Understanding website analytics - what is Direct traffic?

It's the question that every Internet marketer dreads: 

"So I got the new Analytics report. What's Direct traffic?"


The answer is generally a mumble about bookmarks and location bars - maybe something to do with searches over SSL if you want to get technical - but when you get right down to it, the answer is essentially a variation on "we don't know".

Until now.

In a fascinating blog post at Search Engine Land Groupon Director of Product Management Gene McKenna outlines a fascinating experiment designed to answer the question that keeps Internet marketers up at night: "How much of the we-don't-know-where-it-came-from direct traffic is actually organic search?"

At Groupon, we conducted a potentially dangerous experiment to give us the answer. We don’t recommend you try this at home, but having great confidence that Google could index a site really quickly, we completely de-indexed our site one day.

That’s right — for the sake of SEO science, we deindexed ourselves completely for about 6 hours. We know what you’re thinking, but we assure you that this was not just an accident that occurred during use of the remove-this-URL-from-the-index feature in Google Webmaster Tools.

OK, that's pretty terrifying. But what did they learn?

Our testing shows that, for a site getting in the ballpark of 50% mobile web traffic, the 60% of the traffic to long URLs reported as Direct is probably Organic traffic from Google.

Read a detailed analysis here.

But the conclusion is clear: the value of organic SEO is even higher than we all thought. Search-engine optimisation activity is responsible not just for the big blue segment of the Acquisition pie chart, it's responsible for over half the mystery green segment as well.

On behalf of SEO nerds everywhere, a big cheers to Groupon!