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Direct Traffic vs. Organic Traffic: TLDR

The main difference between direct traffic and organic traffic is how the traffic is generated. 

Direct traffic comes when someone types a website’s URL directly into a browser. Or when they click on a bookmarked link. The visitor knows exactly where they’re going and why. They are not being led by another website or by clicking on an ad.

Organic traffic, on the other hand, comes when people find your site through a search engine. It could be from typing your website’s name into a search bar or clicking on a link to your site that appears in the search results. 

Understanding the difference between direct traffic and organic traffic is crucial, as they both impact your website’s success. Let’s take a detailed look.

What is Direct Traffic: An Overview

Traditionally, we categorize direct traffic as coming from the manual entry of a website’s URL or when users find you via a bookmark. But it’s a little more complex than that. 

Most times, the source of traffic is not known. The traffic could be from incorrectly tagged campaigns, spam bots, offline documents like PDF and Word, or email links to a website. Google Analytics reports a traffic source as direct when it didn’t get a referring URL or if it has no website metrics on how the visitor arrived at the site. 

User sessions showing traffic source in Google Analytics – Source

But direct traffic can also be an excellent indicator of your website’s authority and your brand awareness in the industry. When a website gets good direct traffic, search engines see it as popular and help it establish its authority in the domain.

Benefits of Direct Traffic

Direct traffic benefits your business in many ways:

  • It’s seen as a clean visit that doesn’t come from other marketing channels like paid search.
  • It’s highly targeted, and the leads are more likely to convert because the visitors are interested in what you offer. 
  • It shows the degree of popularity of your web content among users.
  • When a site has high direct traffic, Google increases its ranking, so it gets more clicks.

What Does High Direct Traffic Imply?

A high percentage of direct traffic means your visitors come from other sources, and you can’t exactly figure out where they are from. It’s unlikely that many people are typing long URLs into web browsers. 

So where does all the traffic come from?

Here are some possible sources:


Any site on HTTP is not secure and, therefore, won’t get any tracking visitors from a secure site (HTTPS). So the session appears on google analytics as direct traffic instead of a referral. If you notice your referral traffic is low and your direct traffic is high, it could mean that one of your major referrers has switched to HTTPS while you’re still on HTTP.

Graphic illustrating that HTTPS is ideal while HTTP is not ideal. – Source

2. Bad Tracking Codes

When a code that’s supposed to track where the traffic is coming from doesn’t work correctly, it miscategorizes the traffic as direct traffic, even though the traffic may be organic or come from other sources. 

3. Non-Web Documents

Links embedded in Microsoft Word documents, PDFs, and slide decks don’t pass referrer information. So if a user clicks on these links, it will appear in your website metrics report as direct traffic. 

4. Traffic From Multiple Devices, Mobile Apps, and Some Email Clients

Sometimes, no referrer information is recorded when users click on a link from their smartphones or mobile apps and software programs. This means that when they land on your website, it is categorized as direct traffic rather than whichever site they’re coming from—the same thing goes for email clients, especially if the user is offline while reading their email.

How to Fix Incorrect High Direct Traffic 

First, you must set up proper campaign codes for all your marketing campaigns to solve the problem of incorrect direct traffic. This ensures that traffic coming from the campaigns is appropriately labeled and doesn’t get miscategorized. 

Also, ensure your site is HTTPS, so you can track referral traffic to know more about your visitors. 

If you still see high direct traffic, try segmenting your data by source/medium in Google Analytics. With this, you’ll get a more accurate picture of where your data is coming from. 

Data segments by source and medium in Google Analytics – Source

What is Organic Traffic: An Overview

As we mentioned earlier, organic traffic is simply traffic that comes from natural, organic search results. In other words, it is traffic you don’t have to pay for. 

When a visitor types a search query related to what you offer on your website, your site appears on the search engine’s result pages. The challenge is to ensure that when people look for a product or service you offer, they find you, not your competitor.

The process flow of organic traffic, including steps from publication, searching, and clicking on a result, to experiencing a session on your website. – Source

“So, how can I boost organic search on my site?”

A site must be properly optimized for search engines to appear on the result pages. SEO analytics can tell you which marketing efforts bring in the most traffic or that content users engage with the most. From there, you can get the relevant keywords and phrases to use throughout the site to help you rank better on search engines. 

AI SEO tools can also help recommend keywords and topics to include when creating content, ultimately increasing your organic search traffic.

