Google Analytics Direct Traffic – Most kept Secret


Today I am going to reveal one of the most kept secret in Google Analytics which will fundamentally change the way you look at revenue and conversions generated through direct traffic for good.

What you probably don’t know is, how Google attributes conversions to Direct Traffic. Direct traffic is a SEO killer which I have said and proved several times through various case studies and conversion segments:

Truth about direct traffic (The old news)

All untagged or improperly tagged marketing campaigns from display ads to emails are treated as direct traffic by Google.  

Whenever a referrer is not passed, the traffic is treated as direct traffic by Google.

Mobile applications don’t send a referrer, word/PDF documents don’t send a referrer. 302 redirects sometimes caused the referrer to be dropped.

Sometimes browsers don’t pass the referrer.

During http to https redirect (or vice versa) the referrer is not passed because of security reasons.

All such traffic is treated as direct traffic by Google.

 Source: You are doing Google Analytics all wrong. Here is why

For all the avid readers of my blog, this is an old news.  So what is the new news  then?


Google attributes conversions to direct traffic in 2 ways.

1. In case of non-multi channel funnel reports in Google Analytics, the conversion is attributed to the previous non-direct campaign/source if there is one. For example:

If a person clicked on an organic search listing to visit your website and  then later returned to your website directly and made a purchase then Google will attribute conversion to the organic search and not to the direct traffic. Google seems to override last click attribution model in some particular cases of direct traffic in non-multi channel funnel reports.


2. In case of multi channel funnel reports in Google Analytics, the conversion is attributed to the direct traffic (provided direct traffic is the last interaction) even if previous campaign/source is non-direct. For example:

If a person clicked on an organic search listing to visit your website and then later returned to your website directly and made a purchase then Google will attribute conversion to the direct traffic and not to the organic search.

There are two theories floating in the web analytics world regarding how conversions are attributed to direct visits. Some analyst support the first theory (conversion is attributed to the previous non-direct campaign/source if there is one) and some analyst like me supported the second theory. But only recently i have to come know that Google attributes conversions to direct traffic in 2 ways and not just in one way. Feel free to confirm my findings yourself.

Takeaway – When you are analyzing the impact of direct traffic on your business bottom-line, it is wise to look and draw conclusions from the non-multi channel funnel reports rather than the multi channel funnel reports as non-multi channel funnel reports present true customer buying behavior in case of direct traffic.

Other Posts you may find useful:



Himanshu Sharma About the Author: is the founder of which provides SEO Consulting, PPC Management and Analytics Consulting services to medium and large size businesses. He holds a bachelors degree in ‘Internet Science’, is a member of 'Digital Analytics Association', a Google Analytics Certified Individual and a Certified Web Analyst. He is also the founder of and

My business thrives on referrals, so I really appreciate recommendations to people who would benefit from my help. Please feel free to endorse/forward my LinkedIn Profile to your clients, colleagues, friends and others you feel would benefit from SEO, PPC or Web Analytics.



  • sanjeev

    This is what we call has ‘Cookie Overwriting’ and ‘Cookie Dropping’ in Affiliate networks. But never thought google will have this problem themself :).

  • olaf kopp

    Hello Himanshu, great blog with great topics. Google is tracking conversions after the first cookie wins model. The AdWords Conversion Tracking is tracking Conversions after the last cookie wins model. So often the adwords conversion tracking get more conversions than the analytics tracking method.

    • Himanshu

      Hi Olaf! I am not sure what you meant. But Google uses last touch interaction model for all types of campaigns by default.

      • Nitesh Ahir

        that is really great… but many days count for the cookies….
        basically i don’t have such idea that how it’s run but… we generally see in shopping site that returning visitors on such time high… that might be from cookies..

        so what could be the duration of the day???? & how it’s count?

        • Himanshu

          Hi Nitesh! I am not really getting your question. Can you please re-phrase it.

  • Jon

    The bit in green cuts off on a mobile device, which is unfortunate because that’s the important part of the post.

  • Mike

    So you are saying that we should ignore the new multi channel reports when looking at the effects of direct traffic? And that Google’s default treatment of direct traffic is just fine?

    • Himanshu

      Yes. This is because multi channel funnel reports will dilute the efforts of our marketing campaigns. We all know that, how much undue credit direct traffic gets for majority of conversions on the website. It is very common for people to return to a website directly before they make a purchase. But this doesn’t mean that the prior non-direct marketing channels didn’t play any role in the conversions through direct traffic. At least this will make the direct traffic less polluted.

      • Mike

        What are your thoughts on attribution software that tracks prospects along the sales cycle, I.e. clearsaleing? Understanding this is not for everyone given the costs. However, for the large b2b prospect that has a high asp, the it might make sense…

        • Himanshu

          Attribtuion software is good if it can be customized according to the business model and delivers ROI. However according to my experience, it should be used only if your annual online revenue is at least $1 million. Below that, it is hard to justify such spend.

  • Gerard Rathenau

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. How do you know the difference in attributing the last click between multi-channel and the standard reports?

    Has Google Analytics confirmed, what you are saying?

    • Himanshu

      It is based on observation. You can confirm it yourself by comparing multi-channel reports with non-multi channel reports for direct traffic.

  • Chris Devlin

    This post is really confusing, I will try to explain about this. If a visitor visits you website clicked through from search engine, its said to be organic traffic. Same visitor visits again, its said to be returning visitor and the visits comes under organic visits only. If the visitors deleted the cookies in his web browser, and visited the same website again, the visits comes under direct traffic. let me try this multi-channel report and figured it out.