Web traffic is an important tool for measuring your business’s brand visibility and understanding your core audience. It’s not enough to simply have a website these days. To be competitive, you must continuously review your website analytics and use web traffic data to inform your business decisions.
Before you can track your web traffic, you must first add tracking code from a website analytics tool like Google Analytics to your site header. Most analytics tools provide similar information: where are visitors coming from, what types of devices are they using, how many pages do they visit, and more. No matter which analytics platform you use, it’s important to understand the various types of web traffic and how you can use them.
Understanding types of web traffic
Different types of web traffic can reveal different details about your customers and how your business operates online. These types of web traffic include:
Direct traffic consists of visitors who type your URL directly into their web browser’s address bar. These people already know about your brand; otherwise, they wouldn’t know your site exists. Direct traffic also includes visitors who come from sources that your web analytics tool doesn’t recognize, like PDF documents or text messages.
For most established businesses, direct traffic is a result of long-term brand familiarity or repeat visits. Visitors who initially came to your site through a search engine or social media post may return as direct traffic. Alternatively, direct traffic can come from traditional, offline advertising strategies or printed marketing materials like business cards and direct mail. As long as these items include your website, they’re likely to encourage direct traffic.
This means, however, that direct traffic doesn’t inherently provide any actionable insight about those visitors to your site. Unlike other types of traffic, you can’t attribute direct traffic to a specific campaign or ad. You might consider creating separate landing pages for offline marketing campaigns that are only accessible by typing the exact URL, but this could become cumbersome to manage in the long run.
Referral traffic consists of visitors who come to your site from other places on the internet. Common referral traffic sources include news sites, directories, blogs, and external search engines. For example, if your local newspaper publishes a story that mentions your business and links to your website in the article, everyone who clicks that link would be considered a referral visitor.
You can increase your referral traffic by reaching out to bloggers or reporters to see if they would be interested in featuring your business in a story. If the source is popular or reputable, there’s a good chance someone will click the link to your site. You can also create your own backlinks by commenting on articles or forums and including a link to your site when it makes sense.
However, be careful building links for your referral traffic efforts. If a search engine’s bots determine that you’re spamming people or building low-quality links, the search engine may penalize you and undermine your organic search efforts. Instead, focus on building links from the highest quality sources you can find, and use your links as a way to provide value to readers, not just as a gimmicky route to your site.
Organic traffic consists of visitors who come to your site through the search engine’s results pages, also known as SERPs. Increasing organic traffic is the primary goal of search engine optimization (SEO). SEO strategies seek to make your site more authoritative so pages that match relevant search terms appear higher in search results.
Organic traffic is highly scalable, meaning the more effort you put into it, the greater returns you’ll see. One of the biggest factors that determines an individual page’s search rank is the quality of its content. If it answers a visitor’s questions quickly and thoroughly, there’s a better chance that it will perform well.
However, content quality is not the only SEO consideration. A search engine’s algorithm will also evaluate the page’s accessibility, metadata, user experience, and mobile friendliness among other factors. The broader authority of your domain often heavily influences SERP rankings as well. Often, increasing referral and social traffic will give your site more credibility, which will indirectly improve your organic traffic, too.
Social traffic consists of visitors who come to your site from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Reddit. This includes visitors who click on your social media posts, your social media ads, and organic posts from other users.
Like organic traffic, social traffic is highly scalable. Social media performance directly benefits social traffic volume, so you’ll likely see a huge influx of site visitors if one of your posts goes viral on social media. The key is to post updates consistently and to engage your followers as often as possible. Your goal should be to build and engage a community, not just to have a token social presence.
Over time, you may notice that some social platforms generate more traffic than others. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason when this happens—it could be a random coincidence, or it could have broader implications for the type of audience you’re able to reach on each platform. When you notice this trend over time, it may be time to adjust your social media strategy to favor the platforms that drive more traffic to your site.
How to use web traffic
Ultimately, understanding your web traffic is worthless if you don’t put it to good use. Consider adopting a marketing analytics tool like HubSpot, Marketo, or Adobe Analytics to make the biggest impact with your web traffic. Then, make a habit of running regular reports to keep track of how your web traffic is performing and make adjustments accordingly. Not only will this grow your customer base, but it will also drive your overall revenue goals.
This article was originally published on July 2, 2015. It was updated by Kaiti Norton.