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We launched a blog post which got picked up by a lot of social sites and it's given us a lot of traffic over the last few days.

In Google Analytics though, the blog post page has all the hits with 90% bounce rate (that's normal imo) but most of them are being counted as direct traffic and not referal traffic as I would expect.

Any reason for this? It's hard to tell exactly which social sites are giving us all the traffic. The url is fairly lengthy:

http://www.domain.com/blog/44/on-html5-audio-formats-aac-and-ogg

Which leads me to beleive it isn't being typed in by most people :)

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

(direct) can be misleading. Traditionally, people think of it as meaning "people typed in my URL directly"; the reality is usually a mix of that and of traffic sent from places that don't pass an HTTP REFERER header (and don't have some sort of manual tagging using utm_* parameters).

Specifically:

  • Non-web sources like smartphone apps, mail clients, and desktop apps. (Twitter for iPhone, Outlook, etc.)
  • HTTPS traffic linking to an HTTP page (HTTPS only Twitter and Facebook, Gmail, etc.)
  • Privacy blockers that prevent pages from passing referrers (less common)

So, traffic from Twitter isn't the same thing as traffic that Google Analytics credits as traffic from Twitter.com; that's only the subset of Twitter traffic that came from the web client AND was on HTTP. Same thing with Facebook; only traffic from non-HTTPS, web-based Facebook.com will track as being from Facebook.com; the rest will be tracked as (direct).

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Great answer and this would seem like a correct deduction, my site is HTTP and probably a lot of referers are HTTPS. Thank you! –  Tom Gullen Jul 21 '11 at 17:30
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Perhaps the social site is using a redirect which strips the referrer? This is usually not the case for mainstream ones like Facebook though.

Certain privacy tools like ZoneAlarm are known to strip referrers too. These are not used that often either but is the only other possibility I can think of.

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Wouldn't the referrer be provided, (or not provided) by the browser? or are you implying an iframe usage or something. –  Kzqai Jul 19 '11 at 20:57
    
I've seen it done but I did not ask myself how. It is likely to be an iframe but maybe there is another trick. –  Itai Jul 19 '11 at 23:08
    
Thanks for the answer, +1, but the % of visitors with no referer would lead me to beleive they don't all have a privacy plugin (80%-90% of several thousand people are classed as direct) –  Tom Gullen Jul 21 '11 at 18:17
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