What Counts as Direct Traffic?
Direct traffic is defined as visits with no referring website. When a visitor follows a link from one website to another, the site of origin is considered the referrer. Direct traffic categorizes visits that do not come from a referring URL.
Traditionally, direct traffic has been defined as visitors manually entering the URL of the website or clicking on a bookmarked link. Today, however, the story behind direct traffic is a bit more complex, and the number of visits from direct traffic seems to be growing for many websites, especially sites with growing organic traffic.
To fully understand their direct traffic, Groupon ran a test in which it de-indexed its site for six hours. When Groupon did this, it was able to conclude that 60 percent of direct traffic was actually organic because de-indexing its site and halting organic traffic also dropped its direct traffic.
Why are more sites seeing direct traffic growth? Here are reasons:
Mobile traffic: In the Groupon experiment mentioned above, Groupon found that both the browser and the device matter for the ability of web analytics to track organic traffic. Mobile devices caused a 50 percent drop in direct traffic when the site was de-indexed. In short, as mobile users grow, we are likely to see direct traffic rise even more from organic search traffic.
Clicks on mobile apps, and software: Programs such as email platforms, Skype and news apps often do not pass referring information and, thus, result in direct traffic.
With major shifts in search devices and software that block the true source of traffic, it is likely we will see the percentage of direct traffic continue to rise. The takeaway is to focus more on the volume of traffic than the type of traffic.
Most of the above information is from an excellent Smart Bug Media article that you can read in full here: https://www.smartbugmedia.com/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-direct-and-organic-search-traffic-sources