Website Traffic Sources

For web site owners, understanding their site's traffic patterns, including where traffic comes from and what drives it, is crucial. Determining how visitors get to a site is vital to evaluating the effectiveness of search engine optimization and backlinking campaigns. One look at the dashboard in a service like Google Analytics can give site owners a mountain of very useful information, including a detailed overview of traffic sources. On a high level, traffic sources are typically broken down into three categories: Search Traffic, Referral Traffic and Direct Traffic.

Search Traffic

The goal of running a web site is to maintain a balance between the main internet traffic sources. This means each segment should be roughly 33%. Typically, however, search engine traffic will be higher. Search engine traffic could go as high as 50%. This is because many users, even when they know the URL of a site they frequently visit, will still simply type the site's name in the search engine's search field for convenience. This can be seen when analyzing the overall top Google searches, which are typically "Facebook", and "Facebook login". Users know the URL is "", but it's just easier to use a search engine. Speaking of Google, they are the top source for search engine traffic. Hitwise analytics determined that over 70% of the search engine traffic on the Internet is through Google and that number is growing. The competition for your search engine clicks isn't even close. The number two search engine, Yahoo, is at 14% and Bing, number three, stands at less than 10%. This means site owners desiring more search traffic need to focus their SEO efforts on Google.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is site traffic that comes from links on other web sites. Sits that refer traffic could be forums, blogs, directories like or simply other business' sites. Referral traffic should be even with all other traffic sources. In practice, however, referral traffic percentages for the average site typically fall below search engine traffic but above direct traffic. For example, this breakdown might be:

  • Search Traffic: 50%
  • Referral Traffic: 35%
  • Direct Traffic: 15%

Though it usually is the number two driver of visitors to a site, analyzing referral traffic is the key to determining whether backlinking campaigns are effective. Backlinking, also known as link building, is the practice of getting other sites to link to yours. This can be done through blogs, social media or simply asking other sites for a link exchange. The more relevant sites that refer real traffic to your site, the better your SEO strategy and backlinking plan is.

Direct Traffic

As you can guess, direct traffic is site traffic generated by a visitor typing your site's URL into their browser's address bar. Since so many web users find it more convenient to type a site's name into a browser instead of entering a full URL into an address field, direct traffic is usually the lowest-ranked source of traffic. For sites that heavily push search engine optimization and link building, direct traffic could fall below 10%. Direct traffic can be good and bad. Heavy direct traffic means your advertising campaigns are working and that your URL and site are memorable. It also means, however, that much of your traffic consists of repeat visitors. The problem with repeat visitors is that they are so used to your site that they've learned to ignore your advertisements. This "ad blindness" can be mitigated, though, by freshening the site's format periodically.

Search traffic, referral traffic and direct traffic are the three main sources of web site visitors. Site owners need to constantly monitor these factors in order to evaluate campaigns, proactively fix potential issues and continue to present an effective web presence.