Conventional thinking states that search engine optimization is typically something to focus on in order to reach those who want what you have but don’t know who you are. It’s used when “searches” are involved. It is accepted wisdom that direct website traffic is not impacted by SEO, nor is referral traffic because if people know who you are and what you do, they don’t need a search engine to find you. And while the concept makes sense, human behavior is creating an unpredictable dynamic that is throwing a splash of color onto this black and white idea. Simply put, people are using Google’s search field in place of their address bar.
Small Habit Big Impact
I first began to notice this phenomenon in person, observing how other people navigate the internet. (Don’t judge – we all have our hobbies.)
But the scientist in me had to see some hard data, so I did some digging and sure enough Google analytics confirms that this is not a localized phenomenon among the humans I am observing. The action is simple: instead of typing the URL of a well-known website into a browser’s address bar, people are typing it into Google. The reasons are fairly straightforward:
- Many people use Google as their homepage and their eye simply goes to the search field instead of the address bar.
- Google has auto complete features that can assist you when searching for something so you do not always need to type in the entire address.
- Sometimes less technologically savvy users are not familiar with how the internet works and what the role of the address bar is, thus they have adapted to replace its functionality with Google.
- Google Chrome, now the world’s top browser, adopted a unified browser / URL and Apple Safari followed suit in June 2012.
The effects of this shift on the user are minor; however the impact on the web industry can be substantial. If a website is not SEO optimized, then even the simplest URL may be ineffective for driving direct traffic. This means that using easy to remember vanity URL’s that point to landing pages as an online marketing strategy may need to be re-thought. And yes, I have seen even substantial websites that did not rank for their own name in Google because they were so poorly optimized. It is very easy for landing pages or micro sites to fall through the cracks.
Direct Traffic Masquerading as Search Traffic
It is hard to tell exactly how often this is happening because the traffic is registered as organic search traffic. But if your analytics shows that one of the search terms you are found under is your URL or something resembling your URL, then this is mostly likely why.
And if people are just ignoring their address bar altogether, you are likely receiving a higher volume of searches for your website or business name. The good news is that these people are indeed finding you. The bad news is if your site is not well-optimized, you may not realize that you are potentially missing out on direct web traffic because of poor SEO.
The lesson is simple; if you want direct traffic, you still need SEO.