Where does your website traffic really come from and what do you need to do to get more of it?
Let’s continue our not-so-basic exploration of different traffic sources and their impact on our overall website traffic generation.
In the previous post, we looked into direct traffic as our first targeted website traffic source.
Today, let’s address the other major sources:
- Search engine traffic.
- Referral traffic.
What Is SEARCH ENGINE TRAFFIC?
I don’t think a definition is necessary here, but what the heck – for the sake of being thorough:
All visitors that come to your blog via search engines refer to as SEARCH ENGINE TRAFFIC.
When someone searches for a particular query, they are presented with a search engine results page (SERP) with two options: organic results and paid results.
Both are reported under “Search Engine Traffic” in your Google Analytics.
If you are not currently using Google AdWords to generate any paid traffic, then you can safely assume that all your search engine traffic is organic – naturally.
If you are still playing the Google PPC roulette, then you simply need to compare your “paid” vs “non-paid” traffic to know which traffic is which.
How to Improve Search Engine Traffic CTR
CTR stands for Click-Through Rate and, in the context of organic search results, it refers to how often search engine users click on your site listing out of all the times it gets shown in the search results.
Why is it important?
Simply being listed on the first page of Google is no guarantee of search engine traffic.
Low CTR usually means that no matter how highly your site is ranking for any number of keywords, search engine users aren’t clicking on YOUR site, but rather your competitors’.
One great way to improve your CTR and consequently bring in more search engine traffic is to take a look at your titles and descriptions and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do they accurately reflect the contents of your post/page?
- Are they compelling enough?
- Do they give potential visitors a good reason to click on them?
Here’s a great post on how to improve your descriptions.
Another great place to check up on your titles and descriptions and identify potential problems you might have is in your Google Webmaster Tools.
Once in your account, go to Diagnostics ==> HTML Suggestions.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how highly your site ranks – if no one is clicking, you’ve got a problem that needs a fix, and quickly.
How Much Search Engine Traffic Is Too Much?
Yes, there is indeed such a thing as too much SEO traffic.
Allow me to explain.
On average, Google makes about 500 algorithm changes per year.
And each and every one of them threatens to wipe your website from the face of Google search results, very much like Panda update did to so many different sites.
Now imagine what will happen to your overall traffic picture, if your search engine traffic dries up all of a sudden?
When you consider how long it takes to recover from a Google penalty for even small mistakes, like server downtime, forgotten redirects, etc., counting on search engine traffic as your primary traffic source is a bit foolish to say the least.
So what is a good number?
As a general rule of thumb, no more than 40% of your referred traffic should come from Google because any significant change is bound to have a negative impact on your bottom line.
What Is REFERRAL TRAFFIC?
Referral traffic is any traffic that comes to your site via a hyperlink from any other site.
When a user arrives at your site, referral information is captured, which includes the referrer URL if available, time and date information and more.
Referral traffic is probably both the easiest and the hardest to get.
Why? Because it’s directly affected by the QUALITY of your CONTENT.
3 Great Reasons To Want More Referral Traffic
- It’s a great indicator of your brand popularity.
- It’s a great source of natural backlinks.
- It’s easy to get because it’s entirely up to you and your own efforts.
Different Ways I Get Referral Traffic
Let me show you the most recent screenshot of my top 10 referral sites:
1. As you can see, social networks, namely Twitter and Facebook, are still my largest sources of referral traffic.
I am a bit fan of using Twitter as a traffic driving machine – as long as you get efficient at it and learn how to do it without getting sucked into it.
To learn more about how I mastered Twitter, check out this post:
2. Google.com as a referral traffic source: as I was doing my diligent research on the topic, I found a lot of bad information out there on where exactly your traffic comes from when it’s listed under Google as a referral traffic source.
It’s NOT your search engine traffic – that one falls under “Search Engine Traffic” source.
Here are some possible referrers for this traffic:
- Google Reader: one of the most widely used RSS feeders.
- Google Images
- Google Groups
- base.google.com listings
3. Social Media Dashboards:
When you visitors are using an online version of their favorite social media application, like Hootsuite.com, it’ll show up under “Referral Traffic“.
However, most of us use desktop applications, like MarketMeSuite for instance, which is what I use.
In that case, Google cannot track the referrer of traffic, so that traffic is added to your Direct Traffic stats.
The same can be said about users of social media mobile apps.
