Your Social Traffic is Higher Than You Think

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., or

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., “”. ) 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.

6 thoughts on “Your Social Traffic is Higher Than You Think

  1. Quite a sharp idea!
    By the way, I found a service named sitesnapi looking similar to yours. And I am wondering which the original service is. Or do you have any OEM-like license programs? If you have, a lot of people including me would show interest in it.

  2. I like your idea, and I think it is almost fair for you to reclassify on the above (change the article view attribution), but the problem is that you have 20 other similar (and as fair) attribution change events that you might not apply. Applying only a few attribution change events and not all, makes it slightly difficult to analyze – and you might actually not know if you are better off.

    First example could be Search referrers with phrases such as “WSJ”; which is obviously not search traffic, but better classified as direct traffic for the Wall Street Journal. Making direct smaller today, than it really is.

    I don’t have the answer and we struggle as much as the next guy with regards to proper attributing article views into the following buckets;

    Direct Traffic
    Front Pages
    RSS & Email
    News Aggregators
    News Originators
    Social Media


    d. :-)

    • Fair point, Dennis. And we certainly don’t think we’re done yet. We’ll take this feedback into our next round of updates. But for now, this is a first step – and we feel in the right direction – of making no-referrer traffic a bit smarter.

  3. Lauryn,

    Do you have your new groupings of traffic segmented by OS, device & user-agent at all?

    It’d be interesting to better understand the usage behaviour of your newly classified direct social.


    • Al – We do, but it’s not something we currently share on the dashboard – it’s something internally we could look at through our API. Hit me up via email (lauryn@chartbeat) if you have a specific question and we can talk about what we can pull.

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