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The What’s What of Your Website Traffic Sources


I like to think of our website as a destination that people come from far and wide to reach.  When I think of it that way, the importance of tracking your website traffic sources becomes clearer. It’s helpful to know how our visitors reach their destination (our site), so we can work to ensure that all inbound pathways are as direct and accessible as possible.  We want a maximum number of high quality roads leading web users to us, true? Understanding the different sources of web traffic (i.e., the different kinds of roads that lead to our site) can assist us in improving our inbound marketing strategies.

1) Organic Search

In general “organic search traffic” refers to the traffic that comes to your website from someone using a search engine. This has become a little more complicated since 2011, however, when Google introduced SSL encryption. So, let’s look at the before and after, or, more accurately, the then and now significance of “organic search traffic” data.  Prior to this 2011 change, website administrators could access certain details about how web users had reached their site. Specifically, they could see which keywords brought users to their site. For example, we could have determined that you came to Sozialia by searching “SEO Tips” or “inbound marketing strategy.” Naturally, this would have provided us with a lot of great data for developing our campaigns, keywords, and content. Now, however, whenever a user is logged into a Google account (e.g., gmail), their searches are encrypted. We can no longer access information about what keywords they used to find us. Clearly, this limits the control that “organic search traffic” gives us in our marketing efforts. If, for a high percentage of searches, we don’t know what keywords successfully drove traffic to our site, we can’t adjust or refine our efforts. Keep this in mind when collecting or analyzing organic search traffic data.

2) Referrals

This does not mean visitors who find your website because one of your beloved customers or clients told them how AMAZING you are. We’re sure there are many of those, but in this context “referrals” means traffic that comes to your site via an inbound link on another site. Depending on how you track the sources of traffic to your site, the qualifications of “inbound link” could change.

Your tracking software or tool may consider links from social media sites as referrals, or it may track these separately, as we will discuss further below. Subdomain links, too, can be considered referral links or can be categorized separately. For example, for us, links to Sozialia from our blog subdomain are considered referrals.

Links on third-party domains are always tracked as referrals. This data can be great if you’re trying to identify where you could build successful co-marketing relationships, SEO partnerships, and/or guest blogging opportunities.

Make sure you establish what qualifies as referral traffic and what doesn’t for your particular tracking software or tool.

3) Social Media

People who come to your site through a link on a social network will be tracked as part of your social media traffic (again, depending on your tracking software/tool). When someone tweets a link to your site or you post a link on your Facebook page, users who click on that link qualify as social media traffic.  Don’t forget that when you post links on your social media, you can include a tracking token to deliver even more detailed data for analysis.

There are many sources beyond Twitter and Facebook that are considered social media.  Don’t forget Pintrest, Linkedin, StumbleUpon, Squidoo, and others. Make sure you know what sites are contributing to your social media traffic by checking the qualifications on your tracking software/tool.

4) Email Marketing

When you launch an email marketing campaign, you do include links in your email that lead recipients to your website, right? Right??

Analyzing the traffic that your site receives through email marketing will help you craft and run more and more effective email campaigns. You’ll see which emails worked and which didn’t. Make sure you include tracking tokens in the links of your email. Without these, traffic generated from these links may not be categorized correctly.

5) Paid Search

Running a PPC campaign through a PPC provider, such as Google, is another way to drive traffic to your site. Your tracking software or tool will classify this traffic separately so you can track how successful your campaign was. Again, make sure you have tracking tokens in place so this traffic is classified correctly.  Also, don’t forget that the success of these campaigns is also determined by whether or not traffic converts, not just how much traffic was generated.

6) Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is traffic that reaches your site without any referring URL; i.e., without coming through some other channel first. Clicking on an external link to would not qualify as direct traffic, even though the link is directly to our main homepage. This traffic would be classified, depending on where that external link was located, either as referral traffic or as social media traffic. There are users, however, who go right to their search bar and type in This would qualify as direct traffic, since they were not redirected to our site from a different location.

Once you’ve considered all the routes by which users reach your website, you can begin strategizing about how to increase traffic from any single source.  You can also set some priorities about which website traffic sources you want to focus on. Keeping an eye on your traffic count is great, but its infinitely better if you understand what those numbers mean and how to take them into account when measuring performance and building strategy.

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