the pages of your website contain valid Google Analytics Tracking Code which fire on page load.
#4 Embed shortened tagged URLs in non-HTM documents.
#5 Keep browser referral issues, privacy settings and add-ons in mind.
#6 Migrate to HTTPs.
#7 Do not use rel=”noreferrer” on your website links.
#8 Avoid Google Analytics cookies to be reset.
#9 Check your company’s firewall settings.
#10 Block Internal Traffic.
#11 Segment your direct traffic into two categories.
#12 Look for correlation between your direct visits and marketing campaigns.
#13 Use phone call tracking solution.
#14 Do not just rely on Google Analytics to capture referral data.
#15 Use TV Attribution Model.
#16 Device new ways to capture referral data.

#1 Tag the URLs of all marketing campaigns

One of the most popular and widely used method to clean up direct traffic is to tag each and every URL of your marketing campaigns with campaign tracking parameters:

  • utm_source
  • utm_medium
  • utm_term
  • utm_content and
  • utm_campaign.

Following is an example of tagged URL:

https://www.optimizesmart.com/google-analytics-cookies-ultimate-guide/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article-promotion

Same URL when untagged will look like the one below

https://www.optimizesmart.com/google-analytics-cookies-ultimate-guide/

Make sure that you always tag the URLs you share, via email or social media.

#2 Tag each marketing campaign correctly

As mentioned earlier if you share a tagged link on twitter with ‘utm_source=facebook’, then all the twitter visits will be reported as ‘Facebook visits’ by Google Analytics.

Similarly, if you used incorrect campaign parameters (like UTMSource=facebook) then Google Analytics will completely ignore the referrer and treat referral visits as direct visits.

Use Google URL builders to tag campaign URLs correctly.

#3 Make sure all the pages of your website contain valid Google Analytics Tracking Code which fire on page load

Make sure all the web pages on your website have valid Google Analytics tracking code which fires on page load. Otherwise, traffic from your own web pages can be reported as either direct traffic or self-referral traffic by Google Analytics.

For example, consider the following scenario.

A user lands on your website via a web page (say web page A) which does not contain GA tracking code. Then he navigates to the web page (say web page B) which contains valid GA tracking code.

Now if your domain name is in the referral exclusion list than the traffic from Web Page A to Web Page B will be reported as direct traffic by GA.

If your domain name is not in the referral exclusion list than the traffic from Web Page A to Web Page B will be reported as self-referral traffic by GA.

You should do a site wide tag audit to identify all web pages with missing GA tracking code.

 

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#4 Embed shortened tagged URLs in non-HTM documents

If the URL you embed in a non-HTML document (word, excel, PowerPoint, PDF etc) or in an email, contains clearly visible campaign tracking parameters then it reduces its chances of being clicked or shared by your target audience.

People do not like their activities (like clicking on a link) being tracked. So when they see a URL with campaign tracking parameters they could immediately feel like being tracked.

So some people either don’t share such URLs or remove the campaign tracking parameters before they share. Not to mention, the campaign tracking parameters make a URL looks ugly.

If you are deploying contents via non-HTML documents (word, excel, PowerPoint, PDF etc) and/or desktop email clients then the best way to embed tagged URLs is through a URL shortening service like bit.ly.

For example, consider the following URL with campaign tracking parameter:

https://www.optimizesmart.com/google-analytics-cookies-ultimate-guide/?utm_source=microsoft-word&utm_medium=non-html-document&utm_campaign=article-promotion

Now if you want to share this URL via a non-HTML document then first shorten it via a service like Bit.ly and then embed it:

https://bit.ly/1ibcdZl

I use the custom medium ‘non-HTML document’ when tagging the URLs embedded in non-HTML documents:

From the screenshot above, I can easily understand that someone clicked on a link embedded in Microsoft-word document.

This is the advantage of tagging URLs in non-HTML documents.

#5 Keep browser referral issues, privacy settings and add-ons in mind

Keep different browser referral issues, privacy settings and add-ons in mind while redirecting visitors and search engines and always use server-side redirects (301 and 302) instead of Meta and JavaScript redirects.

Avoid redirect chains, as a referrer may drop during several redirects.

#6 Migrate to HTTPs

Move your website to HTTPS as explained earlier.

#7 Do not use rel=”noreferrer” on your website links

Make sure there is no rel=”noreferrer” on your website links especially if you are an affiliate.

#8 Avoid Google Analytics cookies to be reset

Make sure that your code does not cause Google Analytics cookies to be reset, thus resulting in a direct visit. This is one of the most overlooked issues and often hard to diagnose.

#9 Check your company’s firewall settings

Check your company’s firewall settings to make sure that the referrer is not dropped.

#10 Block Internal Traffic

Block your own company’s traffic (also called internal traffic) from being tracked by Google Analytics by installing Google Analytics Opt-out Add-on.

Blocking traffic by IP address does not always work well (unless you are on a static IP) as IP addresses change all the time.

Often internal traffic ends up being reported as direct traffic by Google Analytics. For example, if your developers are heavily involved in testing then they are going to visit your website all day, every day.

All such traffic is likely to be reported as direct traffic by Google Analytics.

#11 Segment your direct traffic into two categories.

The first category includes desktop and tablet direct visits.

The second category includes mobile direct visits.

You can create these categories by using custom segments in Google Analytics. This will give you a good idea of what your direct traffic is made up of and how you can minimize it.

#12 Look for correlation between your direct visits and marketing campaigns.

Often when we launch a new marketing campaign (esp. offline) there is a considerable increase in direct traffic to the website.

You need to note down all such changes in direct traffic through Google Analytics Annotations. So that later you can attribute traffic and conversions through direct traffic in a particular time period to your marketing campaigns.

#13 Use phone call tracking solution

If your website has been set up mainly to generate leads through phone calls (quite common in case of websites which sell high priced items like properties, cars, yacht, consultation services etc.) then you will miss out on all the referral data, if you do not implement a phone call tracking solution.

#14 Do not just rely on Google Analytics to capture referral data

Do not just rely on Google Analytics to capture referral data esp. if you are tracking mobile apps. There are lot of third party tools (like Tune) out there which can track referral data much more accurately than Google Analytics.

#15 Use TV Attribution Model

If you are a business which advertises its products or services on TV and you want to measure the impact of TV advertising on website traffic and sales then you should seriously consider using a TV attribution model.

TV attribution model is an algorithmic attribution model which uses machine learning and statistical modelling for assigning conversion credit to various marketing touchpoints.

TV ads drive website traffic and sales. If you monitor your GA real-time reports during and after a TV ad, you are likely to see a huge uplift in direct traffic. But there is no easy way to prove that the uplift is because of the TV ad and not because of some other marketing activity.

If you are running several TV ads on various ad networks then it becomes even more difficult to understand the impact of particular ad network, TV program and ad slot on website traffic and sales. Here TV attribution model tool comes handy.

Through TV attribution model tool you can correlate TV ad airing with your website traffic, sales and other online users’ activities in real-time.

This attribution model is not something which you can create in standard Google Analytics. It is beyond its capabilities.

You would need to use a tool which provides TV attribution solutions. One such tool is Google Attribution 360:

Google Attribution 360 provides a TV attribution model tool with the aim to provide a detailed insight into the relationship between TV ad airings and customer online activities.

#16 Device new ways to capture referral data

Be innovative and device new ways to capture referral data. For example, you can capture referral data through lead generation forum, on-page surveys, email surveys, contests etc. Simply ask your website visitors via form, how they found your website/service.

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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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