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What is the Difference Between Organic Search & Direct Sources of Search traffic?

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What is the Difference Between Organic Search & Direct Sources of Search traffic?

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Organic Search

What is the Difference Between Organic Search & Direct Sources of Search traffic?

For quite a long time now, search marketers have continuously summed up the attributes of organic and direct traffic pretty simply and similarly. While most of us consider that organic search traffic includes the visits from the search engines, we assume that direct traffic consists of the visits from search users who key in your website URL into the web browser.

Now this kind of information is way too simple and leaves digital marketers like you with short of answers to completely understand and gain insights from the web traffic, particularly the direct and organic search sources.

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Way beyond direct and organic search traffic, it is important for you to understand the actual difference between all the different traffic sources. Besides, it is also critical to know how exactly this traffic is classified.

Most of the web analytics platforms such as the Google Analytics make use of flow chart and algorithm based on the in-URL parameters or the referring websites.

This is the one that determines traffic source. Now that you are clear with “what is organic traffic”, we have broken down all the different sources that influences Google search traffic or organic search results for you:

  • Referral traffic: arises when search users find your website through a different site, which is other than the major search engines
  • Social networks: this is the traffic you get from various social media networks such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, FaceBook, etc.
  • Organic search traffic: this includes the traffic from the search engine results, this is not paid and is always earned
  • Paid search traffic: while this is also from search results, it is solely due to the paid advertising through Google AdWords or any other platforms for paid search
  • Email traffic: this is the traffic that you can get from successful email marketing campaigns. These are the ones which are appropriately tagged with a specific email parameter
  • Other traffic sources: if your traffic is from entirely different source which does not fit into any of these, then it will be consider as others, through URL parameters
  • Direct traffic: this is any traffic where the source or/and the referrer are totally unknown

Hope this list gave you a general idea about the different sources of traffic. Now, let us focus on the specifics of the two most critical sources – organic search and direct traffic. However, the factors that influence paid traffic sources are different.

Organic Search Traffic

This is one of the primary channels that marketers into inbound marketing thrive to improve. Organic search traffic can be defined as the search visitors who come through the search engines like Bing or Google.

This traffic will  not be from any of the paid search ads. However, it does not mean that display advertising or paid search will not impact organic search traffic either negatively or positively.

In general, search users blindly trust search engines. Sayings like “just Google it”testify the fact that people are closely tied to search engines. So, display ads, paid search as well as offline campaigns also drive searches. This increases organic search traffic when the campaigns are running.

Having said that, we are also aware of the fact that on the whole organic search traffic is negatively impacted by the changes in the layouts. This is due to the layout changes made by Google last year to the search results.

This resulted in some of the websites like Wayfair to lose 55% of their click shares on mobile and 25% on desktop being lost to the paid search.

To sum up all these information even the organic search traffic such as direct traffic has a few gray areas. However, the organic traffic is mostly SEO driven.

The higher you rank for the competitive search terms, the better your organic search traffic be.

Next, websites that continuously develop content that is search optimized, tend to experience steady improvement in their organic search traffic as well as better positioning in search results.

As a search marketer, it is always important that you look into high-ranking pages and keywords to spot new SEO opportunities every month. Traffic data helps you to evaluate how well your website as well as marketing initiatives are performing.

When you regularly create and promote blog content, you can use the data from your traffic to track the outcome and map your efforts back to actual ROI. However, it is important that you look at long-term traffic numbers to identify trends and create improvement reports.

Direct Traffic

So, what is direct traffic or traffic to website? Direct traffic can be defined as the visits that have no referral website. So, here when a search user follows a specific link from a particular website to another, the previous website will be considered as the referrer.

These sites could be anything – blogs, social media, search engines or any other websites having links that link back to other sites. This kind of traffic divides visits which are not from the referring URL.

Generally, these visitors are attributed to those who manually enter website URL or to those who end up clicking on links that are bookmarked. However, today things with direct traffic are a little more complex.

For most of the websites, the number of visits from the direct traffic is continuously growing, particularly websites that have continuously increasing organic search traffic.

To check this particular theory, Groupon in 2014, conducted a test by be-indexing its website for a period of 6 hours. They were able to find that 60% of the direct traffic tend to be organic.

This is because when they de-indexed their website and halted the organic traffic, their direct traffic also dropped. Today, more and more marketers are seeing growth in their direct traffic. So, what should you be doing about it?

To answer this question let us dive into some of the major factors that boost direct source traffic:


If your customers log in to customer portals on your websites, then this can have a negative impact on your direct traffic. So, in such cases you need not fully filter out traffic. Instead just set up various Google Analytics views to check the web analytics without this particular traffic

Actual direct traffic

This involves visitors who land on your website by keying in your site URL in their browser or just locate your site through a bookmark.

Internal staff

Your staff tend to visit your website frequently. However, they do not filter out their IP from the web analytics. So, just make sure that you filter out your company IPs from the analytics.

Secure to non-secure sites (i.e., https to http)

As Google stresses on having a website that is secure, most of the websites today are securely hosted. The “https” in their URLs indicated this fact. However, the traffic that goes from a secure website to a non-secure one will not be considered as referral information. You can rectify this updating to secure with the help of a third party, SSL certificate.

Mails from specific email clients

Clicks from Thunderbird and outlook always do not qualify for referral information. So, the best way is to analyze whether a specific email resulted in spike in your direct traffic. This can be done by evaluating the traffic when that particular mail was sent.

Desktop or mobile app software clicks

Programs like news apps or Skype do not qualify for referral information and hence lead to direct traffic. An ideal way to capture it and interpret it is to identify where these links are digitally placed or commonly used, including the apps.

Mobile traffic

In reference to the Groupon example discussed above, they found that both device and browser matter when it comes to the ability of the web analytics to track your organic traffic. While desktops with common browsers were mildly impacted (10% to 20%), mobile devices saw 50% drop in direct traffic. Simply put, with the growth in the number of mobile users you will be able to see rise in direct traffic when there is higher organic search traffic.

Avinash Kaushik, web analytics pro, states that when you consider traffic on the whole, a healthy percentage of traffic will be somewhere around 20. However, with significant web shifts that prevent marketers and businesses from tracking the actual traffic source, the chances of seeing this percentage rise are high.

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