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What Does ‘direct’ Mean?

When you receive a lead with “direct”, this can mean a lot of different things. I’ll attempt to explain the scenarios in which a direct lead can occur.

Direct leads will come through as ‘direct-none-direct’ or some version of that depending on how you have your Leadsources configured to be set with iTracker360.

Here is the technical reason why leads come through as direct:

The ‘referrer’ property is not set in the browser request headers. If this happens and there are no other tracking parameters present that we can use to determine the source of their traffic, then they become a ‘direct’ lead.

So simply put – A direct lead occurs when the referrer property is not set and their is no other tracking data available such as utm tracking parameters.

The technical reason might not make sense to you, so I’ll try to break it down further below.

When does the ‘referrer’ get set?

The referrer value is set (most of the time) when someone is using a web browser such as chrome, internet explorer, safari, etc and they click on your website link.

Let’s say your website link is shared on Facebook and someone clicks on your link. When they land on your website, there is a referrer property in your web browser that is set that says this user came from ‘facebook.com’. Anytime a lead comes through as ‘referral’ or ‘organic’ – this referrer property was set and used.

Question: You said (most of the time) – what did you mean by that? Well, see scenario 3 below.

When does the ‘referrer’ NOT get set?

Scenario 1 (URL typed directly in URL bar):

Someone has never been to your website before, they see your link on a business card and type it directly into the browser URL bar. This person is a ‘direct’ lead since they were not referred from another website. If they were not referred from another website, the referrer would not be set.

Scenario 2 (User is using an application that does not set the referrer property):

Someone is using an application such as Microsoft Outlook. Let’s say someone receives an email with your website link. The person clicks on the website link from Microsoft Outlook, in this case, the referrer will not be set since Microsoft Outlook does not set a referrer value. Other apps won’t set a referrer value either (think various iPhone apps such as twitter)

However; if the link being clicked on contains tracking parameters on the URL, then those tracking parameters would be used and the lead would not come through as direct. Look at using the iTracker360 URL Builder for doing that.

Scenario 3 (No request headers due to user coming from https and going to http):

Does your website only support http:// ? If so, you should look at adding a SSL certificate to your website and redirecting all non-secure traffic to your secure site. In recent years, some main stream web browsers such as chrome will not pass the referrer property to your insecure website.

Here is an example: Someone is on https://youtube.com (secure site) watching your video they stumbled upon. In the comment section, they click on your link that points to: http://yourwebsite.com (non-secure website) – In this case, the browser will not set a referrer property. You’ll receive a lot of direct leads when receiving traffic from secure websites (which most websites are secure these days)

There is also a HTML5 meta-referrer tag that can specifically deny the referrer property from being set. This is not very common, but the https to http security and not setting the referrer value as exaplained above is very real! So secure your website if you want better tracking.

Scenario 4 (Cookies are cleared):

Someone lands on your website and then they decide to clear their cookies. If the cookies are cleared, then their tracking data will more than likely come through as direct or as a self-referral.

Scenario 5 (An intermediate redirect occurred that dropped the referrer data):

Not all redirects are created equal. Some redirects will pass along the browser headers with the referrer value in-tact. Some will not. I’ve seen instances where people have a redirect occurring on their website and the referrer property gets over-written or dropped.

Solution to get less ‘direct’ leads?

If you are getting a lot of direct leads and you are convinced that these people are not going directly to your site, but rather they are referred from somewhere else such as YouTube, Facebook, etc.

  1. Make sure the iTracker360 Javascript snippet is where it needs to be. We recommend that you put it on every page of your site.
  2. Make sure your site supports HTTPS so that browsers will pass the referrer value to your website.
  3. If these leads are coming from email campaigns, look at adding UTM parameters to all of your links so you can get better tracking data when users are returning to your site from Email link clicks.
  4. Give your site a quick test, clear your cookies/cache. Go somewhere that has your link, click on it, see if the lead comes through as direct or not. Reach out to us and we can help you test it or let you know if we see anything setup incorrectly.

That pretty much sums up the most common scenarios regarding ‘direct’ traffic.

Updated on April 22, 2020

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