Majority of "Direct Traffic" Could Actually Come From Organic Search
According an experiment recently conducted by Chicago company Groupon, much of what websmasters believe to be direct traffic might actually be attributable to organic search. It's well-known that a "direct" visit occurs when a user types a URL or uses a bookmark to access a site, rather than using a search engine.
However, browsers are notoriously bad at reporting direct traffic accurately. Other factors such as a user's operating system, especially if it's an older version of iOS, can also contribute to unclear or inaccurate data.
Groupon Actually De-Indexed Their Site
In a guest post written for Search Engine Land, Groupon's Director of Product Management describes how the popular "deal-of-the-day" company actually de-indexed their site from Google for six hours. The SEO experiment was conducted under the suspicion that Google Analytics actually underreports organic search and classifies many of these visits as "direct" instead. If Groupon de-indexed their site, their organic search numbers should go to zero while the direct traffic should be unaffected, right?
Wrong - the Groupon team found that their direct traffic actually fell nearly 60 percent while their site was de-indexed. The pages that were measured involved "long" URLs such as www.groupon.com/local/san-francisco/restaurants. This is because Groupon's pages with shorter URLs tend to actually receive a good amount of honest direct traffic.
The experiment also shed some light on how well different browsers report organic search. It was found that Chrome, Firefox and Safari incorrectly reported organic traffic as "direct" around 10 to 20 percent of the time. Internet Explorer was found to be very poor, however. Around 75 percent of the direct traffic reported by IE could actually be attributed to organic search through Google. It was also found that mobile browsers are generally less likely than desktop browsers to report direct traffic accurately. Aside from browsers, it's thought that search traffic encryption also helps contribute to the confusion.
Even More Reason to Concentrate on Organic Search
With the majority of direct traffic actually being attributable to organic search, it might be time to re-evaluate some digital marketing strategies. This experiment might cause some slight shifts in the amount of time SEOs spend on garnering direct traffic. Of course direct visits are important, but organic search is still the number one way that users find websites.
In fact, Nathan Safran of SEO firm Conductor recently adjusted a previous study of 310 million website visits using Groupon's new data. It was revealed that 64 percent of web visits now likely come from organic search. Before Groupon's experiment, it was thought that organic search only accounted for 47 percent (though it was still the top method that people used to access websites). Before this experiment, 29 percent of visits could be attributed to direct traffic - now that figure is only 12 percent.
Groupon does not recommend de-indexing your site to conduct a similar experiment. At the very least, the results of the experiment could serve as a powerful argument against anyone who doubts the importance of SEO marketing.