Google Analytics Series 4. Why is ALL my traffic marked as Direct?

google anayltics series four, is all your traffic direct traffic? If so you have a problem than needs urgently fixing

Google anayltics next steps

If you've had your Google analytics setup for at least a few days now and started to get visits to your site it’s best to take a look at your reports and make sure everything is working as it should. In this article I want to walk through with you the label "direct" traffic and how it should work properly. 

Now comes the question which you secretly regret. Is that it? No! 

One of the most common issues I see from brand new setups is all (or most) traffic being grouped into “direct” which gives you very little information about where the users are coming from. This is usually caused by one of three things:

  • 1. There is a problem with your analytics setup
  • 2. Your site is HTTP and the site linking to you is HTTPS
  • 3. You haven’t put any tracking onto links you have shared

I'll walk you through the whole process

There is a problem with your analytics setup

By a million miles the most likely of your problems, a mistake with Google analytics can cause all sorts of weird behaviour, including reporting traffic coming from your own site. This is the first thing to check and isn’t always easy to work out if there is a problem.

You should start by looking in your real time reporting, if you open your website in a separate window you should see the number of active users increase by 1 and the page you are currently visiting should appear in the top active pages.

real time traffic monitioring on google analytics

If you can get this far and see the URL you are currently on you can click on it for more information, including what the medium/source is - this will tell you how you got to the site.

direct website traffic if you typed the url straight into the browser

Assuming you typed your website URL straight into the browser the source should be direct, as in the picture above.

You can test if the site is recording referral visits properly by finding a link to your site on another site and clicking on it, just make sure to close your first window - it should appear in the results as Medium: Referral and Source: website domain.

step by step set up for Google analytics direct traffic

If your site isn’t recording referral visits properly the visit will be marked as direct, or your site is http and the referring site is https (more on that later). If you have run into a problem here it is probably worth making sure your Google analytics setup is correct.

The quickest way to do this is to download the [Google Tag Assistant] a chrome extension that lets you record pages you visit and then looks to see if the tags are correctly installed. It’s very easy to use, just turn it on and it will tell you what tags it finds on the current page and if they are implemented correctly.

Check this out:

using the google analytics extension is so easy and great!

If you press record it allows you to browse across multiple pages and detect all the tags that are found, this lets you quickly compare the implemented tags and highlight if there is any problems on specific pages.

google analytics finds the issues with the tags your are using

If it finds any issues you should correct this as a priority, mistakes with the tag can lead to a lot of wasted time digging around in Google analytics!

Your site is HTTP and the site linking to you is HTTPS

This might sound like technical jargon, mostly because it is, but it’s important to understand and identify when this might cause you problems. If your site isn’t selling anything you probably haven’t looked at HTTPS, although you might have noticed more and more sites with padlocks next to their URL’s.

another issue to solving the direct traffic lable on google anayltics

This, along with the https before their website domain, indicates that the site is secure. If you don’t see this on your site it means it is non-secure (or HTTP).

not using https on your website, can look like this instead

If your site is non-secure any visit from a secure site will be recorded as “direct” which means you will not be able to identify where it came from.

You haven’t put any tracking onto links you have shared

Don’t panic Google does 90% of this by itself, however if you don’t tag your links there is a chance that some traffic is slipping through the net. If you have ever seen a URL that looks a bit like this:

Then you have come across someone tagging their links.

Easy, right? 

You should be tagging any email campaigns you do so that you know what email actually sent the traffic to your site, and tracking can even help resolve the secure, non-secure problem I explained above.

Google have also provided a fantastic tool to help you generate your tags: Google Support.

There we have it

So now you should be able to identify if you have any problems with your Google analytics and have some solutions to the most common direct traffic causes. If you are still having trouble with your analytics setup please comment below and I will try and help or pop over to the [Google forums]

If you want to try this for yourself, get started today with your own website: 

Shore: Personal Website

Alternatively read more articles in the Google analytic series: 

Google Analytics Series 3. Is Your Traffic Real or a Spam Referrer?

Google Analytics Series 2. What do users want?

About me

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett

I'm a search engine optimiser and social media strategist as well as a software developer. I have worked for multiple on...Read more