What is a direct source?

 

You might have noticed that many campaign clicks originate from a Direct source. In short, the Direct source captures any hit that does not include information about its origin.

 
 
 

In technical terms, direct is the value that the utm_source parameter will take if referrer information is missing. This may occur for a number of reasons. Most commonly, sources such as email and certain websites will never generate something called a Referer: header, which is required to know the source of any inbound links. This leaves Lickstats unable to define what channel originated this traffic. It also occurs when you generate truly direct traffic, meaning the user either has your link bookmarked or typed it directly into their browser.

 
 
 

If this is causing frustration, we recommend creating segments for each channel that appears to be masking its traffic.

 
 
 

The usual suspects

 
 
 

There are some common traffic sources that tend to generate a Direct source.

Referer: header blocking

As we outline in our recent blog post LinkedIn reinstates referral tracking, LinkedIn recently fixed a frustrating quirk with their code base. In short, a piece of code that states rel=noferer in all posted links means that Referer: HTTP request headers are never generated. These headers are where the originating page source can be found, and thus Lickstats can’t track it.

LinkedIn is working as you’d expect these days, but we recommend creating a consistent segment name for sharing links on any other platform where you notice this happening.

Email

Email is slightly different. Most email desktop clients and mobile apps simply don’t use Referer: headers. This makes sense because they wouldn’t yield a source web address in any case, which is what the Referer: header was intended for. On the other hand, web mail clients (such as Gmail) should register as a Referral source. This means that Lickstats users with pro or enterprise accounts should be able to see them when they click on their Sources pie chart.

For email campaigns, we recommend creating an email segment for links included there. You might also consider adding deeper segment levels depending on how granular you want your analytics data to be. For example, you could have an email+signature segment for links in staff email signatures, or email+edm20190819 for a specific EDM campaign.

But beware! You don't want to be overwhelmed. If you're unlikely to need stats for specific email campaigns then it's best to just use the email segment to make your analysis easier to carry out.

We also have a MailChimp plugin that is great for tracking email campaigns if you use that platform. More on this later, so please get in touch if you want to set this up now.

Further information on managing Lickstats campaign link segments can be found in our Help Center: What are segments and how do you manage them?

Scrapers

In layperson’s terms, scrapers are web crawling bots that automatically visit a link to gather data about it. Most of the major platforms you share content on will use them: they are helpful for things such as generating previews on social media sites. We do our best to keep on top of scrapers and exclude them from your results, but there are sometimes a few that get through.

Typing

If a Lickstats campaign link is included in a hard-copy magazine article, for example, then people will be typing this into their browsers by hand. This should be embraced, as direct typing is what the utm_source=direct argument was intended for.

In a scenario where this is likely to happen, you will want to either ensure that there is a unique campaign link or use segments as described above.

Incidentally, this is a great way to use Lickstats for an otherwise difficult metric to capture!

Bookmarks

Similar to when people type a URL directly into their browser, a bookmark click also originates without a referral source. It's unlikely that this is a substantial portion of any Lickstats campaign stats, as an end user would be more likely to bookmark the final destination.

Remember, a truly direct source of traffic, meaning that the user either typed your URL from memory or had it bookmarked, would typically be considered the highest value source of traffic. They obviously love you! For this reason, we strongly recommend that you pay attention to the channels you're sharing on and take note of those that don't appear as their own source. Create a segment for each of these troublesome sources and you will improve your insights substantially.

 
Zane Pocock