Google Analytics doesn’t always recognize where a web visitor came from or the device they used. When that occurs, the analysis says “direct/none” even though the visitor may not have come from a direct source. There are ways to analyze the data anyway, and certainly ways to fix the issue so more data can be reported accurately.
Nearly every Google Analytics report has something that looks like “(direct)/(none) source” and the meaning behind this can be misleading. Visiting Google’s help center to learn what direct/none means or how to fix it might not shed much light on the meaning of this phrase. The help center says that this term refers to “users that typed your URL directly into their browser, or who had bookmarked your site”. In other words, most of the people who get to your site without following a link.
The thing about direct/none as a source in Google Analytics is that it might seem that it isn’t doing an accurate assessment of web traffic. That can be concerning if you’re spending money on web advertising because you want to know what’s driving customers to you, and what isn’t.
Google Analytics is intended to keep track of who comes to the website, how long was a visitor stays there, how many pages they viewed while they were at your site, and what sort of device they used (phone, desktop, laptop, tablet). Google Analytics is also supposed to inform you how a visitor got to your website. The problem is when you see “direct/none”. “None” is where the source information should be listed, but the truth is, a person may be listed as direct when they followed a link Google Analytics didn’t pick up. This is a problem if a visitor clicks a link that you paid to place. Determining whether you’ve made a solid marketing investment is frustrating when you can’t analyze the data.
You can still make some sense of the data classified with the dreaded direct/none classification. One thing to do is look at the landing pages for this coding and see what you can learn. Are they landing on pages that can only be accessed through specific links, such as those associated with email, mobile, and social campaigns? This information can help you confirm where mystery traffic is coming from.
Arguably, the most effective solution to properly identifying traffic is applying correct and specific attribution to your digital campaigns with UTM codes—custom URLs that track your traffic’s source, medium, and campaign. If you are partnering with an agency that handles your digital marketing needs, inquire as to how they are tracking click-through results. For example, at Edifice Automotive, we embed a unique UTM code in every single link associated with our clients’ digital campaigns, ensuring that their Google Analytics can accurately report the traffic generated by our campaigns.
Direct/none is difficult to analyze, and it isn’t unusual to see 10% or even 20% of the analytics to come across as direct/none. The fact is, given the multitude of situations that result in a direct/none classification, expecting to find a solution that entirely eliminates it from your reports is unrealistic. However, by taking the appropriate steps, such as those outlined above, you can vastly improve the accuracy of your campaign reporting.