Upon pulling an “All Traffic” report from Google Analytics, many website owners will notice that one of the top sources of traffic, if not the top source of traffic, is listed as “(direct)/(none)”. What exactly “(direct)/(none)” meant was always a little confusing since browsers don’t always report referral sources for privacy reasons and these hidden sources can get lumped into the Direct category, but for the most part, taken at face value, Direct was believed to mean Direct. These visitors typed the URL directly into the browser or maybe had the site bookmarked. Yet, this assumption never quite sit well with SEOs. The numbers just seemed too high. A percentage of Direct traffic must be from Organic search, but how much?
Recently, we’ve been given an answer to that question. Groupon decided to make a bold move and conducted what could be considered a dangerous experiment, all for the sake of SEO. The full write up and details of the experiment can be found on Search Engine Land, but here’s a brief recap:
• Groupon completely deindexed their site from Google for 6 hours.
• During this time frame they examined Organic search traffic and Direct traffic to pages with “long” URLs (which someone wouldn’t likely type into their browser).
• Organic traffic dropped nearly 100% compared to the same time period on the same day the week prior for the same URLs (the control sample). This was to be expected.
• During the same time period, while the site was deindexed, Direct traffic dropped 60%.
Clearly, there is a correlation here and obvious evidence that SEO is losing out on credit due to browsers hiding referrals and lumping them into the “(direct)/(none)” category.
The article highlights a few other details that are worth noting for this experiment:
• Variance by browser type is significant. Desktop browsers generally report their Organic search referrals better, except for IE where about 75% of Direct traffic from IE to long URLs is actually attributable to Organic search from Google.
• About 10-20% of Firefox, Chrome and Safari desktop traffic reported as Direct is actually Organic.
• In general, mobile browsers are less likely to report their referrals from Organic search accurately.
• In this experiment specifically, the exception to the rule was the Groupon Deal pages. There was no significant drop in Direct for these pages, perhaps because the % of traffic to these pages is much higher from other, non-SEO influenced sources, such as social networks and personal emails. This could mean that link referral campaigns are losing credit as well.
Of course, every website and situation is slightly different. We obviously aren’t all Groupon and we definitely shouldn’t start deindexing our sites just to see what happens! However, this is an important experiment that we can all learn from. It might not be 60%, but what we do know is that some of that “Direct” traffic we see on our All Traffic report is coming from SEO efforts, proving further that SEO is a worthwhile investment.
– See more at: http://www.brickmarketing.com/blog/direct-traffic-seo.htm