What does Source Mean?
Source – A term in Google Analytics that helps webmasters classify where traffic is coming from (ie. the “source” of the web traffic). The source can be a search engine (for example, Google) or a domain (website-example.com)
Outside organic and direct traffic, you must understand the difference between all of your traffic sources and how traffic is classified. Web analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, utilize an algorithm and flow chart based on the referring website or URL parameters that determine the source of traffic. Here is a breakdown of all sources:
- Direct: Any traffic where the referrer or source is unknown
- Email: Traffic from email marketing that has been properly tagged with an email parameter
- Organic: Traffic from search engine results that are earned, not paid
- Paid search: Traffic from search engine results that is the result of paid advertising via Google AdWords or another paid search platform
- Referral: Traffic that occurs when a user finds you through a site other than a major search engine
- Social: Traffic from a social network, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram
- Other: If traffic does not fit into another source or has been tagged as “Other” via a URL parameter, it will be bucketed into “Other” traffic
We now have a general basis for all web traffic sources, let’s dig into the specifics of two very important sources: direct and organic traffic.
Direct traffic is defined as visits with no referring website. When a visitor follows a link from one website to another, the site of origin is considered the referrer. These sites can be search engines, social media, blogs, or other websites that have links to other websites. Direct traffic categorizes visits that do not come from a referring URL.
Usually, we’ve attributed this traffic to visitors manually entering the URL of the website or clicking on a bookmarked link. The story behind direct traffic is a bit more complex, and the number of visits from direct traffic seems to be growing for many websites, especially sites with growing organic traffic.
Why are more sites seeing direct traffic growth, and what should you do about it?
So, Let’s dig into the common causes of direct traffic to find the answer:
- Internal employees: Your employees commonly visit your site and do not have their IP filtered from web analytics. As a rule of thumb, filter out all company employee IPs from web analytics.
- Customers: Do your customers log into a customer portal on your site? This is often a culprit within direct traffic. In this case, you do not want to completely filter out the traffic but instead set up different views within Google Analytics to view web analytics without this traffic.
- Actual direct traffic: These are the people who enter your URL into their browser or find you via a bookmark. There’s nothing you can do to dig deeper on this—just embrace the fact that users know your brand.
- Emails from email clients: It’s quite common for email clicks from Outlook or Thunderbird to not pass on referring information. You can typically identify whether an email caused a spike in direct traffic by analyzing traffic around the time an email was sent.
- Mobile traffic: In the Groupon experiment mentioned above, Groupon found that both the browser and the device matter for the ability of web analytics to track organic traffic. Although desktops using common browsers saw a smaller impact from the test (10-20 percent), mobile devices saw a 50 percent drop in direct traffic when the site was de-indexed. In short, as mobile users grow, we are likely to see direct traffic rise even more from organic search traffic.
- Clicks on mobile apps or desktop software: Programs such as Skype or news apps often do not pass referring information and, thus, result in direct traffic. The best way to capture and analyze this further is to understand where your site links might be commonly used or placed digitally, including apps.
Organic traffic is the primary channel that inbound marketing strives to increase. This traffic is defined as visitors coming from a search engine, such as Google or Bing. This does not include paid search ads, but that doesn’t mean organic traffic isn’t impacted by paid search or display advertising, either positively or negatively. In general, people trust search engines, and sayings such as “just Google it” reinforce that humans are tied to the search engine. Thus, paid search, display, or even offline campaigns can drive searches, which may increase organic traffic while those campaigns are running.
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