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I have a weird issue with Google Analytics, sessions show up as direct first and only later the real source is shown (organic/referral).

I know that it's a possible scenario that a user visits the website directly first, and later gets back to it from a different source, but this isn't the case here. The landing page is an inside page that users are much more likely to find through a long-tail search and not type in directly.

Any suggestions what might cause that?

Attaching one user for example, it happens very frequently.

enter image description here

Update

An example to why I'm sure it's a bug and not real direct users:

A website popular in Pakistan linked to my site (I had very few visits from Pakistan until then). The moment I started getting traffic from this link, I also started seeing direct traffic from Pakistan.

enter image description here

Update 2

Another example:

Redirects or rel='noreferrer' might cause the traffic to show as direct, but it won't explain why the real referrer shows up later.

enter image description here

  • How long are your sessions set for in Google Analytics? The default 30 minutes, or did you change it? – Stephen Ostermiller Apr 26 at 9:53
  • @StephenOstermiller the default 30 minutes – Ronen Teva Apr 26 at 12:29
  • They may be a returning user from another medium that had previously bookmarked the page and since cleared cookies, to have then come back again via organic search. Someone may have also shared a link with them via email or some other source that may be seen as a direct visit initially. – Bronwyn V Apr 27 at 7:04
  • @BronwynV Thanks! I know it's technically possible but it isn't the case here. I see a high percentage of these users, I'll upload another screenshot to make it more clear. – Ronen Teva Apr 27 at 9:47
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    As others have already said, there are most likely two reasons you see "Direct" traffic when you expect a referral: 1. The link doesn't pass a referrer, or you've manually blocked the referrer from reaching GA on the landing page (or you've messed up your campaign fields some other way). 2. The user is a returning visitor who has deleted their cookies, or visited first with Incognito mode / Private windows, and now visits with another browser instance. – Simo Ahava Apr 29 at 7:38
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This can happen if you are receiving traffic from a site which has incorrectly linked to your site. An example of such an incorrect linking could be to use http instead of https (and you have the redirect in place).

What will happen is the traffic will go to the http link, get redirected to https and then be misinterpreted by GA as direct. Seer Interactive has a very good article on this phenomenon.

I would suggest take a look at the Pakistani website and see if they can correctly link to your website.

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  • The Pakistani website is https and the link is https. The issue happens with other sites as well as with organic traffic. – Ronen Teva Apr 27 at 11:51
  • Even if the Pakistani site is https, if any of their links to your site are rel=”noreferrer”, that traffic will be seen as direct traffic – Bronwyn V Apr 27 at 19:57
  • @BronwynV The link on the Pakistani site is not rel="noreferrer", I checked. This was just an example, I have the issue with all traffic, not just from this site. – Ronen Teva Apr 27 at 21:12
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    It could also be an issue of www and non-www link. Is the link given on the referring site and your main site's link exactly the same? You might want to check if there is a WAF check in the middle (e.g Cloudflare sometimes throws a captcha check for users from different countries) – Prasad Ajinkya Apr 28 at 13:15
  • @PrasadAjinkya The problem is not just with the link from this site, and it's also with organic traffic. The link goes directly to the right URL, no redirects involved. Wrong redirects or "no referrer" links will explain the traffic shows up as direct but won't explain why the real referrer eventually shows up. Cloudflare is an interesting suggestion, but I checked the logs and eveyrthing seems fine. – Ronen Teva Apr 29 at 3:33

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