70% Drop in Direct Traffic Issue [Solved: Due to WordPress Release]

There was a 70% drop in direct traffic (reported by Google Analytic) on our site recently. We spent last few days researching this issue. We would like to share our knowledge with our users, as we think this information will be helpful to you. Note that this post is not related to RegistrationMagic plugin. This post is about how recent WordPress changes might have impacted your Google analytics data reporting.

Our site analytics flagged 70% drop in Direct Traffic on 3rd April 2018. As initially speculated and later confirmed through research, Direct traffic is not exclusively traffic for punched URLs in browser but also for links clicked inside the dashboard since no referral URL would be passed to Google in that case. Our investigation proved this was true since any traffic, for which Google cannot ascribe a source is classified as direct traffic.

Possible cases of drop in direct traffic

In addition, top URLs in Direct traffic section revealed that the links are most likely coming from inside the standard plugin. So we have one of these possible cases:

  1. Google Reclassified WordPress Dashboard traffic as non-direct traffic.
  2. URL parameters in our plugin changed in of the releases so that Google reclassified the traffic
  3. WordPress started modifying URLs in such a way that referral traffic stopped being incognito.

Interestingly since drop in traffic was after 3rd April and WordPress release 4.9.5 on 3rd April, We started investigating line 3 first. While there was nothing in release notes, We found something very interesting in detailed changelog for 4.9.5 which is mentioned here.

#43285 – Loosen the admin referrer policy header value to allow the referring host to be sent from the admin area in all cases


Mystry Solved

There’s the solution to the mystery as plain as daylight! After 4.9.5 version WordPress will allow sending source data to Google and thus it is no longer direct traffic. If we test this thought process, there should be sudden spike in referral traffic after 4th April. It’s a pity we checked it now. And indeed we noticed the sharp spike. See the below image.


Lesson learned

So basically our hunch was right in a way, direct traffic has been reclassified but it’s WordPress’ doing. And now we have two proofs to corroborate this. It does teaches a lesson – we need to classify incoming traffic. While direct traffic is good, but in our case known traffic has been classified as unknown traffic providing us with wrong picture. We wish to introduce UTM parameters to all referral links so that we can clearly see which click made to the site.

There are other interesting lessons to be learned here:

  1. Most of our users are using latest version of WordPress
  2. There’s a sharp increase in ‘localhost’ referral traffic. While individual website referral traffic will now be fragmented, localhost is still a common incoming referral. Therefore a lot of people buy while creating sites on MAMP/ XAMPP.

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