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Understand Your Site’s Traffic

This guest post is by John Burnside of moneyin15minutes.co.uk.

When people arrive at your blog, they’ve all come from somewhere on the World Wide Web. They could have found you on a search engine, they could have known about your site already, or they could have come from any one of a million other places.

But all of these different types of visitors have a certain frame of mind when they visit your site. Almost always, they will have a different reason for coming to your site. In this post, I’m going to explore those reasons from a psychological perspective so that we can understand the actions people generally tend to perform when they come to your site from a certain traffic source.

Search engine traffic

When people find a site through the search engines, they’re generally looking for answers to a specific question, or information on a certain topic.

Consider the very nature of search engines: you type in what you want, and hopefully the answer comes up. This means that visitors who come from the search engines are likely to be visitors who want to stay and read your content to find the answers they were looking for. If they don’t find those answers in your content, they may find the answer in one of your ads. In general, this means that you’ll tend to get higher ad clickthrough rates from search engine visitors.

A study performed by iProspect showed that in recent years, people have begun to trust the results from search engines, and this can have a knock-on effect for your site. If you are at the top of the search results for a particular search term, that can increase the awareness around your brand.

This study also showed that if you are the number one for a particular keyword then a small majority of people will perceive you as an authority in your niche. This can affect the way that people react when they come to your site. If you are perceived as having a good brand before new visitors come to your site, then you already have a small element of trust from them—and that might encourage them to do things like sign up to your emailing list or your feed.

Direct traffic

Direct traffic is traffic that comes from people typing your website address directly into their address bar. This is a good form of traffic because if people already know your website address, that means that your site was memorable enough for users to recall it.

Because this type of traffic consists almost entirely of past visitors, you know these people are coming to your website to see what your latest content is. That means that the probability of this kind of traffic clicking on your ads is low, because they may have ad blindness (a topic I mentioned in one of my other guest posts about click through rates).

What they are likely to do, if they haven’t already, is to get more involved in your blog by joining your various social networking groups and subscribing to your blog feed. Also, users coming to your site as direct traffic are the most likely to leave comments on your posts, because they want to try and shape their favorite blog a little with their own personalities.

Social media traffic

The psychology around the whole social media revolution always seems to fall back on the desire of the user to be noticed and have their own personal space online. There are some very interesting points made in this article which discusses what people are looking for when they are searching on social media sites.

The gist of it is that people who use social media either want to be sociable with friends or to be entertained. This usually leads to high bounce rates for those types of visitors, because once they’ve seen your blog, they’ve got their quick entertainment and are ready to move on. This is a particular issue on sites like stumbleupon, where users are encouraged to quickly flit from one site to the next.

The thing that social media traffic is good for, however, is getting your content to go viral. Because of these users’ tendency to quickly browse from one site to the next, if someone does find something that they really like, they’ll share it. As soon as you get people talking about your content, product, image, and so on, they will spread it for you, because it’s entertaining or particularly useful.

Referral traffic

There are some similarities between referral traffic and social media traffic but I have made the distinction because I believe there is a difference in being told about something by a friend or being told about something by a web developer.

When you’re told about something by a friend, you’re generally going to check it out, because you want to see what information or fun it can give you, rather than because you trust the friend’s advice. If a web developer that you trust tells you about it, you are going to look at it in almost the same way, except that this time the advice is coming from a trusted professional. It is a little bit like being told about an illness by a doctor and a friend who has read about the illness in a book. You trust both, but somehow you will edge towards the doctor’s opinion.

That analogy doesn’t work for all kinds of referral traffic, however. When you click through a link in a blog roll, for example, you trust that the blog owner has chosen a good partner site, and you are going on the anchor text keywords provided.

Traffic that comes to your site in this way is much more likely to have a higher bounce rate, and lower interactivity with your site, because these users don’t have much information to go on before they visit. If, on the other hand, they’re being referred by a link in the content or a link from a guest author, then they’re much more likely to stay because they have heard from a trusted source (the referring blog owner) that site has something useful on it, or they are interested in more of what the guest author has to say.

For these last two types of referral traffic—guest posts and in-text links—the most likely things these visitors will do is read a bit of your content to see if that helps them. If it does, they may be encouraged to interact with your site by signing up to your Twitter account, RSS feed, and so on. The key with referral traffic is that you have to either catch the visitor’s interest, or answer a question that they have, before they will add you to their social network.

Paid advertising

I won’t say much about this form of traffic because it is very similar to search engine traffic from a psychological perspective—but it does have one key difference.

