Why is direct traffic increasing and how to fix it?

Direct traffic is increasing day by day and if you don’t do anything about it now, then one day all you will see in your analytics reports will be direct traffic: little to no referral data, just direct traffic and ‘not provided’ keywords.

Following are the main reasons why your direct traffic is increasing:

#1 Your website is still using a non-secure connection (http://).
#2 One or more URLs of your marketing campaigns are incorrectly tagged.
#3 Not all URLs of your marketing campaigns are tagged.
#4 Google Analytics tracking code is missing on one or more pages
#5 Your website may be getting fake direct traffic from spambots

#1 Your website is still using a non-secure connection (http://)

Every major website/browser/search engine has moved to a secure connection (https://) and if your website is still using HTTP then what will happen is not so distant future is that you will stop getting referral data. This is because by default HTTPS websites do not send referrer data to HTTP websites. 

You need to capture as much referral data as possible if you wish to continue to do meaningful analysis in the distant future.

You should move your website to secure connection (https://) ASAP even if your website is not e-commerce and you are not collecting any sensitive data. In this way, you will be able to track referrals from HTTPS websites which you won’t be able to otherwise.

In order to move your website to a secure connection, you would need to get the SSL Certificate for your domain. You can get this certificate for free or you can purchase it.

Cloudflare provides a free shared SSL certificate for WordPress websites. So you really have no excuse, not to move your website to secure connection.

If for some reason, you can not the get the free SSL certificate from Cloudflare or you want stronger & more reliable secure connection, you can purchase it from companies like ‘Comodo‘ or ‘Digicert‘.

Just make sure that the certificate you purchase support mobile, your CDN supports SSL, your SSL supports SPDY and all of your images, CSS files, JavaScript files etc use HTTPS too.

When you get the SSL certificate, you should migrate your website from HTTP to HTTPS by using 301 redirects. That way you don’t loose organic search traffic.

Hire a professional SEO for the migration work unless you know exactly what you are doing. Otherwise, you may end up losing a lot of organic search traffic.

Once your website is moved to secure connection, Google Chrome will display the ‘secure’ message and/or lock icon next to your website address like the one below:

This message is proof that your website is on a secure connection. For more details about getting the SSL certificate, contact your web host.

Pro Tip >> Once you have moved your website to HTTPS, make special efforts to send the referrer data to HTTP websites

If you run an affiliate website and your website is on https, you would not want your advertisers (those who are still using HTTP websites) to believe that your website does not send any traffic (as without referrer, traffic will be reported as direct traffic by GA).

Hence once you have moved to secure connection, it is very important that you make special efforts to send referrer data to HTTP websites.

This is the same reason, why websites like Facebook, Google and Twitter make special efforts to send the referrer data to HTTP websites.

If they don’t then their advertisers who are still using HTTP websites will not see any traffic coming from these advertising platforms (as without referrer, incoming traffic will be reported as direct traffic by GA) and may believe that they are losing popularity and hence are not a good advertising platform.

#2 One or more URLs of your marketing campaigns are incorrectly tagged

Incorrectly tagged marketing campaigns can cause the referrer data to drop. And whenever a referrer is dropped Google Analytics is not able to determine the origin of the traffic source and report that traffic as direct traffic.

Use Google URL builders to tag campaign URLs correctly.

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#3 Not all URLs of your marketing campaigns are tagged

Sometimes a referrer is dropped because of technical reasons. And whenever a referrer is dropped Google Analytics is not able to determine the origin of the traffic source and report that traffic as direct traffic.

One effective way to ensure that the referrer is not dropped because of technical reasons is by tagging the URLs of your marketing campaigns with following campaign tracking parameters:

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

Following is an example of a 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 of your marketing campaigns.

#4 Google Analytics tracking code is missing on one or more pages

Make sure all the web pages on your website have got a 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 Google Analytics (GA) tracking code. Then he navigates to the web page (say web page B) which contains a 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.

#5 Your website may be getting fake direct traffic from spambots

In the context of Google Analytics, fake traffic is defined as one or more fake hits sent to your GA property.

A ‘hit’ is that user interaction with your website that results in data being sent to your Google Analytics property.

A hit can be a ‘pageview’, ‘screenview’, ‘event’, ‘transaction’ etc. A fake hit is the one which is generated by a spambot instead of as a result of a living breathing human beings who interacted with your website. At present, it is possible to fake any GA hit.

What that means, a spammer can send fake direct traffic, fake referral traffic, fake organic traffic, fake traffic from social media, etc. A spammer can fake events, virtual pageviews, screen views, hostname, request URI, keywords and even transaction and item data

In the context of Google Analytics, there are two types of spambots:

  1. Spambots which visit websites
  2. Spambots which do not visit websites

Spambots that crawl your website can visit your website without sending referrer data. All such traffic will be reported as direct traffic by Google Analytics.

Spambots that do not visit your website can send fake hits to your GA property by abusing measurement protocol.

If 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 has been attacked by a spam bot.

To learn more about, how to reduce or even completely remove spam/fake traffic in Google Analytics, read this article: Guide to removing referrer spam and fake traffic in Google Analytics.

Related Articles:

Do you know the difference between Digital Analytics and Google Analytics?


99.99% of course creators themselves don’t know the difference between Digital analytics, Google Analytics (GA) and Google Tag Manager (GTM).

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It’s about creating a strategic roadmap for your business.



Digital Analytics is the core skill. Google Analytics is just a tool used to implement ‘Digital Analytics’.

You can also implement ‘Digital analytics’ via other tools like ‘adobe analytics’, ‘kissmetrics’ etc.

Using Google Analytics without a good understanding of ‘Digital analytics’ is like driving around in a car, in a big city without understanding the traffic rules and road signs.

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The direction in which your analysis will move will determine the direction in which your marketing campaigns and eventually your company will move to get the highest possible return on investment.

You get that direction from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.



You learn to set up KPIs, strategies and measurement framework for your business from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.

So if you are taking a course only on 'Google Analytics’, you are learning to use one of the tools of ‘Digital analytics’. You are not learning the ‘Digital analytics’ itself.

Since any person can learn to use Google Analytics in a couple of weeks, you do no get any competitive advantage in the marketplace just by knowing GA.


You need to know a lot more than GA in order to work in the digital analytics and marketing field.


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My best selling books on Digital Analytics and Conversion Optimization

Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
This expert guide will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of maths and statistics in order to accurately interpret data and take actions, which can quickly improve the bottom-line of your online business.

Master the Essentials of Email Marketing Analytics
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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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