Web Traffic 101 – What Sources Mean & How to Use Them

Web Traffic 101

If you have a blog or website and you’re looking to increase your web traffic (who isn’t?) you need to know where your existing traffic is coming from. Whether your Pinterest images are doing well or you have great SEO, it’s important to know where you’re doing well, and where you need to improve. All you need to do is install Google Analytics to your WordPress site, and then watch as your analytics roll in. But, before you can improve your traffic sources, you need to know what each of them means. Though there are various names out there – Google Analytics uses four: Direct, Referral, Organic, and Paid, each of them representing a different kind of traffic and a number of possible sources.

Web Traffic 101

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic occurs when someone comes directly to your website.
Someone types in your URL.
Someone clicks on your URL from an email or a PDF.
Someone visits a bookmark of your URL.
People know your site and are intentionally visiting it. These are likely repeat visitors and fans of your brand.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic occurs from other websites that refer users to your site.
Someone clicks on your URL in a comment you’ve left on another site.
Someone clicks on one of your pins on Pinterest.
Someone clicks on one of your website posts on Facebook.
People are finding backlinks to your site elsewhere and think that it sounds interesting, so they visit. These are likely first time visitors that you want to convert into repeat clients.


Organic traffic occurs from people finding your website organically or naturally.
Someone Google’s something and your URL pops up, and they click on it.
Someone searches on any search engine and finds your URL.
If people are finding your site this way it means that your SEO is good and search engines are displaying your URL in their results.

Paid Traffic

Paid traffic occurs from people clicking on a link that you have paid to advertise.
Someone Google’s something and your URL pops up in the paid advertisements section.
Someone clicks on a post that you have paid to promote on Facebook.
People are seeing posts or ads that you have paid to promote and are clicking through.

The problems

– With mobile technology being so prevalent today, many people are viewing your website on their phones or tablets. So, when someone is in an app, sees one of your website posts, and click on it, this opens your site in a new browser. This should be referral traffic, BUT since the browser is opening on your site, it might think that it is direct.
– Anything that your analytics has had problems tracking is automatically listed in with direct traffic.
– Maybe something went wrong and your link wasn’t clickable, but a user still wants to view your site. They copy and paste your link into the URL bar, but then it displays as direct traffic since technically they typed the URL in.
– Direct visits are a mystery. You can’t tell why people are coming to your site or where they heard about it – from a TV add or in your email signature.

So, when you look at your Google Analytics numbers, your direct traffic % is likely a lot higher than it truly should be, since it includes all of these other sources that aren’t truly direct. You can remedy this situation by tagging your URLs using Google’s URL builder. For example, you use this to create a new URL, and then you use that URL as the link to your site in your newsletter. It will show up under its own heading on your Google Analytics, and you will know exactly how many people visited your site from the newsletter. You can similarly do this with Facebook posts, email signatures, and anything else!

Do you believe your direct traffic numbers are accurate? What else could be causing a higher number?

5 thoughts on “Web Traffic 101 – What Sources Mean & How to Use Them”

    1. Thanks Chantal! I’ve always wondered that myself as well until I found out about all the mystery sources that can accidentally be listed under direct. Thanks for reading!

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