People who click on these links don’t mind clicking on ads. There are some people who refuse on principle to click on any ads; others who don’t want to will do so on the odd occasion. But a visitor who comes to you through an ad is likely to click on ads on your site. There is the problem, however, that if they have already clicked on one link and not found the answer to their question, they will click away. This is why most people who use paid advertising do it with one-page sites that contain instant and direct calls to action.

Which traffic methods are for you?

Each of these different traffic generation methods has its uses and, depending on what direction you would like your blog to take, you should target each appropriately.

If you’re after new visitors, and you’d like more advertising clicks, then target search engine traffic. But if you would like to have more email sign ups and blog interaction, then I would suggest seeking referral traffic through, for example, guest posting. This way is the best to ensure that you get traffic that is already interested in both blogs in general and, more specifically, your topic.

For a more specific type of blog, like a photo or video blog, social media traffic is probably your best bet because visual content can attract a lot of attention from the difficult-to-please social media audience, who are, after all, often looking for distractions.

Have you found any particular trends to come out of your traffic from different sources? Can you think of any other sources of traffic that have different behaviours from these?

This post was written by John Burnside, an expert in the making money and Internet marketing niche. To read more of his content or find out about ways to make money online, please follow him on Twitter @moneyin15.

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Comments

  1. Miss GOP says:

    As a new blogger, I haven’t been able to get search engine traffic yet. Posts like this are helpful, though, in giving me a new perspective.

    Thanks!

  2. I write a photography blog and I see mostly direct and referring site traffic, which I was okay with initially, but now I actually have a direction I want to take my blog and I’m happy to see that although referring sites (social media most likey) is still the bulk of my traffic, search engine traffic is climbing too. I attribute the change to a greater focus on search engine optimization, which I’m learning about through other blogs posts and books.

    This post has helped clarify a section of Google Analytics that I’ve been watching for a while. Thank you. It would be nice to be able to link this to that section to revisit later; but I guess re-tweeting will have to do :)

    Enjoy your day!

  3. Jeff Goins says:

    This was good. It may be fodder for another post altogether, but I’ve found that looking at bounce rates, most-read content, and average time on site are also helpful indicators of your blog’s success.

  4. As my wife writes her mommy blog, we often work together to determine what the headline of each article she writes should be. Sometimes our headlines are all SEO-centric, other times its tailored for the social engager, and sometimes they’re just outrageous for digg and reddit :) The mix is good- keeping the eggs in more han one basket.

  5. PauliusR says:

    It’s always good to start learning from the basics and it’s a good induction for a start-up blogger, but I would like to read more in-depth articles about specific methods for each medium, rather than all-in-one general information.

  6. Chris says:

    I think it is wise to maintain a equal amount of traffic from all sources. You never want to put all your traffic sources in one basket.

  7. My search engine traffic has the best bounce rate: 18% for march 3011 vis-a-vis 60% all traffic sources combined :-)

  8. Allen Walker says:

    All of them are good sources of traffic, but it’s good to mix as well. :)

    You never know what could happen to a traffic source overnight.

    • I agree with you Allen. I used to only rely on search engines. But once I saw my hits increase by combining methods, I saw my hits spike in an impressive way. I think it’s a matter of learning which to use what with. (I don’t always Stumble every blog post I write, but I share just about every link on Twitter or FB.)

  9. There is nothing more targeted and powerful than organic search engine traffic. It’s targeted and the people that click through are actually looking for what you have to offer and often ready to close or click through. Currently about 70% of my traffic is from Google… I want more.

  10. I actually get my lowest bounce rates from blog comments.

    My strategy is simple, I usually comment on CommentLuv enabled websites, and I try to match the CommentLuv displayed article title with the topic of the article I’m commenting on. To me, blog comments are like mini-articles. And when CommentLuv displays your article title, it’s like the resource box. In any case, it works for me.

  11. Katie says:

    For me, I get most of my traffic through social sites like Twitter along with social bookmarking sites. It’s interesting to see where your traffic is coming from. Once you know, you can really focus on that platform.

  12. Jos says:

    Could you elaborate on the difference between referral and NON-referral traffic?

  13. Jos says:

    (I want to clarify my comment.) Could you elaborate on the difference between referral and NON-referral traffic? Some statistical tools provide data on nonreferring links, i.e. people who come directly to your blog landing on a particular page (e.g. homepage, etc.). This could be similar to someone typing your site address into their address bar but may not be entirely the same thing. For example, some followers may have your blog saved in their bookmarks OR type the name of your site or its url into the search engines search box. Direct traffic could be a nonreferring link but some statistical tools do not list them as “direct”. So, is there really a difference between nonreferring link and direct traffic?

