There seems to be a common misconception that direct traffic comes from people who have saved a URL or are directly typing in your web address into a browser. This may be true for a portion of this traffic; however there can be traffic that does not have a referrer or no medium and therefore is recorded as direct. Not having a referrer or a medium that equals “none” is how direct traffic is defined in Google Analytics Traffic Source Dimensions and this means that there is no tracking information or cookie attached to a URL. If you send emails out without tracking UTM’s or have other traffic sources coming in without cookies then this equates to direct traffic. There are several other ways a link loses the referrer, such as if the link was opened from a word document, skype or IM, if the link is from a mobile application or in some cases redirects can cause the referrer to be dropped.
Understanding direct traffic and buying patterns is important. Say you advertise a t-shirt in Google AdWords and a customer clicks the ad on their smart phone but decides to look at other items on their computer by typing your website address in directly and then purchases. At work on Monday they type your website in to find tracking information – this is 3 sessions. One linked to an ad with no revenue and two in direct traffic with revenue on one session.
Direct traffic can come from your combined marketing efforts but be sure to double check that all other sources are accounted for. Add tracking using UTM parameters for all marketing, especially email marketing. Also, review your direct traffic analytics. With direct traffic there is no way to view the source of this traffic but you can see where it is going – view landing pages under source/medium to assist in analyzing direct traffic. You may also review the bounce rate and other statistics to better understand your direct traffic. Avoid trackable sessions from going into direct traffic and beware of giving this catch basin too much credit.