5 Ways of Rethinking Your Referral Traffic

So you have a site, now what? Well, one of the first things you need to do is drive traffic to it, but how? What if you have a site with traffic, what can you do to better drive users to your pages?


In the past we could rely on Google organic and paid to generate most of our site traffic, but not anymore. While organic is still your highest-quality traffic, what if it goes away overnight? And while paid is helpful in generating specific conversions around keyword searches, in the end you are often just renting those visitors. So if you want to stay relevant today, we need to rethink our concepts of referral traffic as it looks much different today than it did even one or two years ago.

Here are five tips on creating a more perfect referral traffic profile and avoiding mistakes that could cause you pain.

1. Reliance on Social Media

Often we see sites that get a lot of their traffic from social media. If your site is one of those sites, congratulations – that is not the easiest code to crack. You have done good things.

Social traffic is a positive signal. It means your site is being shared and talked about. It means your site has relevancy to your user base. However, it is imperfect traffic and a strategy that is unsustainable on its own. Why is this?

First, if you are relying too heavily on your social media presence for traffic and the site you are getting that traffic from decides to change a factor that takes away that traffic, you have little recourse. There is really nothing you can do. Well, you can pay, but that requires more money and time, which following a loss of large amounts of traffic, you might now have to invest.

Second, unlike organic visitors, social media users are typically “one and done.” They see something they like, they head in, they read, they head out.

While this can be an excellent method for long-term brand building, it is not your best traffic source for in-depth or lengthy visitor engagement. Some will like what they see and come back, but not as many when they find you by other efforts.

So while there is nothing wrong with this as a part of your comprehensive plan, you want to be careful of relying on social media at the expense of more relevant and engaged traffic such as organic search. In addition, if these sources suffer declines, you can more readily address the issues on other channels than you can with social.

Mostly, just make sure you are not ignoring other avenues for bringing users in to the site.

2. Reliance on Google Organic

Just as you can be overly reliant on social media, you can also be too reliant on Google organic. While organic search is your best traffic referrer in terms of engagement, site stickiness, and returning visits, if you accidentally trigger an algorithm negatively and it takes a slap at your site, well you might wake up with a cliff dive on your analytics and a sunken feeling in your stomach.

While it is very important to spend a lot of your time cultivating your organic visits, it is not a safe bet to rely on Google for that traffic alone. The most important thing you can do is diversify your traffic and find multiple generative and reliable sources.

3. Reliance on Google and Facebook

Many sites rely on these two sources are their primary traffic-drivers. Be careful if these are the only two. Don’t rely so much on Facebook or organic SEO that you forget to continue to diversify your traffic profile. Your traffic referrals are a delicate balance of visits from paid, organic, social, syndication, etc.

The most important thing you can do in this day of Google is to make sure you have built up as many positive traffic sources as make sense for your business. This way if you lose in Google or Facebook today, you can start cranking up the traffic in other areas tomorrow.

4. Organic Is Still King

Organic traffic is not just Google, though we typically think of that first. It can also be Bing, Duck Duck Go, and Yahoo, or even a contest or event. Whatever your organic source, the users are likely to be more engaged and user intent is typically going to be more aligned with your site content. While Google organic should and will be the largest organic referrer, building up your alternative referral sources will help protect you from getting hit in one area or another.

5. Watch Out for the Bots

Semalt, Buttons-For-Websites, and other bots visit your site and show up in your analytics. These referrals are not real humans, but bots meant to send traffic back to its owner by you clicking on the referrals in your analytics. There is no reason to support this traffic and there is no reason to not get rid of it. There are several methods for doing this, however Jon Henshaw of Raven Tools has the most comprehensive post explaining the issue and how to get rid of it.

Make sure to take care of this issue or you will wind up with hundreds of bad visits each month that over time can skew data.

Bonus! Content Marriage – When Your Referral Traffic Finds Each Other

Content is often segmented out from other processes in a company’s internal structure, filling up the social silo, the organic silo, all the silos with new and glorious pages. A lack of marrying this content across efforts is often one of the most missed traffic opportunities on many sites.

Marrying content means taking the content you promote outside your website and reinforcing its visibility by featuring it on your website and in other prominent channels. For one, this simply makes the content more discoverable. However, and more importantly, if a page gets a considerable amount of visits from a referral source, it means users are interested in that content. Feature it prominently. It is sort of like your site’s own Google trends.


Referral traffic is often left to its own devices. While we may have strategies, those strategies are often narrowly focused and very internally segmented. By focusing on strengthening your traffic profile, diversifying your sources, merging your efforts, and then marrying that work to the content you feature on your site you can not only protect yourself from dramatic drops should one source go awry, but you will increase your site traffic, stickiness, and conversions.

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