One of the most valuable features of Google Analytics is the ability to drill into detail on traffic sources; not just how much traffic came from search or social media, but how much came from each specific search engine or social networking site.
First off, by definition, direct traffic is all visitors who “arrived at your site directly (by typing the url) or via a bookmark.” Technically, there are other possible sources for direct traffic as well such as clicks on links within an Outlook email signature or Word document, but direct entry in a browser address bar or bookmark click account for the bulk of direct traffic.
Second, direct visitors fall broadly into one of two groups: let’s call them “old friends” and “new friends.” Old friends may include, among others:
- • Current customers (for example, clicking on a bookmarked link to your support page or user community area)
- • Partners (channel, technology, implementation services, etc.)
- • Vendors
- • Investors
- • Employees (accessing the site from outside the corporate network, e.g., from home or on the road)
- • Media and analysts already familiar with your company
“New friends” are (generally) predominantly sales prospects, but also include potential future employees, media who are new to your company, prospective investors and/or partners, vendors and other influencers. The “root” sources for this traffic may be online or offline.’
Online Direct Traffic Sources
PR / media relations: media exposure builds brand recognition. Visitors may type your URL into their browser address bars based on seeing a company profile, product review, news release pickup, subject matter expert quote or other mention in industry media.
Social media: social networking and content sharing also builds brand awareness and credibility. A click directly from Twitter, Facebook or another social media site will be recorded in Google Analytics as a social media visit of course, but there’s now question that some percentage of direct visits are inspired by exposure through social bookmarking and other social media activity.
Industry presence: listings in industry-specific directories, trade show sponsorships, industry association memberships and other similar industry presence links can lead directly to referral site traffic or build brand recognition that leads to direct visits.
Offline Drivers of Direct Visits
Face to face meetings and other “business card events”: the most prominent source of these direct visits is trade shows, but other venues may include Tweetups, conferences at which a company executive or subject matter expert speaks, social media breakfasts or happy hours, business networking events or anywhere a representative of your company is able to give out or exchange business cards with prospective buyers.
Printed media: yes, people do still use media like print advertising, direct mail and sales collateral. In fact, in a crowded online world, a well-crafted direct mail piece can make your company stand out–your prospects’ “real” mailboxes today are likely far less crowded than their email inboxes. An ad in an actual printed publication, a clever direct mail piece (more creative than a simple letter or postcard), or even a leave-behind or brochure handed out at a trade show can often lead to a “direct” website visit.
Old-fashioned word of mouth (WOM): while so much attention today is lavished on social media marketing (and not unrightly so necessarily), the fact is–people still talk. Particularly at the executive level. Whether at a breakfast, mixer, phone call, golf outing, conference or other event, executives and subject matter experts talk. If you’ve captured their interest and are relevant to someone else’s needs, your name is likely to come up. There’s no way to measure the effect precisely, but equally no doubt it affects those direct visit figures.
The segment of direct traffic worth optimizing for is of course prospective buyers. While it’s impossible to separate out this group with precision, it is possible to quantify and analyze the behavior of this group roughly be creating a custom segment in Google Analytics that excludes certain pages more likely to be visited by non-prospects (e.g., the media page, careers pages, and support area of the site) and known customers based on their network name.
Optimizing for direct traffic then requires a mix of online and offline tactics. Utilize best practices in social media marketing and online PR. Be active in industry groups, trade shows, conferences and local events where you can meet people in real life. And considering that paper production is actually up 180% in the past five years, don’t completely over traditional marketing channels like trade media advertising and direct mail.