In other words, my referral traffic from social media networks is most likely even greater than what’s shown in the Referral Traffic section.
4. YouTube, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and Bizsugar:
These four sites send me referral traffic without much engagement on my part.
They are the perfect model for “set it, and (somewhat) forget it” traffic generation – I keep them marginally updated at best.
Makes me wonder what would happen if I ACTUALLY got involved in them… Food for thought.
WPSubscribers is the new kind of list building plugin that I immediately fell in love with the minute I laid my hands on it.
And I wasn’t shy to express that to the plugin creator, Jenni R, who in turn posted my comment on the main plugin site:
There’s no guarantee that your comment will be added to the product website, of course, but when it is, the payoff in terms of traffic and a quality backlink can be huge.
By the way, to see what all the noise about WPSubscribers is, read my full review of the plugin:
Here comes yet another great source of your referral traffic: networking with fellow bloggers via guest posting, blog commenting, etc, building relationships with them, gaining quality in-content natural one way link building as a result.
This particular blog belongs to a good friend of mine, Mavis Nong, who reached out to me on YouTube over a year ago – before I started my Traffic Generation Cafe, as a matter of fact.
She publishes exceptional content and I highly recommend you add her to your list of blogs to frequently visit.
Notice how this kind of referral traffic works: now I am happily sending some traffic and a couple of links Mavis’ way. Win-win.
Let Your Content Speak for Itself
Bottom line for ANY traffic source out there:
If your content sucks, so will your traffic.
To get some bright ideas for that next great blog post of yours, be sure to visit this post with 202 bite-sized tips to increase your blog traffic.
Maintain a Balance Between Traffic Sources
As you saw in the Google Analytics screenshot in the first part of this series on traffic sources, my traffic is fairly evenly divided between the 3 major ones:
- Direct Traffic
- Search Engine Traffic
- Referral Traffic
If you ask me, it’s pretty darn close to being perfect in terms of the traffic balance.
Keeping your traffic in balance is like juggling a knife, a torch, and a banana – each requires its own special handling.
Ideally, you want to increase them all, of course, and the sooner the better; however, in practice…
DIRECT TRAFFIC will come as you start building your brand.
This is a very natural type of traffic that you can’t really force in any way other than follow my suggestions in the first part of the series.
However, it does stem from the other two traffic sources, so as you increase your referral and search engine traffic, your direct traffic will follow the trend.
SEARCH ENGINE TRAFFIC also takes time and great dedication.
You need to work on your on-page SEO, as well as continuously build both quality and quantity of diverse and hopefully relevant links back to your site.
This kind of traffic won’t increase overnight, but considering its incredible potential in terms of being both leveraged and highly targeted, it’s definitely worth the effort many times over.
To learn more about how to make the best of your SEO efforts and bring in more search engine traffic, make sure to pick up your copy of my free SEO report.
REFERRAL TRAFFIC is much more immediate and controllable.
As soon as you publish a great guest post on an authority blog or leave an insightful comment on a hot post, your traffic will come right away.
Also, if you notice a drop in this type of traffic, it’s always easy to remedy: just get back to networking, visiting other blogs, tweeting, etc.
Never put all your eggs in one basket though – ALWAYS make sure your traffic is diverse.
That way if any of your main traffic sources goes belly up for whatever reason, you’ll ensure that your blog won’t follow it.
What I was hoping to achieve by publishing this series on different traffic sources was not just give you an overall base knowledge on the subject, but also help you develop a solid traffic generation strategy that you can take back to your blog.
Did I succeed? Comment to show me that you’re alive!
PS I am going to write one last installment in this series, explaining how to find out which ones of your traffic sources are more effective than others and how to capitalize on that knowledge.
52 Intelligent comments · espresso yours below
Well, this is one of the most informative and quality written guide about traffic generation. I hope I can use all of those tips to increase traffic on my blog 🙂
After spending days searching for an honest and reliable take on how to properly build site traffic, I finally stumbled upon yours. Your article is exceptionally useful for newbies to online profile building like myself. Your followers would definitely agree as their postings demonstrate great respect for your work. I do have two questions which I hope you will be able to provide me with some guidance on.
1) I launched my new small business (online math tutoring) only a week ago. I hired a local SEO company to help improve my organic listing on the major search engines and I run Google Adwords daily on a small budget of $15/day. My question is in regards with Google Adwords: How do I assess if my Google Adwords is working effectively to reach the maximum number of viewers to my site?
