When you first open up Google Analytics it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data that the software presents to you about your website traffic.

    There’s information about everything, from the type of device users, their browser, their location and language, even their age and gender. There are details about the pages that they arrive on, the clicks that they make once they find themselves there, and the amount of time they spend on each page before clicking off somewhere else.

    It can be a lot to take in all at once, but in today’s post we’re going to concentrate on just one aspect of the Google Analytics page – website traffic sources – and explain a little bit more about what the categories of website traffic are, what you should be aiming for in each category, and how you can improve your performance if your figures aren’t up to scratch.

    Four Types of Website Traffic


    Google Analytics divides the website traffic that arrives on your site into four groups:

    • Direct Traffic
    • Referral Traffic
    • Search Traffic
    • Campaign Traffic

    Each category tracks incoming visitors, with the distinction between each being the way in which a visitor arrives on your site.

    Direct Traffic

    Direct Traffic is the category of visitors who arrive on your site by either entering the site URL in their browser manually or by clicking on a bookmark to your site they have made previously. Generally, though not always, direct website traffic represents visitors who have been to your site before. In some circumstances this may not be the case – for example, a visitor might have been told about your URL by a friend and tapped it into their browser from memory, or the visitor might have noticed your URL on a billboard or poster and entered it themselves – but generally this will be traffic from people who know you already.

    Referral Traffic

    Referral Traffic is the category of visitors who arrive on your site by clicking on a link on another website. This referral website traffic might be from a blog that has reviewed your product or service, it might be from a mention in a newspaper or online magazine, it might be a click from a comment you left on an article elsewhere – the ways in which referral traffic might be directed to your site are endless, but the profile of the visitor is the same: they arrived form another website. The one place they didn’t come from, however, is a search engine or a search engine results page (SERP°. This sort of traffic falls into Google Analytic’s third category: Search Traffic.

    Search Traffic

    Search Traffic is the category of visitors that arrive on your site via a search completed on a search engine. It does not matter what the visitor was searching for (details on this, where they are shared, are available elsewhere on the Google Analytics dashboard) or what search engine the visitor used to find your site; anyone who arrives on your site via a SERP is going to be categorized as part of your site’s search website traffic.

    Campaign Traffic

    Finally, Campaign Traffic is the category of visitors that arrive on your site via a specific advertising campaign. By default, if you have a Google AdWords campaign then website traffic that arrives on the site via clicks on a Google AdWords link will be categorized here as Campaign Traffic. However, by using the Google URL building tool, it is also possible to measure non-AdWords campaigns, too. It’s a little finicky at first, but doing so can help you track precisely where your clicks are coming from, and provide you with more information about the people who are visiting your site.

    Balancing Your Website Traffic


    Analytics expert Avinash Kaushik describes the ideal breakdown of the website traffic in the following proportions:

    20% Direct Traffic: “If direct traffic is low, I worry if you are any good at customer service / retention.”
    20-30% Referral Traffic: “A healthy web strategy includes a robust amount of traffic from other sites that link to your products and services, and praise (or slam!) you, or promote you on Twitter and Facebook and forums and otherwise link to you.”
    40-50% Search Traffic: “If the number is too big it indicates an overexposure to search rankings and algorithm changes (not good at all). If it is too low you are simply leaving money on the table.”
    10% Campaign Traffic: “You want at least 10% of the traffic to be the ones you invite to your site deliberately, after solid analysis and great targeting.”

    Kaushik warns that these are general guidelines but, even then, they offer solid benchmarks as to what your website traffic should look like.

    But what if your website traffic is divided quite some proportionally? What can you do?

    Building Website Traffic in Specific Categories


    Depending on the category where you are lacking traffic you’ll need to take different steps to better balance your visitor traffic.

    You can improve your Direct Traffic by working on two things: the promotion of your URL offline, and giving visitors a reason to bookmark your site. For the former you’ll want to make sure your URL is short, easy to remember, and plastered on anything that you produce with your company’s name on it. Business cards, posters, flyers, even a sign at the local bake sale should all have your URL prominently displayed. That landing page – generally the home page – needs to be something that a visitor wants to bookmark, too, as an easy means of returning in the future. Sometimes it is a simple as inviting the visitor to bookmark your site with a click – anything that will bring them back next time works here.

    You can improve Referral Traffic by being active online and ensuring that you promote your site consistently when you are. Your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, and any other social media accounts should all include a clickable link to your site, and if you comment on a relevant blog post, media article, or are quoted in the media you should make sure to have your URL inserted there, too. Less directly, encourage others to review your products, and to talk about your products on their own pages: every time you are mentioned somewhere and that URL is linked is an opportunity for a visitor to find you by referral.

    Improving your Search Traffic means working on your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, both on-site SEO and off-site SEO. There is plenty that can be done on your site to help you rank higher for keyword search terms and if SEO is an important part of your web development strategy then you should see improvements in this category. Off-site SEO, too, is something that can help lift you in search engine rankings and get you to the first SERP on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. A strong off-site content marketing strategy can help you improve your website traffic in this category and better balance the sources of your incoming visitors.

    Finally, Campaign Traffic is perhaps the most straightforward to affect positively, though it also comes with a warning. Campaign Traffic generally involves good targeting of customers, the deployment of a Google Adwords, social media or display advertising campaign, and this costs money. If you successfully deploy an advertising campaign then you can quickly lift this proportion of your overall website traffic, but you’ll want to encourage their visitors to bookmark your site to find you the next time – and this means selective targeting and great service are necessary elements of any advertising campaign online. You want to spend money wisely, not throw it in the air and hope it falls on the heads of qualified visitors to your site.


    Google Analytics tells you a lot about who comes to your site, and the website traffic statistics tell you how they arrived there. By conferring the different categories of visitor and searching for a well-balanced proportion of visitor in each of the four Google Analytics categories you can help build the traffic to your site in a sustainable manner.

    Over to you: did you ever find your website traffic out of balance? How did you address this? Let us know in comments below or on Twitter!


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