by Jayson DeMers

Creating and managing a website is a big step for a business, but just having a website isn’t enough. Establishing a web presence on the web is equivalent to constructing a building for your business in the real world; you can make it pretty on the outside and pretty on the inside, but that doesn’t guarantee any foot traffic, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee any patronage.

If you’re going to maximize the revenue potential of your site, you need to understand who’s coming to your site, why they’re coming to your site, and what you can do to increase those numbers. Fortunately, Google’s free Analytics platform gives you these kinds of insights in great detail. But you still need to know what you’re looking at.

There are tons of different metrics to track in Analytics, and it can be confusing if you’re a first-timer. Instead of trying to learn all the details immediately, narrow your scope to observing patterns in the Acquisition tab–this is going to tell you where your traffic is coming from. Here, you’ll find four major sources of traffic, from which you can gather valuable insights about your site:

1. Direct Traffic.

Direct traffic is measured by visitors who visit your site without any online source directing them to it. For example, if a user types in your URL directly or calls upon it from a stored bookmark, it’s considered a direct visit. Direct visits generally come from one of a few types of consumers–they could be people who heard about your brand offline, repeat visitors who wanted to come back, or even your internal staff checking the site for errors (though you can filter this last segment out entirely for more accurate data). You can improve this traffic by increasing repeat visits and stepping up your brand awareness efforts offline, though as you might imagine, the offsite route is a bit less efficient than other methods.

2. Organic Traffic.

Organic traffic refers to inbound visitors who found your site through search engines. Any traffic from Bing, Google, and other search sites is counted in this data. This is most useful for practitioners of SEO, who use content, links, and other strategies to increase their likelihood of ranking high for various relevant searches–higher organic traffic generally means greater success with the strategy. However, branded searches also count toward this total. If your site is new, this figure will undoubtedly be low, but you can increase this number by optimizing your site, producing regular content, establishing relationships with outside authorities, and getting active on social media. It takes time to develop the domain authority necessary to earn this type of traffic, but it can be a lucrative source in the long term.

3. Referral Traffic.

Referral traffic accumulates any visits that came from outside sources. If links to your site are available on external sources, users can follow those links to find your site. Link building in SEO (or through guest posting) are valuable for this. You might also earn links from local directories or industry directories, provided you submit your information to them. Getting a link published on a high-profile source with tons of traffic can route significant droves of users to your site, but the more valuable a link is, the harder it is to get. Keep a close eye on your link development strategy to increase referral traffic–you might also consider placing affiliate links, which cost a bit of extra money but can be valuable opportunities for getting new traffic. Some links might even crop up naturally if outside sites choose to cite your information–click into the Referral traffic section to see exactly which sources are generating the most traffic to your site.

4. Social Traffic.

Last but not least is social traffic, which can refer to any inbound users from social media sites. The more active you are on social media and the more attractive your links are (think about providing value to users rather than advertising your brand or products), the more visitors you’re liable to get. Over time, as you build a following, this number can skyrocket. If you click into the Social traffic area, you’ll be able to see exactly which platforms are generating the most traffic, and you can weight your strategy to favor those platforms.

Understanding and tracking these four sources of traffic, you’ll learn your users’ strongest preferences, and you’ll be able to cater to those preferences with your marketing strategies and ongoing site development.

As you grow more familiar with Google Analytics, you’ll be able to analyze user behavior on-site, track user demographics, use goals to maximize conversions and generate more revenue, and branch out to other analytics platforms and business intelligence tools to build an ever-clearer picture of your website’s traffic data–but none of this is possible without suitable initial traffic.

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The 4 Types of Website Traffic to Watch in Google Analytics

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