Direct Vs. Organic Search: What’s the Difference?

Direct Vs. Organic Search: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to direct and organic search, what makes them different from each other? Learn about which one you should be focusing on and how they differ.

In the past, differentiating direct and organic search was simple.

According to many, direct traffic was when a person arrived on a website by typing the URL into their web browser. Organic traffic was when they arrive on a website via a search engine.

While the above is correct, to understand all the insights from web traffic, it’s important to delve a little deeper into the topic.

Before looking at the difference between the two, let’s learn a bit more about traffic sources.

Understanding Traffic Sources

There are various traffic sources and all these have different classifications. Web analytics platforms use an algorithm to determine the source of the traffic. Here are the different sources:


Social traffic is when a visitor arrives on a page through a social network. For example, they may click on a link from their Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter feed.


Referral traffic happens when a person arrives on your website without going through a major search engine. They could arrive on a page by clicking on a link within a blog, for example.

Paid Search

A paid search is when a person arrives on a website by clicking on one of the paid ads on search engines. Google Adwords is one of the most popular paid search platforms.


Email traffic is when a person arrives on your website because of successful email marketing.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is when the source is unknown. This could include a visitor typing in your specific URL into their web browser. It could also be by clicking on a bookmarked link.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic is when a visitor arrives on your website via a search engine. This does not include the paid ads seen at the top of search engine results.


The key difference between direct and organic search is tracking. According to Google, direct visits don’t have tracking information. They don’t have a referring source. In short, analytics platforms can’t track them through a search engine or any other source.

Organic traffic comes from a search engine or other entity. These are non-paid visits.


Tracking is a key differentiator between a direct and an organic search. But, security also affects how web traffic is categorized.

Last year, Google started prioritizing security to rank websites. Today, websites not prefaced by HTTPS can’t be tracked. And, if analytics can’t track the website, the traffic towards these sites is classified as direct regardless.

As you can imagine, companies of all kinds are now fighting to have an HTTPS preface to improve traffic.

Privacy Settings

Aside from tracking and security, privacy also helps define traffic. But, this factor is in the hands of the user.

This is because a user can change the privacy settings on their browser. With just one click, your browser can stop reporting where traffic comes from.

Now, Google has encrypted keyword data as an extra privacy measure. If one of your website visitors is logged into their Google account, you won’t be able to see which keywords they used to arrive on your website.

Unfortunately, these new privacy settings have led to many organic searches being marked as direct traffic.

This also applies to Apple iOS 6 users because the operating system changed its privacy settings as well.

This means any Google searches undertaken on the Safari browser will classify as direct traffic. This is regardless of whether it is an organic search or not.

Direct Traffic

To summarize, direct searches are visits with no referring website. These are searches that do not link to other websites. For example, direct traffic doesn’t come from search engines, social media pages, email marketing, and so on.

The most common type of direct traffic is when a visitor types in a URL into their web browser. Also, it could be when a person clicks on a bookmarked link on their browser.

Today, direct traffic is on the rise. Here are some common reasons for this.

Employee Traffic

Your employees visit your website for work purposes. But, more likely than not, they don’t have their IP address filtered from web analytics.

This increases your direct traffic. But, the traffic is less valuable as it is not a reflection of the number of customers visiting your website.

Customer Portal Traffic

If you have a customer portal or intranet, you may experience high levels of direct traffic.

While you shouldn’t filter out this traffic altogether, you can change your viewing options on Google Analytics. This will enable you to view your analytics without this source of traffic.

Email Traffic

While email traffic is organic, your analytics may confuse it with direct traffic. Often, clicks from Thunderbird and Outlook pass through the radar as direct traffic.

The only way to identify this problem is to look at spikes in direct traffic when you undertake an email marketing campaign.

Real Direct Traffic

This is when people enter your URL into their web browser. This is real direct traffic. It shows that your customers already know your company.

Organic Traffic

Inbound marketing works towards increasing organic traffic. This type of traffic occurs when a visitor arrives on your website through a search engine such as Google.

Organic traffic does not include paid ads. These types of ads are often seen at the top of a Google search page. They have the word “Ad” in front of the URL on Google.

An organic search derives from Search Engine Optimization (SEO). With this in mind, you have to rank for competitive and long tail keywords relevant to your industry.

With the right content and SEO, you will see a steady growth in organic traffic. Google also uses 200 other ranking factors to determine the highest value websites. Some of these include but are not limited to:

  • Domain age and history
  • The quality of your content
  • The length of your content
  • The keyword density in your content
  • How easy it is to read your content
  • The loading speed
  • Image optimization

Direct and Organic Search Wrap Up

Understanding direct and organic search volumes is key to determining your future marketing initiatives.

By tracking results you can translate these into new campaigns and efforts to increase your return on investment.

The key to using these results is to track your searches over a long period of time. This will allow you to identify trends and areas for improvement.

To find out more marketing tips that will help your business grow, visit our blog today!

Jane Cluff

Jane Cluff

Senior digital strategist

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