  14. I use all of these methods. Not always the paid advertising. Only about twice a year to coincide with the bigger contests I run. Helps to get the word of mouth out with. But my referring sites, which includes social media sites like FB, Twitter and StumbleUpon net me the most traffic. Amazingly, StumbleUpon leads the way in a BIG way. It is by far my number one referring site. The downside of all that is my bounce rate IS high. Haven’t figured out how to slice that pie yet. But I’m working on it. Great post.

  15. hmm as a new blogger, I haven’t been able to get search engine traffic yet.but i am trying to make my blog more search engines friendly :)

  16. Tilen says:

    I think that traffic from search engines works the best for advertising purposes. If you write some nice and relevant articles with high-paying keywords then visitors from search engines will more likely to click on these ads than your readers. This is good for niche sites and blogs that focus on ads. On the other hand, your readers and direct traffic is good for affiliate marketing because you gain some trust and readership so your recommendations will reach more audience and potential buyers or referrals.

  17. Togrul says:

    This is very informative post. Many bloggers need this piece of information nowadays.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Togrul

  18. This question may sound obvious, but no one else has asked it yet… which method seems to be the easiest/quickest for gaining the most relevant followers? Thanks.

    • In my opinion, Twitter is great for gaining relevant followers. Twitter is an interesting thing to study; people usually follow all the people who are follow a certain person. For instance, if you like John Burnside and you follow him on Twitter, and you happen to have content similar to his (financial advice), then you could follow the people who follow him.

      After that, they may or may not follow back, but if they do, and you post your links on Twitter often, then you may get people interested in John Burnside interested in your Tweets now.

      It’s not as complicated as it sounds, perhaps I’m just bad at explaining things.

      But you could also do the same on Facebook and other social networking sites.

      In my experience, paid advertising is not the way to go for quick/easy followers, because it requires a budget which not all new bloggers have. And referral traffic only arrives after you’ve gotten some initial traffic, so it’s not really possible to start with referral traffic. Same with direct traffic.

      So it comes between search engine traffic and social media traffic. If you have the time to learn SEO (search engine optimization) then go for it, but social media traffic in my opinion is much easier to start with.

      Hope that helps :)

    • It depends a lot on your blog and niche – you have to experiment and see what works best for you.

      That being said, I’ve found that building relationships with other blogs in my niche, leading to referral traffic, tends to be the best source of traffic that sticks.

  19. Justin says:

    I’m still learning to use Google Analytics tool to help me better understand my visitors. If a visitor goes to one page and then leaves after that page then it will show up as 00.00 time on your site which isn’t true.

  20. I’m curious as to where some of my traffic comes from. My stats seem to change quite drastically. I’ve been averaging 100 visits per day for about two weeks and yesterday I peaked at 730 visits. Today I am back in the 100 range. Confusing!!! LOL Any ideas as to why? I can’t seem to find any reason on my own or find any links that are referring them.

    Thanks

  21. Terrific article. It is very important to tweak your website by looking at the search queries that brought you traffic consistently. If the content those surfers were looking is easily accessible they will hopefully become your regular reader.

    Moreover, another type of traffic is your subscribers. You should keep an eye on which article brought you more subscribed visitor as that way you can tweak your articles, especially title, to have loyal readers not lose interest.

    Regards,
    Mac
    Team – Free Calls Hub

  22. Dan Padavona says:

    Nice article John. I like to look at search engine traffic to determine if my site is rising or falling in ranking with Google, etc. The general traffic goes through spikes, such as if someone Digg’s me are Stumble’s me, or another blog links to me. But I feel like search engine traffic is the traffic I can depend on, day in and day out.

  23. Rahul says:

    I get my traffic through the social networks like facebook and twitter. Very good article. Thanks :)

  24. Lea Sadler says:

    I agree with Chris — you’ll have a lot more reliable traffic overall if you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, when it comes to where you’re trying to get your traffic from. It’s kind of like having multiple streams of income — if something happens to one or two streams of traffic, you won’t be as badly affected if you have several other streams at the same time.

  25. Deepak says:

    As a website owner I am been looking and trying to understand how exactly the traffic comes to the website and this article has described the entire ways thru which we expect and get traffic. I am planning to implement all the possible ways to create ways to increase traffic on my website.

    Thanks for this awesome article.

