For most online marketers, web traffic is everything. The more web traffic you can earn, the more visibility your products you’ll get, the more conversions you’ll see, and the more revenue your company will get as a result. Content marketing, social media marketing, and other inbound marketing techniques are all developed as ways to increase this volume of traffic, but unless you have a way to objectively measure your increases and determine which strategies are effective for increasing them, you’ll be operating blind, with no real insight into what makes your campaigns tick.
There are four main types of traffic that will be coming to your website, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with all of them: direct traffic, referral traffic, organic traffic, and social traffic. By segmenting your efforts and measuring them against each other, you’ll be able to figure out the core strengths and weaknesses of your business and make the adjustments necessary to keep growing your revenue year after year.
Small business owners and new entrepreneurs sometimes invest in a marketing campaign, either in money or in time, without any formal plan for how to measure the results. Measuring your results, objectively, is the only way to improve your campaign in the future, and it’s the only way to measure your return on investment (ROI), so you can know exactly how profitable your campaign is. For example, if your traffic is growing slowly but your ROI is exceptionally high, you’ll know to invest more money into your campaign, and you’ll grow faster as a result. If your ROI is dwindling and your traffic patterns are unpredictable, you’ll need to analyze what’s wrong and make adjustments before you start losing money.
Analyzing the fluctuations in your four main sources of web traffic can help you understand the scope of your campaign and possible areas for improvement.
Direct traffic is composed of users who found your site by plugging in your URL directly into their browser. People who found you this way must have had some prior knowledge of your brand—otherwise they wouldn’t have known to plug in a direct URL. Oftentimes, this is the result of a previous website experience, but it is possible to get new visitors in the direct traffic pool, especially if you use printed advertising to advertise your domain.
Few digital strategies can optimize for direct traffic, since the main sources of online traffic are from search engines, social syndication and referral links. However, repeat traffic in the form of direct visits is a good indicator of whether your website is impressive enough to encourage visitors to come back for more. Even if you don’t use printed advertising, monitor your direct traffic closely, especially in comparison with your other traffic sources. If you find that you’re getting insufficient repeat traffic, you might want to step up your efforts to encourage revisits.
Referral traffic is based on users who found your site through external links, such as affiliate links or links from external press releases. Obviously, not all external links are equal, so it’s important to pay close attention to which link sources are earning you the most traffic. For instance, if you notice the bulk of your referral traffic is coming from one specific guest posting opportunity, you should consider stepping up your efforts accordingly. Or, if you notice one of your affiliate links declining in popularity, you might want to find an alternative source of traffic.
Some of your referral traffic might be out of your control—such as links that your infographics or viral content attracted naturally—but for the most part, you have strict control over which of your links are syndicated and where. Keep a close eye on your link profile as well to ensure that your links are getting the greatest possible visibility.
Your organic traffic is the traffic that finds your site after performing a search, either using branded or non-branded terms. If you’re running a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you can consider it responsible for the size and relevance of your organic traffic. The more effort you put into optimizing your site for search engines, the higher you’ll rank, and the more organic traffic you’ll begin to see as a result.
If you’re just starting an SEO campaign, it’s normal for your first few months to see only minimal activity. It isn’t until a few months into a campaign that your momentum truly starts to build. However, for as long as your efforts remain consistent, you should see exponential increases in your traffic, month over month. If you notice a sharp drop in organic traffic, it could be the result of a soft penalty from Google or a negative backlink that’s dragging you down. Keep an eye out for such anomalies, and use them as launch points to perform thorough campaign audits and recover quickly.
Finally, you’ll take a look at social traffic. As you might suspect, this is all the traffic that is generated from your and other social media profiles, such as your Facebook page or Twitter account. It’s worthwhile to take a look at the individual links and posts that led to the greatest percentage of social visits—if you notice trends, such as post subject matter or time of day, pursue more posts that follow suit to increase your numbers.
Like with organic traffic, you can expect this number to grow slowly at first. However, if you ratchet up your efforts consistently, you’ll see explosive growth, month after month. Adding more social media profiles to your repertoire and focusing on positive engagement with your core audience can lead to greater following numbers and eventually more traffic as a result.
You don’t need any fancy tools or subscriptions to measure and analyze this information. It’s all available in Google Analytics, which is free and relatively easy to set up for your site. Once you start pulling information based on the integration code, you’ll be able to log in and check out all this data under the “Acquisition” tab. There, you’ll be able to get a general overview of your stats, with charts comparing each channel against the others, or drill down to each individual channel in order to learn more information about the type of traffic that’s coming through that channel, such as bounce rates, and whether the traffic is composed of repeat visitors.
While it’s important to review your information regularly, it’s also important not to go overboard. Daily fluctuations can be wild and inexplicable, and forming assumptions or taking actions based on such limited data could lead you in an inefficient direction. Instead, try to look at broader trends that develop over time, usually over the course of a month, before you make any major decisions about the future of your campaign.
As you learn more information about the demographics that favor each channel, you’ll also be able to perfect your targeting strategy, refining your messaging to optimize for conversions and ultimately making the most of the traffic you’re getting—a step beyond just increasing your traffic numbers.