Learning Hub Blog Post

How to Increase Your Direct Traffic for Better Google Rankings

BLOG POSTS Google Ranking Factors SEO
By Brittany Bronson
Jan 22, 2021

In the world of digital marketing and search engines, not all traffic is considered equal. It is easy to say that the overarching goal of any digital marketing effort is to simply increase traffic to your website, regardless of how it arrives, while also increasing brand awareness and recognition.

But when it comes to digital marketing strategy and analysis, it is important to accurately hone in on your traffic sources in order to use this data to propel your digital marketing efforts going forward. And while there are plenty of traffic sources that can be easily digested as cut and dry, like traffic from paid search and social media marketing channels, there is one traffic source that can get a bit murky – direct traffic.

Direct traffic is a very important analytical measurement for any small business. Here we explain the ins and outs of direct traffic, how it impacts your Google rankings, and strategies for increasing direct traffic to your website.

What is Direct Traffic?

The basic definition of direct traffic is a web traffic source that comes directly to your website’s landing page without first visiting another website. These consumers basically show up out of the blue, without a track of where they have been before.

With most marketing channels, it is easy to track how consumers land on your website. Search engines have very advanced website tools that can track a consumer’s movement across the Internet. 

If a consumer came to your website from paid search advertising or via social traffic, you can track it. If someone landed on your website’s homepage from an email marketing newsletter, you can track that as well. Same goes for when a buyer converted off your site because of a social media post. But all goes awry when it comes to tracking the amount of direct traffic.

While yes, all traffic is good traffic, it is incredibly important to track where your traffic comes from in order to ensure you’re doing everything you can to gain more visibility online and to boost your business. Luckily, that’s where Google Analytics comes in to help.

How Does Google Measure Direct Traffic?

Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful force for looking inside your website and its multiple traffic sources. When it comes to direct traffic, Google Analytics will report a traffic source as “direct” if it either has no data on how the session arrived on your website or if the web session has been configured in some way to be ignored by GA’s measurement tools.

Generally speaking, the label of direct traffic is usually given to a web session after following a sequence of checks given the information they know. The steps are as follows:

  1. First, they’ll check AdWords parameters to see if the session could in any way be related to a consumer converting from a paid search advertisement.
  2. Secondly, they’ll check if you, as the website user, has set up any campaign overrides to weed out any irrelevant known sources of traffic.
  3. Thirdly, GA looks at specific UTM campaign parameters set up by the owner of the site. A UTM is a small snippet of code that is attached to the end of a URL and is used to track the performance of campaigns.
  4. Next, GA looks into whether or not the traffic has been referred by a search engine, also known as organic traffic.
  5. Then, GA tracks if the user came to the website through the referral of another website, usually through the process of building links and backlinking.
  6. Lastly, GA determines if the user is returning to your site after a timeout period. A timeout period is defined as a customer who visits your website once, leaves, and then returns a week later due to their original organic search.

If all of these six steps cannot determine a traffic source, it will then be labeled as direct traffic.

Using Google Analytics to Understand Direct Traffic

So now that we know what direct traffic is not, how do we categorize it? Google Analytics has a whole host of direct traffic sources that it uses for classification. Here are some of the most common, explained.

Manual URL Entry

Simply put, this is when a consumer punches in your website url directly. Direct visitors come without referral traffic. This could be the homepage of your website, your domain name, or any landing page, it does not matter. Additionally, if you “bookmark” the specific URL, and go there as soon as you open your browser, this counts as a manual URL entry.

An HTTPS to HTTP Redirect

We all know that an HTTPS URL with a SSL certificate is more secure to use and will help to protect your personal information. But, what many people don’t know is that an HTTPS URL actually carries a lot of consumer data on it. Unfortunately, not all URLs on the Internet are HTTPS, so there may be times when a user follows a link from an HTTPS site and goes directly to an HTTP one, which means the data is lost as it is not secure anymore. So, if you are noticing a huge spike in your direct traffic, it could be that one of your established backlinks is not a secure website.