2) I have come across a number of sites that claim they can increase my site traffic for ”free” but all I have to do is view other people’s ads, claim credits, which I can then use to post my own ads and have my site viewed by others. Is this type of thing safe for my site and legitimate?
I look forward to your responses to my inquiries. Please feel free to visit my website http://www.mathwhisperer.ca
Ana Hoffman says
1. I am not an expert on GoogleAdwords, so can’t help you with that question.
2. Avoid traffic exchanges. You don’t want just any traffic; you want traffic that wants what you have to offer. It’s a waste of your time.
Interesting post. Although all three techniques are tightly related each other. Social network traffic, can lead to someone linking back to you therefore giving you referral traffic and that backlink can help you improving your search engine ranking. All in one.
Ana Hoffman says
Definitely so, Daniel.
An interesting read. My search engine traffic definitely dropped a little after the Panda update, but I’ve been steadily getting more and more referral & direct traffic as the blog has grown. Key to success though as always is good quality content!
Naziman Blogger Malaysia says
Before this, i like search engine traffic because i love SEO but after google panda update. I think it much better we have equal traffic from direct and referral traffic.
Charles Ogwyn says
I love your point about diversifying your sources of traffic. There is such a thing as too much traffic from a single source when it is out of proportion to your other referral sources.
For more on this topic, but focused on both traditional and online marketing methods, I invite you to read “What’s in your marketing pie?“
Ana Hoffman says
Just left a comment on your post.
Very good guide on web traffic source. Got lots to learn about search engine traffic specifically. I do get traffic to some of my sites via the search engines but I just hate that it converts so badly sometimes…
Ana Hoffman says
No point in driving traffic that doesn’t convert, Joe; that’s for sure.
Sounds like you need to work on your traffic conversion a bit.
Is there a way to find out where / from who a Twitter referral is coming? e.g. today for a site that never gets any twitter normally I got 45 referrals, all from a t.co domains. Is there a way to trace them back? If I can find out where they are coming from I may be able to contact the Twitterer to see if they want more.
Ana Hoffman says
Unfortunately, I don’t know of any way to pinpoint which account sent you those visits, Jon.
Jeff Faldalen says
I am starting to look like a broken record of saying great post. Maybe I should just write [play] 🙂
I am amazed, there is not a post I have read on your blog where I haven’t learned something.
I need to look into the Google webmaster tool a little more.
I also agree that Mavis is also a great resource.
Between the two of you and clicking on all the links in your posts, can keep a person busy for some time 😉
Thanks so much for all you do. You are a true gem
Ana Hoffman says
Let me see if I got tired of hearing it, Jeff…
Nope, still like it – keep it coming! LOL
Tuan @ Technology Blog says
I love both traffic from search engines and referrals. At the moment, organic traffic of my blog takes about 70% and it is very consistent. Now I am trying to boost traffic from referrals such as Stumble Upon and social networks.
SU sometimes brings huge traffic to my blog, My blog got about 60k views from SU last month and this really amazed me.
Hi, Tuan – I’ve heard SU can be a great source of traffic; I also heard that it’s the worst converting one. Haven’t done much research of my own to support that.
Paul Wolfe says
I just went and checked my stats for One Spoon and I’ve got around 48% in referred traffic and then the other 50% is split pretty evenly between Direct Traffic and Search Engine traffic.
What’s really interesting to me about that is that I don’t do ANY SEO apart from fill in the boxes for description and tags in Thesis. I don’t build backlinks, or do any of that stuff.
And still Google is sending me nearly a quarter of my traffic. HTF did that happen?
I’ll have to look at that more deeply – quick question for ya….do you ever target and write ‘Long Tail Posts?’ Or do you ever target a post that’s ranked high for a search term and try and get a double indented listing for it?
Search engine traffic will happen naturally as your blog gains authority (yours is PR 3, right?). It might not necessarily be the best terms, but nonetheless.
No, I don’t specifically target long-tail keywords, Paul. I usually target shorter phrases and long-tail rankings come naturally.
I’ve been so busy with everything that I’ve completely ignored the possibility of double-indented listings – now that you brought it to my attention, I’ll see if I can find some time to see if I can pull it off for some of my posts.
Have a great weekend, Paul!
