It is widely known that browsers do not always register where visitors come from when they arrive at a website. Traffic is considered ‘Direct’ when browsers don’t report where visitors were in the Hypertext Transfer Protocol referrer header. However, this label does not really signify anything of import; in actual fact, attempting to ascertain where ‘direct traffic’ came from can only be mere speculation.
Direct traffic has undergone several changes over the past few years. For instance, in September 2012, when iOS 6 was discharged, a multitude of sites lost copious amounts of organic search traffic, yet gained an equal measure of direct. This unfortunate exchange was amended when Apple fixed the operating system in July 2013, as direct traffic was replaced by organic search traffic once more. It is perfectly reasonable to understand why browsers shouldn’t report where visitors have come from. The technical specification surrounding HTTP says that when travelling from an HTTPS site to an HTTP site, the browser should not report where it is. Users are able to adjust their privacy settings, commanding browsers to never report that information.
During recently conducted tests by website, GroupOn, differences were found depending on whether you conduct a google search directly or you type in a browser’s search box. Various operating systems were added, to provide more comprehensive results.
Their findings were of particular interest to the search world, as although many have known that some percentage of Direct Traffic is actually Organic, however the quantity had never been known until the conclusion of these tests.
High risk methods
Group-on used particularly high risk methods. Putting great faith in Google’s indexing efficiency, they de-indexed their site in its entirety in one day. For roughly 6 hours, Group-on sacrificed heaps of exposure, such was their desire to enhance the search world’s scientific nous.
The test entailed a thorough examination of Organic & Direct traffic by the hour and by browser to any page with a long URL. The word ‘long’ in this instance indicated pages concealed in sub-folders, as opposed to a home page or top level folders. The exclusion of the aforementioned pages was due to the reasonable amount of direct traffic they receive.
Results collected by GroupOn made for remarkable deductions, with traffic related to SEO efforts dropping to practically zero between 13:00 and 16:00 – direct visits fell by 60% simultaneously. Modification due to browser type was particularly prevalent. In the main, desktop browsers recorded better results for Organic search referrals, the exception being Internet Explorer (IE) where roughly 75% of Direct traffic from IE to ‘long’ URLs can actually be accredited to Organic search from Google.
So, an estimated 10-20% of Safari, Firefox and Chrome traffic regarded as Direct traffic was in fact, Organic.
The one exception to the ‘deal-of-the-day’s’ hypothesis – that 60% of ‘Direct’ traffic to ‘long URLs’ is actually Organic – was found on GroupOn’s deal pages. GroupOn deal page URLs are so long that is improbable to conceive that users would key them in manually. Moreover, they are new enough, and expire at such a rate, that visitors are unlikely to have bookmarked them. As such, it would seem logical that they would be subject to the same effect as other tested URLs.
However, unlike other pages, there was no significant drop noted between the hours of 13:00-16:00. The website speculated that this could be due to a great percentage of traffic arriving at the deal pages from non –SEO-influenced sources such as social media. This could mean that SEO isn’t the only sector losing out on recognition due to browsers covertly concealing referrers – link referral campaigns could be missing out too.
GroupOn’s results showed that for a site receiving 50% mobile web traffic or over, the 60% of traffic to ‘long’ URLs reported as Direct is in actual fact, Organic traffic stemming from google. If a large percentage of your traffic is to ‘long’ URLs, then your Organic traffic is being severely devalued and thus, the worth of your SEO is being adversely affected.