Additionally, if your website is not an HTTPS, then you are losing out on a ton of data. Migrating your website to a more secure user interface will ensure that all your traffic referrals from other secure sites can be accurately tracked.

Improper Redirects

Similar to the HTTPS to HTTP scenario, improper redirects are a big culprit behind direct traffic. This includes anything from meta refreshes – which is the practice of instructing a web browser to automatically refresh the current page after a certain amount of time on the site– to JavaScript redirects. Both options wipe important data, so it is important that you monitor and become meticulous with any side-server redirects you’re running.

Broken or Missing Code

This can easily happen if you have recently launched a few landing pages and forgot to use Google Analytics tracking code, which is also known as a UTM parameter. To make it easier to understand here’s an example of how GA would tabulate the traffic in this situation.

  1. First, a user will arrive on the landing page that doesn’t have the updated UTM tag tracking.
  2. They click on a link to a deeper page of your website that has UTM set up. GA only counts a session from the second page visited; so now the second page is seen as the landing page.  This is classified as a “self-referral” and counts for traffic, but is not accurate as it misses the first step of the customer’s journey. 

However, simply adding UTM parameters to the new landing page is not the only thing you have to do to get more accurate results on your traffic referrals. You must do an Analytics report and audit, to ensure no URLs have fallen between the cracks.

A Click From a Document

Links in documents such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or even PDFs do not pass referrer information. So GA will automatically classify these as direct traffic, and unfortunately, this is unavoidable to a certain degree. But since links embedded in documents aren’t always used, it is safe to say that if you are noticing a small percentage of direct traffic and can’t figure out why, it is most likely due to the small number of clicks from documents.

Traffic From Apps and Email

In the same vein, mobile apps and desktop apps don’t have tracking in them, unless it is made clear beforehand. Same goes with some email providers, such as Outlook, that simply doesn’t include any referral data.

Again, this is to be expected and can’t be changed, but we suggest looking at the bigger picture when analyzing your direct traffic – are you noticing a lot of direct traffic sources coming in right after an App launch or upgrade, or right after you send out an email campaign to personal emails? Chances are, it has to do with the embedded links there.

Dark Social Messaging Apps

Social media is something that is well-known and understood by most marketers. But, like the dark web, there are some sources of “dark social media” that can be quite confusing for experienced digital marketers to even understand. While it is not necessarily a bad thing, a dark social media practice refers to a method of social sharing that can’t be tracked. 

The multiple social channels tend to make it easy to track and see who shared what social media posts; a post from your business is shared by a consumer, which is then shared by a friend. But dark social media refers to links sent within messaging apps and private chats. And this trend is growing rapidly, recent studies show that a full 80% of consumers’ outbound sharing of different websites and links are through private messaging, like Facebook messenger, and LinkedIn that is unable to be tracked.

With all of these types of search traffic, it can be a bit confusing for website owners to figure out what to do when it comes to their marketing strategy. This is why it is very important to invest in your organic search efforts so you can analyze, strategize, and not miss a large marketing opportunity.

Direct Traffic and SEO

A strong amount of direct traffic is actually a quality indicator to Google that your site is reputable and well trusted. If internet users are typing your url directly into their internet browser, it likely means they are very familiar with your brand, and didn’t need to go to a search engine to find you. 

Although the goal is to get internet users to discover your website in search, having those same visitors return to your site again and again through direct traffic is very beneficial to your SEO in the long run. 

Search engine algorithms use branded and direct traffic as comparative metrics to your competitors. Unlike other SEO strategies like link building or online reviews, branded traffic is hard to fake. For this reason it is an effective way for Google to measure your site’s reputation and popularity among your industry peers. 

Beyond Google Analytics, Google can also measure direct traffic of those users who use Google Chrome for their internet browser. Google Chrome allows Google to measure people navigating to your site directly in the URL bar.

