Direct traffic is supposedly when someone comes through to your website and they’ve typed in your website directly into their browser and have therefore come directly to your website.
Direct traffic really is traffic where the analytics package has no idea where they have come from. That can be a number of different places and is growing, making it quite confusing.
For instance, we started doing some display advertising for an ancillary service in the industry and saw lots of increased traffic from that. We noticed there was a ton of increase with direct traffic coming through. My instant thought was that we are not actually identifying this traffic as being direct traffic, it’s display traffic. So we added additional tracking codes onto the links that were coming to the website and we tagged them directly as display traffic. If you are not sure how to do that just google URL Builder. But that didn’t solve the entire problem. We noticed that some more traffic was actually being marked as being display traffic, but not all of it was. So what we found was a couple of things:
When you are doing display advertising (I know it’s a challenging task in the cannabis industry) and that advertising is going into apps, when someone clicks on a link in an app, often that link will show up as direct traffic. You have to add a tracking code. We weren’t real big on app advertising, thinking that our ad was going to pop up when someone was playing a game and then they would accidentally click on the ad when they were trying to click out of an ad.
When we separated all the display ads out, the app traffic was working quite well, but what it was doing was driving search traffic. See, people may go to the site initially from the link but then their browser will remember the site and they will just go directly there next time, possibly, several times.
So, we determined that display ads were working, but click through rate becomes a bit of nonsense because what happens is you do see a click through rate and you judge on that but people are seeing the ads and it’s causing an increase in search traffic. So just accept that if you see an increase in direct traffic it can often mean that things like display advertising and anything else that is driving people to come back to your website or search for your website can go up as well.
Another thing is that today almost 60% of traffic is coming from mobile search devices. With mobile search, typically what people tend to do is just type words into a search box and the browser will take you to sites you visited before rather than go via the search engines. The journey cuts out the search engine, therefore it becomes direct traffic.
There is a problem with analytics. It just tells you what. It very rarely answers, with conviction, the why. You need to understand motivations. You have to test one thing at a time to really get the results.
You have to explore all the variables. I’ve seen this for years in social media, where someone says “oh we are going to do some Twitter” and they go off and run a few tweets without any real strategy behind it. Then they will see they didn’t get much back and say “oh Twitter doesn’t work for us” and never do it again. Actually, they didn’t try out different styles of tweets, different tones of tweets, different tweets, different times of day, different volumes. There were so many other variables that could have been changed that you don’t truly know if that worked or not and it’s too easy to throw things away. I see this now happening in the cannabis industry…
Two last things to add:
Saying that click through rates are not a good way to measure is a good way of selling bad advertising space. So you run a campaign, find out no one clicks and think how terrible that move was. At this point, I’ve heard so many times “well, it’s not about clicks, it’s about branding”. I always have and always will say that branding is used as an excuse in digital marketing. I’ve asked so many people why they’ve done specific campaigns and so many times have heard that it was a branding campaign. That just means you basically don’t know why you did it and you don’t know how to measure it. I’m not saying that branding isn’t important, it’s massively important, share of mind is really important, but just be cautious about buying ads when someone tells you the click rate isn’t important because it is one of the heavy factors.
Retargeting is the idea that people will go to your website, look at your product and you will say “you’ve been here before and you still didn’t buy anything”. Frequency cap, think about variations… if they look at your product, didn’t buy it, but they keep seeing ads for it, you will eventually drive the shopper to distraction. It becomes annoying. Retargeting does get you some sales, but at the expense of what? How many other people have you annoyed and lost future sales from? Look at options. Maybe if the person didn’t buy, after you show it to them again, maybe show them a different product. Use if for loyalty. Retargeting in a smarter way. Don’t be misled by stats.
To summarize, make sure you have tracking codes on everything. Then have a look at the connection amongst everything you are doing and how that is impacting your search traffic, people coming in directly to your website. If you do display, do you get more clicks on your PPC? Above all, don’t just look at your direct traffic and think you are doing great and a ton of people are coming through directly to your site. That may be part of it, but, there’s also a lot more going on. Also, if you are running some display ads, know that you are not going to see results right away. Typically we see the most results in about 3 days after the ads have run.
Good luck with your analytics efforts!