Google Analytics is one of the most popular tracking tools around. With just an account and a piece of code copy-pasted on your website, you can unlock a variety of stats and metrics that virtually tell you everything about your site: who uses it, what are the most popular pages, and what you need to do to improve it.
One key metric Google Analytics tracks is your website traffic. At first glance, it’s simply the number of visitors your website attracts, either in real-time or during a particular time frame you are interested in.
But there are a lot of different traffic sources that this tool tracks, each holding a different piece of the overall traffic puzzle. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the main sources of traffic that Google Analytics tracks, and why it’s important to pay attention to each.
1. Paid Search
Paid search traffic is the total visitors a website gets from an ad on the search network. If you want to run a search ad, you’ll obviously have a link that appears on the search engine results page (SERP) every time a user types the keywords you bid on.
It can take months to boost organic search traffic. Paying Google to take your link on top of a page is a good strategy to get around that. These ads will be marked as ads, meaning the user, if paying attention, can tell the difference between what’s an organic result and what’s an ad. But, overall they look rather similar to organic search results. Paid ads give you more opportunities to reach your prospects and get them to click on your content.
When a user clicks on the ad and goes to your website, Google counts that as “paid search traffic.” It’s important to monitor this metric because, in the end, it’s traffic you’re directly paying for.
If this metric doesn’t improve, it most likely means the ad is not delivering as it should. There may be some problems with:
- The ad copy
- The link
- The keywords (as they may not be as relevant as you initially thought).
These signs can appear almost in real-time, giving you plenty of opportunities to fix the ad well before you’ve spent all your budget on something that doesn’t work.
2. Display Ads
Google lets you run paid advertisements outside of the Search Network and offers another type of network to potentially show your ads: the Display Network.
The GDN is a group of more than 2 million websites, videos, and apps where your ads can potentially appear. Google reports its display network can reach around 90% of internet users worldwide, so it’s definitely a potentially fruitful market.
You’ve likely seen a GDN ad without even realizing it before. Have you ever used an app, tapped a few items, only to be greeted by an ad in the form of a banner or even a video? That’s a GDN ad.
These ads leverage Google’s own network to help you reach another audience, one that may not be typing in your keywords in the search bar. When a user is compelled by your ad to find out more, they can click (or tap on mobile) on the ad and be taken to your landing page.
At that moment, Google considers it Display Ad traffic.
3. Direct Traffic
Direct traffic occurs when a user visits your website with little to no outside help. They know your website so well that they type in your address themselves. Other sources of direct traffic include clicking on a link in a document, for example, a PDF file or clicking on a link in an email or an app.
Getting direct traffic takes a lot of time. Users who type-in your website directly have obviously interacted with you before and have an explicit interest to visit your site again.
If Google Analytics can’t recognize the source of a visit, it will mark it as direct traffic. For example, if someone clicks on a link in a bookmark and Google can’t identify the source, then it will label it as direct traffic.
Because direct traffic is so difficult to pin down it can be problematic for business owners who are trying to understand where their traffic is coming from and why. The two main causes of direct traffic are HTTPS migrations and redirect deployments. Check these two issues if you are dealing with a lot of direct traffic.
4. Organic Traffic
Organic traffic happens when your website ranks well on the search page.
If a user types keywords relevant to your website, Google will bring them thousands of links that could potentially help them, your site included. Generally, users won’t click on all the links in the SERP but will limit their search to the first 1-5 links. If your SEO efforts get you on a top stop, you have more chances of getting a user’s attention and increasing your organic traffic.
5. Referral Traffic
Referral traffic comes from every source a visitor uses to access your website that’s not a paid ad or on the search network. This is the traffic coming from your backlinks. For instance, if a blog publishes an article about you and links to your website, if a user clicks that link and visits your site, they become part of your referral traffic.
That user did not see an ad, nor did they type in your keywords in the search bar. Referral traffic stats are usually high for authority websites that have a lot of backlinks, such as news sites.
Social traffic comes directly from any link available on social media, either the ones on your page description or links you share.
Social traffic says a lot about how active your social audience is. The higher the metric, the more engaged your audience. You may have a good posting frequency, but unless people click on these links to visit your website, you are likely not engaging them properly.
Boost Your Website Traffic
If you’re only looking at your website traffic as a whole – the total number of website visitors – then you’re only getting part of the story. It’s essential to see exactly which sources drive the most traffic to create better future marketing strategies that will help you get closer to your goals.