Analytics and Traffic Sources

Most of these posts that I write are directly inspired by questions and confusions that come up in client interactions. And for good reason, digital marketing is not only confusing, but it’s ever-evolving, which makes it even more… well… confusing. Organic search, direct traffic and referral traffic are traffic channels you see inside your website analytics.

When we’re talking about traffic sources from an SEO perspective, we’re really trying to address 3 main channels – there are more but these are the top channels you will see. I’m going to go down the list as they appear in one of our larger clients analytics for a sense of hierarchy. Here are some channels and a tip for each.

Organic Search

Organic search is traffic that comes from search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Netscape😏).

A few things to note when you see someone came to your site through organic search:

  • This is one of the main traffic sources for almost all of our clients.
  • Organic traffic can be the hardest to attract as it involves a lot of competition.
  • It’s not easy to move up the ranks of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • You’re competing with other sites in an organic fashion as well as competing with paid search advertising.
  • Capturing organic search is why SEO is so important.

A few tips for organic searches:

  • You may need to dig deeper to better understand the searches being queried – many organic searches are incredibly close to direct traffic. 
  • You need to rank for more keywords and phrases than just your company name or URL. Focus on keywords including the long-tail phrases you are tired of me talking about.


Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is traffic that comes to your website but that doesn’t come from any other channel. That’s probably not what you were expecting. Keep reading to find out more or click here to check out our video on Direct Traffic.

A few things to note when you see someone came to your site through Direct Traffic:

  • The main source of Direct traffic is most likely people typing in your URL directly into their Search bar. But it’s so much more.
  • A lot of Direct Traffic is traffic coming from some email clients. Some email clients don’t transmit the appropriate data to be considered email traffic.
  • A ton of direct traffic is traffic from clicks on things like case studies, white papers, infographics and other interactive PDF materials. 
  • Direct Traffic can just be traffic that can not be otherwise categorized. 🤷‍♂️

A few tips for Direct Traffic:

  • Use UTMs. UTM or Urchin Tracking Module snippets allow you to customize your traffic sources to ensure that lost traffic doesn’t end up here by mistake. Click here for more info and some directions on using UTM’s
  • The majority of this traffic can be your most valuable audience. Whether they are typing your URL into the search bar, clicking links in interactive PDFs, have you bookmarked, or are any number of other random sources, these are people, who know you exist and are coming in search of something. Make sure you are prepared to give it to them!

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is mostly going to be made up by links from other domains.  It is traffic that was sent to your site from some other site. Analytics typically knows where your audience was just before they came to your site.

A few things to note when you see someone came to your site through Referral Traffic:

  • Referral traffic is a very probable culprit for analytics spam. 
  • Think of a referral as a recommendation (unless you have reason not to) from a site to yours or another business to yours.
  • Referral traffic is a strong influencer for search engine optimization because it reveals a high level of informational authority or thought leadership.

A few tips for Referral Traffic:

  • Use analytics to find out who your referrers are. These are business allies. Identify them and leverage them and be really kind to them.
  • We recommend creating filters in analytics for domain referrals to help identify and ignore referral traffic and keep in mind that you may have to stay on top of this.

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