This doesn’t mean that you forget about your SEO efforts. It just means that once an internet user has already discovered your site through your digital marketing efforts — you want to leave a strong enough impression that they come directly to your url again without having to find you again through a search engine. If they do, it is a great sign that your website has the kind of content that builds brand awareness and loyalty.

How to Drive Direct Traffic to Your Site with High-Value Content Assets

If you’re wondering how to improve your direct traffic sources, the answer is simple: content assets. Content is quite useful from a technical and SEO standpoint, in that it is beneficial for keyword placement, backlinking, and to provide information to the prospective customer. But, it can be just as helpful when it comes to promoting brand awareness and recognition and bringing users directly to your site.

Think of it this way; when a customer sees something useful with your brand name on it, they are more likely to remember you, go directly to your website at a different time, and convert. Providing valuable content, in a world that is full of information, can build trust with people who don’t even know you. 

So why wouldn’t you take advantage of this? Gone are the days where word of mouth marketing is the best way to get a traffic referral. Use our digital world to your advantage by creating some (or all!) of these high-value content assets.

Resource Pages

A resource page is a simple page on your own site with helpful information and links about a particular topic. It is seen as a resource for your industry and as a knowledge base for both potential and returning customers. Typically, resource pages have content that links to a variety of sources that are relevant to the topic, like ebooks, blogs or articles, in-depth reviews, tutorial videos, and more. 

Look at a resources page as a collection of assets that is continually updated on your site and provides tons of value to the user. For example, say you are a real estate agent. A resource page could include market analysis, recent news articles, links to trusted contractors, appraisers, and more. The more often you update the resource page, the more often users will want to come back to see what new information or resources have been added there. 

Resource pages are usually geared toward those who are more familiar with your industry and are seeking out additional information that enhances their knowledge of the products or services you offer. They are a great content asset that can bring direct traffic to your site for the long term.

Regularly Published Blog Content

It is incredibly important to publish regular content on your website. Blog content gives you the opportunity to do a variety of things: Target new keywords, internally link to your high-value landing pages, as well as show users your expertise. Popular blogs often have a new post every day, but once or twice a week is a realistic goal for any brand. If you earn a faithful readership, those users will likely return to your site via bookmarks or branded traffic — both of which are great for building your site authority. 

When it comes to SEO best practices, it is never enough to simply post content once in a while. Instead, you should make it a habit to regularly write blog posts and share it out with your social media channels. Once you have a regular readership and build up your site authority, you can open up your blog for guest posts as well. If you do this, other leaders in your space will want to contribute, and they will likely direct traffic to your site by sharing their post on their own website, emails, newsletters, or social media channels.

Engaging Visuals or Infographics

Internet users love visual content, which makes it even more important to make sure your website has visual assets. Video content, infographics, and more are all great visual tools that will make your website and brand name stand out. If you publish these types of visual content regularly, visitors will remember your website and type it directly into their search bar when they want to see what new visual content you’ve created.

Useful Tools

Does your company have something special about them, and can share it with the world in the form of a tool? A useful tool, especially in the digital marketing space, can work wonders with bringing direct traffic to your site and converting consumers. For example, LinkGraph’s SEO tools can help you monitor your website, analyze your data, and strategize on the next digital marketing tactic and best practice you can use. We have some users who utilize these tools daily. 

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a huge business like Google to offer valuable content to your users. The best part of creating valuable, high-quality content is that you will be using what makes your business special to help others. And in return, you’ll grow your brand to become one that can be trusted.

The Real Impact of Direct Traffic on Search Engine Rankings

At the end of the day, Google wants to make sure its users get the information they need, from brands they can trust, all with a simple Google search. With this in mind, they actually reward websites with strong direct traffic as they believe direct website traffic is one of the most influential signals of trust in a brand as it shows Google the domain has high authority and value. So in return, Google will place your domain higher in the Search Engine Result Pages, which is the ultimate goal behind SEO.

In closing, direct traffic is an incredibly useful tool to help increase your Google rankings and in turn, your brand awareness. If you need help understanding your direct traffic sources and where your website can level up your content assets, contact our professionals at LinkGraph.

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