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What Are Your Traffic Sources Telling You?

If your organization has a website, you should be using Google’s free Analytics software to monitor site traffic and campaign performance. Even if you don’t have marketing staff, Analytics is an easy way for you to get general (or highly detailed, if you prefer) information about your web properties.

One of the handiest features in Google Analytics is its breakdown of traffic sources. Almost every internet marketing campaign shares the goal of driving traffic to a website. So, a segmented measurement of your incoming traffic says a lot about the kind of traction your campaigns are getting.

Google Analytics’ Acquisition section provides some great breakdowns, beginning with the Acquisition Overview report.

You’ll see snapshots of each source’s share of your traffic, traffic volume over time, and conversion rates for any goals you’ve set up.

Let’s walk through the different traffic sources Google identifies.

Organic Search – Visitors arriving after performing a search at Google or another search engine.

Paid – Clicks from AdWords or other SEM campaigns.

Direct – Visitors who typed in your URL or had it bookmarked.

Referral – People who clicked a link to your site while browsing another site.

Social – Visitors arriving from links posted on social media platforms.

Other – Clicks on customized URLs prepared for campaign tracking (more on that below).

One menu item below the Overview Report, you’ll find the “Channels” tab, where you can drill a little deeper into channel-specific data. For example, clicking into the “Referral” Channel Grouping will present a breakdown of which sites are sending traffic to your site.

So, now you’ve got the numbers on where your traffic originated. To really understand the significance of each, let’s look at them a little more in-depth and, and see what kinds of conclusions we can draw about user intentions.


This person’s search for specific information has led them to your website, and they’re hoping you’ve got the answer to their question.

The user is highly motivated and seeking information; if they can’t find it quickly or must work to get it, they may leave the site and try elsewhere. They may not recognize the name of your company, but if your search result snippet looks useful enough, you may earn the click.

As you create new content for your website, you should carefully consider the problems your company solves and integrate the keywords and phrases associated with those problems into your writing. Having your on-site SEO basics in order is a good first step toward showing up for desired searches, but the quality of the content write is what will ultimately engage and convert your organic traffic.


A visitor who clicks on a search engine advertisement starts from the same place as an organic visitor: performing a search. This person is also offering their click to the most attractive bidder, but if they arrive at a site from an ad as opposed to an organic listing, there’s a difference of intention.

If someone is responding directly to an advertisement, they know they’re headed toward a transaction. This person has taken action knowing full well they’ll be presented an opportunity to spend money or provide contact info. They’re willing to investigate the claim of value you make in an ad. This visitor is a little warmer in terms of sales-readiness.

It’s up to you to capitalize on that intention and create the most inviting and compelling landing page possible.


Your direct visitors know your brand name and could be arriving at your site for a multitude of reasons. They could be your customers, subscribers, competitors, or (ideally) your prospects.

It’s wise to monitor details about direct visits closely. The rate at which direct visitors convert into paying customers is a good indicator of how well your branding is performing across the entire spectrum of marketing touches.

Some analytics products can tell webmasters how frequently an individual visits. For example, if someone who’s never been to our site types in “” and eventually completes a contact form, I can infer they’ve arrived after reading or hearing about Bizzuka someplace. If your company is growing, this indicator should be growing along with it.


When you have good historical data, you can anticipate the behavior of referral visitors based on the site they arrived from. It therefore makes good sense to track which sites are referring traffic to yours.

When you dig into your referral traffic, you’ll see people clicking over from a variety of places—your parent company’s site, the sites of your partners, and from news stories and other places your site has been mentioned. Over time, you can begin to identify which referral sources are most valuable, i.e. which ones are sending you the most converting traffic.

If you have control over how these links are placed, you can experiment with different copy and calls to action to learn which wording drives referral traffic.

At times, you may see new sources at the top of your referral list. This can occur when a popular site links to yours in a news article, when your local economic development office promotes your business, and so on. If you notice this kind of influx, explore ways to build a stronger relationship with the source, gaining more opportunities to get in front of their readership.


A majority of these visits come from people interacting with your brand’s social media activity. Social media can be a great way to get people reading your content and interacting with your company. If you share regularly updated content through your social accounts, use Analytics to get an overview of what channels seem to perform the best. When preparing for a social campaign, try setting up goal tracking to better measure performance across different social media platforms.


Visits appearing under the “Other” header result from e-mail clickthroughs or from special, customized links used in campaign tracking.

Use Google’s URL Builder to create custom URLs for use in your campaigns. Then, when reviewing analytics, look for the parameters you created under the “Other” tab. You can check out inbound traffic and conversion performance for several concurrent campaigns using this tool.

Go Analyze!

Now you’re ready to log in to Google Analytics and explore your traffic sources. These data will soon become a valuable part of your business decision-making, and I dare say you might have fun in the process.

Other articles linked in this post:

On-Site SEO Basics

PPC Quick Start Guide
Posts tagged “Social Media”

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