Direct traffic. It’s a nebulous beast. Most web analytics products toss any visitor without referrer information into this category. That means any number of people like those who have:
- Typed in the exact URL
- Bookmarked the URL
- Come from a URL using HTTPS
- Clicked on a link from a non-browser-based application (e.g., email, Twitter, IM)
That last point is the tricky bit, right? We live in the social web now, and we have for quite some time. For your team to not know how important email, Twitter, or IM is to your site traffic because it’s being thrown into some Direct Traffic black hole isn’t productive – it’s hindering and frankly inexcusable at this point.
Our Newsbeat crew wasn’t having it. So we decided to fix it.
We met with some of our alpha partners, had a few chats, and came to the conclusion that users generally only type in the exact URL or bookmark a link if it’s a key landing page (e.g., forbes.com or forbes.com/opinions/).
That makes sense, right? For new and transient articles, it’s highly unlikely anyone going to type the direct path to the page. (e.g., “http://gizmodo.com/5884660/mattel-is-finally-making-the-back-to-the-future-hoverboard”. ) It’s pretty clear that people without referrer information who visit articles like that will have received the link from someone else via a social app like Tweetdeck or Yahoo Mail and shouldn’t be counted as Direct Traffic.
So within Newsbeat, our data scientists – with the typical magic and fairy dust you’ve come to expect from their algorithm genius – programmatically classify these kinds of pages into two types: articles and landing pages.
We feel confident that those long, complicated linked articles can be pulled out of the Direct Traffic bucket and can live under Social with a referrer of “Email, Apps, IM.” Traffic with unknown referral data for landing pages, the shorter, simpler links will stay as Direct, and we label them with an “L” for landing page.
Basically, we just took some time to really understand and identify the purpose of each page from your user’s point of view. That led us to understand what Direct Traffic means on a more intelligent level. And that allows you, in turn, to understand your users on a more intelligent level.
What does all this mean in the end? It means you should go buy your social team a beer – they’re doing a lot more than most people give them credit for.