What is Direct Traffic in Google Analytics?

If you’ve hired an SEO company to help you with your visibility on Google, or maybe you’re taking care of your own website the question of “Direct” traffic will eventually come up. Often times our clients see dramatic shifts up and down month-to-month or year-to-year in the Direct traffic channel when drilling down to All Traffic > Source/Medium in Analytics.

Everest Legal Marketing offers Search Engine Optimization services for lawyers across the US and has developed a list of the most common channels that are rolled into the Direct traffic channel on your Google Analytics report.

What is Direct Traffic?

Direct traffic is traffic that arrives at your website that google can’t attribute to a source. There are a number of different scenarios where Direct traffic can come from, some are self explanatory others are a bit murky. Here are the 8 most common sources of direct traffic:

  1. Offline Content: People can click to your website from a PDF, Word or other document that sits “offline”. When they arrive at your website Google has no idea how they got there.
  2. Email Signatures: Do you have a standard Email signature that has a link to your website? Similar to #1 above, Google doesn’t know how someone arrived at your website if they clicked on your website address in your Email signature.
  3. Business Cards: Do you hand out business cards that have your website address on them? When someone types in your address directly, Google doesn’t know why or where they got your address from.
  4. Bookmarks: If a person has stored your website as a bookmark in their browser, this would show up in Direct traffic. This is similar to someone typing in your website directly.
  5. Newsletters: If you send out E-newsletters or Email blasts, you could get a significant amount of traffic that falls into the Direct traffic bucket. *There is a way to customize links using UTM codes, but that’s a topic for another conversation.
  6. Social Media Links: Sometimes Google Analytics can’t determine if the source of your traffic came from a link posted to social media or not. *See our note involving UTM codes in #5.
  7. HTTP / HTTPS Mismatch: If your website had no SSL (HTTP), and you upgrade your website to include an SSL (HTTPS), websites that previously linked to your HTTP website will be redirected to the “new” HTTPS version of your website/page, but that traffic may now fall into the “Direct” bucket instead of being attributed to the correct source. The only way to correct this is by updating your profiles and/or links on other websites to point to the correct HTTPS version of your website.
  8. Mobile “Browser Bar” Searches: There are 5 primary browsers that people generally use: Chrome, Firefox, Explorer, Edge & Safari. Each of these browsers, and all the other browsers, will report traffic that originated in their search/address bar differently than if you went to Google and did a search. A study by Groupon in 2014 suggested that 10% – 60% of Direct traffic is actually browser bar (address bar) searches. See more on this below.

Mobile Search Can Skew Direct Traffic

As you’re probably well aware, people search from their phones far more often than they used to. I’m guessing you probably don’t navigate to Google on your phone to actually do a Google search. If you’re like me, you probably open a browser of choice and do a search directly from the browser/address bar. As outlined in #8 above, this search will likely fall into the “Direct” traffic bucket on your Google Analytics report, even though it’s actually Google or Bing Organic (depending on who you’ve set up as your search engine of choice on your device).

Why Can’t Google Analytics Differentiate & Identify Mobile Browser Search?

We often tend to think that there’s no data problem that Google can’t solve. In reality, since Google doesn’t control or own browsers (other than Chrome), they likely can’t specifically identify how a browser search from Safari – let’s say, arrives at your website. Since browsers likely consider that their proprietary and/or private User data we shouldn’t expect that this will change any time soon.


I hope this answers your questions about where Direct traffic comes from, and you’re probably surprised to learn about some of the nuances of how Google identifies traffic. If you have questions regarding your law firm Google Analytics report, feel free to reach out to us today.

About The Author

Doug Bradley
I work with law firms to increase their presence on search engines through website optimization. Marketing a law firm hasn’t been “like it used to be” for a while now and the only guarantee is that it will continue to change. Learn more about my experience here.
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