Benefits of Organic Traffic 

Organic traffic is easily classified as the most reliable traffic source in inbound marketing analytics. It is highly targeted and shows the effectiveness of your SEO and content strategies. 

Here are some of the chief reasons why organic traffic is beneficial for your business:

  • It converts better because the users who come through organic search are already interested in what you’re offering.
  • It’s free. All you need is a commitment to SEO.
  • It brings in more people with relevant intent to your site using intent data from organic traffic
  • It establishes your thought leadership. As your website pops up on the SERPS for more content on a relevant topic, people get to associate and build trust in your brand.
  • Lots of organic traffic shows Google that your site is popular, and so it improves your ranking in the site engine
  • It gives you a competitive edge because a site optimized for organic traffic shows up above other competitors in search results.  

What Does High Organic Traffic Imply

High organic traffic means more people can find you naturally through organic search, word-of-mouth, and other non-paid avenues. But in the end, the quality of the traffic is what advances business success.

If your conversion rate in Google Analytics has gone down while your organic traffic is high, you may be targeting the wrong keywords, so you’re getting fewer qualified visitors to your site. Your overall goal should be getting quality leads from high organic traffic. 

So how can we do that?

  • Optimize your website for search engines using relevant keywords in your content and meta tags, so it appears higher in search engine results. 
  • Convert blog traffic to quality leads by producing compelling and interesting content that people will want to share.
  • Make sure your site is easy to navigate so visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. Also, include relevant, targeted content to prevent them from leaving and visiting another site.
  • Ask satisfied customers to leave reviews on your website and social media pages. This improves your SEO ranking and helps bring in qualified leads. 

Which Metric is Better to Track?

The best metric to track is dependent on the goals you have for your business. Direct and organic traffic both have their benefits and drawbacks. But knowing the difference between the two is the key to streamlining your marketing strategy because driving traffic to your website is not the only aim. You need to find ways to convert the traffic to leads.

Try channeling marketing attribution to get the most out of the traffic. Focus on optimizing the customer journey through each marketing funnel stage to draw in both direct and organic traffic and turn them into customers. 

The different stages of a marketing funnel. From top to bottom: Awarenes, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. – Source

  • Top of Funnel: Awareness/Attention
  • Middle of Funnel: Interest/Consideration
  • Bottom of Funnel: Intent/Action – Conversion
  • Post Funnel: Loyalty/Advocacy

If you’re looking to build brand awareness and retain your existing customers, focus on direct traffic. Create more top-of-funnel and middle-of-funnel content using strategies like content marketing, product-led growth (PLG), and case studies.  

If, on the other hand, your goal is to generate new leads and make more sales, your focus should be on increasing organic traffic. Prioritize the third stage of the marketing funnel, where you’ll find potential customers interested in your product or service offerings and ready to take action.

Other Types of Traffic Sources to Consider

Direct traffic and organic traffic are not the only sources of traffic that matter. Website analytics reports also show other types of traffic like the following:

Paid Search Traffic

This traffic results from a paid ad campaign launched on search engines. It can be an effective way to drive targeted, high-intent traffic to your website.

Social Traffic

Social traffic comes to your website from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter. It’s generally considered high-quality traffic because the visitors are already interested in what you do and what you have to say.

Referral Traffic

This traffic occurs when users click on a hyperlink from a blog or another site that leads to your webpage. It can be a valuable source of leads since it indicates that the user found your site through a trusted source.   

Email Traffic

Traffic coming to your site from email campaigns is called email traffic. After search engines, email is one of the most popular ways people find out about new websites. So it can be a significant source of traffic. 

How to Track Both Direct and Organic Traffic 

A business needs both direct and organic traffic to thrive in the long run. This also means you need to track and optimize both types of marketing traffic.

That’s where HockeyStack comes into the picture.

HockeyStack is an analytics and attribution tool that allows you to collect and view touchpoints across marketing channels. It also provides in-depth reports that will help you better understand the factors driving the highest-quality leads.

Here’s what a HockeyStack report looks like:

Track all actions on the website and product, showing you how many leads dropped out at which stage in detail. Think of it as the easiest way to visualize each target customer’s pre-conversion and post-conversion journey with touchpoints, including CRM properties, demo calls, and website visits.

Cass Rosas

Cass is a content creator at DemandPlaybook, she is passionate about creating human-centric SEO content, she also covers topics such as search engine optimization, content operations, e-commerce, and social media marketing. In her spare time she likes listening to music, doing oil painting and watching SciFi movies.