SEO Matters: Up to 60% of Direct Traffic is really Organic Search

It can be difficult to realize the full value of SEO efforts on your website. A new experiment over at Groupon sheds light on one aspect of where your SEO analytics may be hiding – in the Direct search category. On their own site, Groupon found that 60% of “direct” traffic is actually organic search (ie. using regular old Google search to find sites). This experiment shows that the value of your SEO traffic channel may be significantly understated.

In analytics, the direct search traffic channel lumps people together when it doesn’t know where the traffic came from – this could be caused by privacy settings, cookie issues, or differences in how browsers report traffic.  For Direct traffic they assume users typed in the URL or clicked a bookmark, but many times, that may not be the case.

“We know some percent of Direct is really Organic, but we don’t know how much. Until now.” – Gene McKenna, Groupon

Groupon de-indexed their site from Google for a few hours to compare their normal levels of search with the traffic they got when no one could find them through Google search.  While not recommended at home, this experiment showed significant drops in both Organic and Direct traffic. Organic dropped to almost zero, while Direct traffic dipped by 60% over the same time period, showing that even though the traffic is reported in the Direct channel, 60% can be directly attributed to organic search.

Variances are reported for different browsers, the type of web pages and mobile vs. desktop browsers – yet the basic premise of the test leads us to a significant conclusion.  Currently, a lot of the direct traffic reported in Google Analytics is organic search.  Based on the experiment that Groupon has done, it’s probably safe to assume that 50-60% of your direct traffic is actually organic search.

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