Not All Traffic Is Created Equal: What’s the Best Kind for Your Business?

If you listen to web news, it seems like all sites should be concerned about is traffic, traffic, traffic. Unless you have millions of people coming to your site every month, you’re a failure and your business isn’t long for this world. Sorry to hear about your luck.

But while getting big numbers can be helpful (and it’s especially important if you’re working from a business model that’s dependent on advertising dollars), it isn’t the end all-be all. For most businesses, it’s far less vital for them to get a huge number of visitors than it is for them to get the right kind of visitors. What does that mean? Well, if you’ve created the newest, coolest smartphone app, it does you little good to attract people who don’t have a smartphone and don’t plan on buying one any time soon. You want people on the cutting edge. Early adopters. The kind of folks who like to brag to their friends that they’re ahead of the curve.

Sounds good, right? Okay, but how do you know which traffic is good or bad? To get to that point, we first have to define web traffic and then do a bit of reconnaissance to figure out where it comes from.

Defining Web Traffic

The term “web traffic” seems pretty simple. It just means the total number of people who come to your site, right? Well, that’s part of it. If you want to get technical (and oh, how we do), web traffic can be broken down into three things.

How many visitors. This is that part that you already know. How many eyeballs are coming to your site on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?

How many pages visited. It’s great whenever you get anybody to come to your site, but it’s a whole lot better when those people click on multiple pages. Why? Because this tells you that they felt your site was worthwhile enough to look around.

How much time each person spends. So you’ve got someone who came to your site and went to 15 pages. Wow, that seems pretty great, right? But then you notice that the total time they spent on your site was less than a minute – what gives? This can be indicative of the fact that they were looking for something that you didn’t have. More time is always better – even if they only go to one page – but ideally you want a mix of breadth and depth.

Where Does Web Traffic Come From?

Now that you have a decent idea about what people are talking about when they say “web traffic,” it’s time to trace it back to the source and learn where all of those people who visit your site are coming from and how they get there. Generally speaking, there are three primary ways people will get to your site.

Direct traffic. There are some additions and variations to this explanation (we’ll go into those in a bit), but in general a person who comes to your site directly is one who actually types your URL into their browser window or opens a bookmark for your site that they’ve previously saved. These are the people who know your site and are coming there with a specific purpose in mind.

Referral traffic. Quite simply, referral traffic is traffic that is coming to your site after clicking on a link from another site. How do links to your site get on other sites? Many, many different ways. Someone could like your site and mention it on their blog. Or do a review of your site or a product or service you provide and include a link. You can also get links onto other sites by engaging in guest blogging, link exchanges, and more. Also, if you buy pay-per-click ads, they will count as referral traffic as well.

Search engine traffic. This one is pretty straightforward. If your site comes up when someone does a Google search and they click on it, that counts as search engine traffic. You can increase the likelihood of this happening by making sure that your site is optimized for search engines. How? Connect it to social networks. Continuously update content. Use keywords. And so on.

The Best Kind of Traffic

What kind of traffic is the best kind for your site? Well, obviously that answer is different for everyone in a demographic sense, because the people who are interested in bicycles may not be the same people who are interested in finding a criminal lawyer. But one thing won’t change no matter who your audience is – you want traffic that is engaged and cares about what you have to say. Finding and cultivating this kind of traffic will improve your bounce rate. What’s that? Your bounce rate is the percentage of people who click on your site and then immediately click away because it’s not what they’re looking for. As you might imagine, this is not something you want. Finding more people who care about what you have to say and stick around will lower this rate. You can also:

Include more resources. If people have more places to explore from your site, there’s a greater chance that they will stick around to utilize all of the information that you’ve compiled.

Use deep linking. Who needs outside resources? Instead of encouraging people to click outside of your site for information, deep linking takes them from one page to another on your site so that you’re enjoying all of the benefits from them taking a lot of time on your site.

Encourage comments (and leave them yourself). People see websites and the internet as a two-way street. They want to engage with people and feel like they have a voice, and it’s in your best interest to not only let them do it, but encourage the practice. If you write blogs, solicit comments in the post. If someone comments, respond to it and try to keep the conversation going.

Of the three kinds of traffic mentioned above, direct traffic is, by definition, going to be the most engaged kind of traffic that comes to your site because those are the people who already know about your site and have gone out of their way to come back. There are a number of reasons why this is important.

It denotes brand recognition. When people remember and type in your URL, it means they’ve heard about your company and something about the name made them remember it. You stand for something to them.

It speaks to reader loyalty. Direct traffic isn’t just people remembering an ad and typing in your site address. Most of it will be from people who have been to your site before and liked the experience enough to remember it and come back for more. Those are exactly the kinds of customer relationships you want to cultivate.

It’s independent from campaigns and algorithm changes. The amount of traffic that comes to your site can go up and down like a rollercoaster based on marketing that you do and changes to search engine algorithms, but those changes don’t always tell you much about how you’re doing. Sure, you got an extra 20,000 people last month, but how many extra sales did that lead to? Direct traffic is immune to such things.

Where is direct traffic from (the extended addition)?

You already know that direct traffic comes from people who manually type in your URL or bookmark your page and follow a link, but those aren’t the only sources. If you don’t track the traffic that comes from newsletters and emails, people who reach you through these kinds of campaigns will appear as direct traffic, even though it’s probably about halfway between direct and referral traffic in reality. Traffic from links that appear in documents (PDFs, Word docs, Excel docs, and so on) will also show up as direct traffic, as will anything that comes to you from a security-restricted environment or a 302 or 301 redirect.

Knowing all this, how do you increase your direct traffic and get a higher number of engaged visitors?

Focus on your niche. When people find you and decide to keep coming back, it’s because they like what you’re doing. Eventually you might want to expand what you’re doing a bit, but take care not to stray too far from what got you there in the first place. If you’re writing about Magic: The Gathering, it might frustrate your audience and lose you readers if you suddenly decide that half of your posts should focus on BBQ recipes.

Engage to create loyalty and word of mouth. Remember that whole bit about how people see the web as a two-way street? Well, if you can’t keep that going and continue to make your visitors feel important, they’re likely to abandon you. Keep responding to comments, ask for suggestions from visitors, offer giveaways – make your audience feel loved.

Get a good domain name. It seems like a simple thing, but sometimes people ignore how important the site name really is. Sure, you want your name to reflect your business, but not if someone has to type in 50 letters to find you or spell something that they can easily get wrong. You want short, simple, and – if possible – catchy. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, so if you haven’t created your site yet, it’s worth spending some time trying to find the best available domain.