Free organic search traffic is the best source of traffic any blog owner could get. It does take some time before the benefits come, but with concise link building, quality content and keyword research, getting traffic from Google is that simple! Thanks Ana for sharing these tips like you always do.
That’s right, Michael. Organic is best and that happens through consistency and quality.
I think that I have a healthy mix of Search Engine and Referral Traffic. I have about 40% of each. Recently I had a post at StumpleUpon hitting through the roof on my statistics for about a week or so. One day I had more than 100 hits from that single post. It was great but now it is almost back to normal again, but StumpleUpon is still my number one source for referral traffic.
That’s great, Thomas. You have a good mix going there. It seems that you have mastered the art of getting traffic! 🙂
Ian Belanger says
Excellent explanation of the different types of traffic sources. I now have a much clearer idea of where I get my traffic.
I completely agree with you about having a variety of traffic sources. Like you said, what if another “panda update” comes out and wipes us all off of the search engines.
As far as referral traffic goes TGC is always near the top of my list.
Thanks for creating such a great resource for all of us Ana and of course have a great day!
PS I will be sending you a second draft of the PDF today or tomorrow. 🙂
You’re welcome, Ian. Glad you found it helpful and I’m looking forward to the second draft! 🙂
Thank you, Mark. I like to think that practice makes perfect. Look forward to connecting with you over there too. 🙂
Mavis Nong | Free Marketing Training says
Excellent explanation on the different traffic sources. Facebook remains the number one referral site for me. I’m still struggling with Twitter though 🙁
LinkedIn, Clever Marketer, Blokube and Blog Engage are in the top 10.
I can’t believe it’s already a year since we met. Thanks very much for your friendship, the kind mention and backlinks! You ROCK! 🙂
All the best,
Facebook does seem to be a biggy for many people and hang in with Twitter, it will come right.
No, YOU rock!! 🙂 Thank you for your friendship too, Mavis. It has been great having a friend like you. 🙂
Hi Ana, great stuff your writing about in this series.
Right now StumbleUpon is my number one source for referral traffic and Facebook is ahead of Twitter. But I also get mentioned in a fair number of Paper.li’s so in my mind I lump that in with Twitter. Blog Engage is #4 and Blokube and BizSugar are both in the top ten as well. My friend @DiTesco sends a good amount of traffic from Iblogzone.com and just like you said about Mavis, I always make a point to give him a shout out. It’s a great connection because our sites complement each other nicely.
From talking to other bloggers I’m hearing that some people using the Chrome Browser have Google Analytics tracking turned off and they may end up in with direct traffic. Not much we can do about that, but I think it accounts for some differences when I look at WordPress stats in my dashboard.
Nice to see you, Ileane!
Very interesting stats you mention there, and so different to the usual sources. Obviously your ability to connect so well with so many people helps too.
Awesome! I did not know that I was sending traffic your way 😉 Nice to know about that:)
@Ana, sorry to barge in 🙂 As per your previous post, I did mention that I had a big swing with my traffic sources. direct having overtaken search. Trying to balance that somewhat now though… As for referrals, my top source is and has always been StumbleUpon. Not so sure why as I am not as active as I would want to be there. Twitter, FB, FamousBloggers, BasicBlogTips and a few others also are very good contributors.
A question and Off topic… Do you think that there is a SEO benefit to “do index” category pages?
Sounds like you need to step up and start sending some traffic my way, Francisco! 🙂
Category pages: it all depends if you think you’d like to rank them on search engines.
Here, at Traffic Generation Cafe, I focus more on tag pages instead of category pages.
I am also replacing all the links in the top navigation bar that used to lead to category pages with specially created pages that will still list some of the posts in the category, but won’t overwhelm the readers, plus will have opt-in forms in them. Check out my first one: https://trafficgenerationcafe.com/build-email-list/
So with that said, I no-index my category pages because I don’t need them.
You’ll have to come up with your own strategy, I suppose. Or just steal mine. 🙂
Pleasure is all mine, Oliver – thanks for stopping by!
Maky | Nigerian Food Recipes says
Ana, you could comfortably have created 2 posts from this one! Very detailed and answered a lot of the questions I had about Analytics – the Google.com referral has always been a baffling one. If images are part of Google.com referral, which one is images.google.com referral? I also get googleads.g.doubleclick.net as referral. I used the free Adwords promotional code a long time ago but that’s since exhausted and when I kept seeing this after that, I closed my Adwords account for fear of being charged, yet I still get these. Any chance Google is giving me a free Adwords campaign? 🙂
My site just hit 70% in search engine traffic with 89% of that from the king. I am not in the least worried because the site is hard coded so I am in complete control of the internal links (no chance of dup content), and no Black hat SEO.
