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What does "Direct" referrer mean in Google Analytics?

Impossible to believe Google's explanation

11:57 am on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

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joined:May 30, 2003
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My apologies if this has been dealt with before, but I have a question on Google analytics.
It shows over 80% of my visitors on the Referrer source report as source: direct; medium: none
At the bottom of the page they say "(direct)[(none)] indicates visitors who visited the site by typing the URL directly into their browser"
Well, much as I would like to believe this, it is totally implausible for the site in question, which has little search engine or webwide exposure as yet.
Does anyone know what else causes a visit to appear in this category?
My thanks in advance for your help.
12:56 pm on June 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

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That is such an ancient explanation! Shame on Google. It hasn't been true for years.

It means simply that the browser did not pass a referrer to the tracking system. These days there are a lot of reasons for no referrer being passed. Some are:

1. There actually was no referrer, i.e., somebody typed in the address, or clicked on a link in an e-mail, or clicked on a saved bookmark. Also, spiders and bots from search engines may be working from their own list of URLs (from a previous crawl) rather than following links.

2. There was a referrer but the browser isn't passing it. IE for example passes no referrer if the click from the referring page opens a new browser window (aka popup window). Banner ads tend to be programmed to open new windows, and so do a lot of links on sites that want to stay on the user's screen. Javascript links often act like new-window links. Also, certain kinds of site audiences tend to contain a lot of people who have set their browser to not pass a referrer.

[IE is, to the best of my knowledge, the worst culprit for not passing referrers under various conditions. Firefox, Opera, etc behave differently.]

3. Some spiders/bots/crawlers suppress the referrer.

4. Not in your case, but sometimes with log analysis, recording the referrer field has not been turned on in the server. In that case you'd see 0% named referrers.

Somewhere else on this forum is an extensive and knowledgeable discussion of this. I've just touched on it.

1:51 pm on June 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

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joined:May 30, 2003
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Thanks, cgrantski. Most helpful and informative, I appreciate it.