How to Play in Traffic

Posted in Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing by John Learn on 25 January 2019

Cars sitting in trafficWhether you call them "users", "unique users", "visitors" or use the more general term "Traffic", it's important that you have a good understanding of the people that are visiting your website. This starts with being aware of how they got to your site in the first place. Was it from Facebook? Google? Your paid ads? When you know where visitors are coming from, and whether those visits are generating quality leads, you can optimize your marketing efforts — and save yourself some cash!

The 6 Types of Traffic

Google Analytics classifies traffic into five different categories or "channels": Direct, Organic Search, Paid Search, Display, Referral and Social. Let's take a brief look at what each of these mean...

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic comes from "outside" of the web in some way. Generally this is a person typing your domain name into their web browser's address bar or clicking on a bookmark or link they've been emailed. These are people who already know you somehow, and knew how to get "directly" to your website.

You will often see a low bounce rate — a measurement of visitors who get to your site and "bounce" off it without doing anything else — for direct traffic. These visitors already know they want something specific from you, so they'll be looking for it. It might be a list of services, a phone number to call, or directions to your office. Often they'll arrive at your home page, rather than a landing page somewhere deeper in your site.

Organic Search Traffic

Search traffic — or, more specifically "organic" search traffic — are clicks through to your site from the search result pages on Google, Bing and other search engines. These clicks are distinguished from "paid" search traffic, which would be from an advertisement you purchased.

The bounce rate for search traffic will usually be much higher than for direct traffic. You can't see much in a search result, and unless you've got really well-written meta descriptions, people won't know whether you're the solution to their problem until they click through.

Optimizing the pages on your site so they produce quality organic search traffic is called "Search Engine Optimization" or "SEO". You may have received some emails regarding it — check your spam folder.

Paid Search Traffic

This is your advertising on search engines that you pay for. Generally these look very similar to organic search listings — so much so that you may not be able to tell the difference if you're not looking for the little "[ad]" in the corner. When you pay Google for a search ad, you're generally paying to jump to the top of the search results for specific search terms.

You will probably see some of the highest bounce rates from paid search traffic, especially if you're running a campaign with a "Maximize Clicks" bid strategy, which is what is set by default. Google will try to get you as many clicks on your ad as it possibly can — it doesn't care if those clicks are useful to you. The good news is, over time, you can optimize your target keywords, advertisements and landing pages to separate the good clicks from the bad, and make paid search an essential part of your marketing strategy.

Display Network Traffic

A "display network" is a set of websites, mobile apps and other "displays" that will show one of your advertisements. Google and Bing offer to run your search ads on their display networks as an optional feature. If you choose to do so, you will drastically increase the number of eyes ("impressions") on your ad.

Unfortunately, this means your bounce ratio from display traffic is likely going to be sky high, and it will be a challenge to improve this. If you're looking to optimize for impressions rather than clicks — trying to increase your mindshare rather than trying to generate leads — then advertising on a display network might make sense for you.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic comes from other websites that link to you. Someone may have mentioned you in a blog post on their site, or you might have a listing on yellowbook.com or a profile on quora. Someone from over there clicked on a link and found your site.

Referral traffic is the very important when it comes to search ranking, as who links to you is a major factor in how Google computes your "PageRank". The more places of authority that link to you, the earlier in the organic search results your listing will be. So when you improve your referral traffic, you'll likely improve your organic search traffic as well!

Bounce rate for referral traffic is generally pretty low. Somebody posted that link to your site because they thought it would be helpful and/or relevant.

Social (Media) Traffic

Social Traffic is really just a specialized version of referral traffic that originates from a social network like Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. It's broken out for you separately in Google Analytics because these are more fleeting in nature than website links — tweets don't last very long in the public consciousness.  That doesn't mean they're not important though!

Bounce rates will generally be marginally higher than your other referral traffic. People are on social media because they're bored, not because they are looking for something specific.

Thanks for reading. I hope you found this article a little bit useful. If you have questions on the different types of website traffic, please feel free to write me at [email protected].