I think I will enjoy it while it lasts and if a crazy algorithm change happens tomorrow, all the people that found my site through the search engines will become direct visitors! 🙂 A good percentage of my search engine keywords are different forms of my website address anyway; a lot of people still type web addresses into the search box instead of in the address bar … so hopefully, it would be a smooth transition. 😉
If your content sucks, so will your traffic … Word!
Now I can’t wait to read the next installment of the series.
Images.google.com will definitely fall under Google.com referral traffic, Maky – most miscellaneous Google properties would.
googleads.g.doubleclick.net is definitely a Google Adwords referral; I am not sure if you are getting a freebie (wouldn’t that be great!) or GA is tracking something incorrectly.
Love your attitude on search engine traffic – why not!
Another great post Ana, thanks for taking the time to put this one together.
At the moment, Google is my number one source (referral). I was even surprised but Facebook and Twitter are following right behind. Then I have my blogging friends along with other referral traffic. But you know, it can always be better. Will have to definitely look into more of what you’ve shared and take a look at some areas with my blog that could use some improving. And there are a few.
Thank you again for this post. As always, more great information to share with us.
Google is your number one referral traffic source, huh? That’s a bit unusual, Adrienne – did you try to look up the sources for that traffic?
Erin Smith says
Interesting about the 40% of traffic from search engine… I’ve been working on SEO lately and I got up to 23%… I’ve got some more work to do! Thanks for this post, I love how you break down traffic and also your own blog statistics.
You are so welcome, Erin.
23% is a respectable number, providing that the keywords that bring that traffic are on target, of course.
Welcome to my blog, Larry. I sure hope that in reading my blog you will learn many helpful tips.
Linda Esposito ( says
Wow! I now know why I need to visit your blog every Monday when I tend to have the most brain cells.
OK–a lot of this is was above my Luddite-challenged inner tech-y, but #2 resonated. It makes sense to utilize as many Google functions as possible to increase traffic generation.
Hmmm–maybe I’ll break up with Flickr and hit up Google images…;).
Thanks, Ana! Hope you have a wonderful week,
Lol, Linda! 😀
Thanks for stopping by.
Maky | Nigerian Food Recipes says
Hi Linda, you don’t have to break up with Flickr, Google indexes the images on your site when they crawl your site. You just have to tell Google (and other search engines) what your image is about using the “alt” tags in the html codes. That way, Google will display your images in the results when the searched-for keyword matches or closely matches the description in your image alt tags.
Also using your keywords in the names of your images is a good way to be found through Google images.
Great and concise explanation, Maky; thanks for stepping in.
Didn’t know that too much traffic can be “not good” – I mean search engine traffic. I get 61.7% of it. Hmm… that’s surely something I need to be very careful about. Referring sites – 20%, Direct traffic -17%.
Certainly doesn’t mean you need to scale down on your search engine traffic, Jane; you are doing great with it!
Just means you need to start working on your direct and referral traffic a bit more and with your networking abilities, that shouldn’t be a big problem for you.
You always want to have your search traffic and referral traffic to be about in the same place..50/50. You never want to have all your eggs in one basket..that’s a no no
“Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”
Remember those are not the only areas for traffic generation. You don’t want all your eggs in two baskets only either 🙂
Chris the Traffic Blogger says
Ouch, I have to disagree with you for the first time! My wow blog site gets 60% traffic from google, mainly because it ranks #1 for several hot topics in the niche. Since the game is volatile and players often leave and rejoin the community by the thousands, having such a hold on google is crucial to my business.
That being said, I understand where you are coming from and why it’s important to have so many other sources of traffic outside of google’s search engine.
Shouldn’t be the last time, Chris – that’s what makes blogging such a good discussion platform. 🙂
I DO absolutely love traffic from Google. My point of course was that as your Google traffic grows, so should your other traffic sources.
Cristian @ Blogging Tips says
Wow, you get quite some traffic from Twitter.
Diversifying the traffic sources is very important. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I remember John Chow being banned from Google a few years back, but still making good money online due to the fact that he was still getting a nice percent of traffic from referring sites or direct hits.
Exactly my point, Cristian.