  26. WPDesire says:

    In depends upon the niche of my blog – sometimes referral traffic matters the most over SEO traffic. In my experience I totally focus on SEO/organic traffic – because that is where the dough is :)

  27. What an explosive article. I use all types of traffic source and i work at it every week to increase on the traffic sources. I’ve come to find out that search engine and social media traffic plays a vital role in all

  28. blogtips says:

    Search engines traffic is most important traffic. For these we have write more and more contents and daily update the website.

  29. Thanks for the useful breakdown of traffic types John!

    Any special tips for boosting search engine traffic?

    Read Aloud Dad

  30. ScorpionGod says:

    What a great coverage about Traffic types. Sooo Nice. I’m in a doubt about referral Traffic, Because I get some traffic from google mentioning little as referral and some as mentioning Organic.I don’t know why that is.

  31. Richard says:

    Never thought about traffic that way – thanks…a little off topic, but I would like to see a post on traffic time as it relays to sources…when each of those types of groups would tend to use the Internet and therefore would tend to visit my site.

    I suspect each group surfs the Internet at different times of the day which might give me the ability to know when to tweet my posts for the social media folks, post new content for my direct traffic folk and so on…

  32. Guy Hogan says:

    Thanks for the insights. Now I can study my traffic with a better understanding of what it all means.

  33. ScorpionGod says:

    Great explanation. Like it. Learned about Domain authority much. Never known before. thank you very much

  34. Rajib Kumar says:

    I get most of the traffic from search engine. I have fan in facebook almost 100, in twitter 125, digg 90 but i didn’t get any traffic form these Social media. I don’t know why this is happining. Ok,
    This is very informative post as well as great. Thanks for share such a nice articles.

  35. I also get most of my traffic from facebook and online searches as well. However my organic traffic is lacking! It seems the more fingers you have out there the more traffic you will have coming in. Just a lot of work IMO. Thanks for a killer article

  36. Great article! I hadn’t even thought of the fact that people arriving through ads are more likely to click ads on your own page as well, I have to admit it’s logical :)

    I seem to get quite many direct hits, but they point directly to posts, which is strange since nobody probably remembers those addresses, so maybe I’m just reading the statistics incorrectly. Or perhaps it has something to do with browser favourites, feed-readers or something…

  37. Jim says:

    This an excellent post, giving the right path to follow and it is never a bad thing to come back to this from time to time to make sure I doing right.

    Thank you

  38. Very interesting article.

    I have a question for whoever can help me out.

    The majority of my traffic comes from search engines but the bounce rate is high. I’m trying to understand this. Let’s assume the bounce rate is 60%…that means 6/10 people click away from the site before reading the content (that they were searching for). Why is this? Users search for a term, click on a link that takes them to an article about the keyword they searched for but they immediately click away. That makes no sense to me.

    Any explanations would be helpful!

  39. Fahmi says:

    Actually, the visitors love unique contens. We should choose the higher keyword to boost in search engines, because every one love quality traffic to his/her website or blog.

  40. Jospeh says:

    this tips are very useful they can be useful for a bloggers or forums admins or anyone who wants to get more traffic to his website actually i liked it a lot.

    alqudseyes

  41. Great post.

    Roughly 60+% of my visitors come via search engines. With that in mind, I pay close attention to the words that draw traffic and try to expand or use a variety of keywords and keyword terms to grow my audience within my niche…which is photography blogs.

    One think that’s interesting in reviewing my data is the dominance Google has in the search field. While I understand Google is king, the results for Yahoo and Bing are almost non-existent. Not sure if I naturally write to Google’s standards or just that nobody uses the other search engines.

  42. Michael says:

    I just installed google analytics and I’m still figuring out how to use it. Good tips, though!

  43. George Tee says:

    Hi john. I find your post very useful. I agree that search engine traffic are one of the best way to promote your business. Today, most people rely on search engines to find answers and gain relevant information.

  44. Thank you so much for this article. I gives me a much better understanding of all of those Google Analytics figures I’ve been looking at for eons.
    The vast bulk of my traffic comes via organic searches, but I do have a good chunk of traffic coming in via referrals. The main difference I’ve noticed between the two types of traffic in general is a (sometimes significantly) higher bounce rate from search traffic. I’m suspecting that could be that readers find the info they want when they come in via search and leave, but those bounce rates seemed to have improved a bit over recent months. I’m wondering if the effort I’ve made into making sure I have some related and internal links to other articles about similar subjects on my site has helped in this regard.