What are Traffic Sources? Google Analytics For Beginners

Last week, I talked about the differences between Google Analytics visits, visitors, and page views. Today, I’d like to discuss how you can use Google Analytics to determine your website’s traffic sources.

Starting with the dashboard view of your Google Analytics account, you’re going to want to look for this Traffic Sources Overview graph:

Where website visitors come from according to analytics.

Where website visitors come from according to analytics.

Click view report to get started.

The traffic sources report view in Google Analytics

The traffic sources report view in Google Analytics

This view can show us quite a bit, starting with:

  • The number of people that visited the site as the result of an internet search. As you can see from the report, more than half of the people who find our website do so via Google.
  • The number of direct visits, or people that navigated directly to our site (more on that below).
  • The number of people referred to us from different websites along with the names of the referring sites.
  • Any ‘other’ traffic sources. Typically these represent specially coded inbound links.

Once you’ve reviewed the overview page, you can click on each category name to learn more about each specific traffic source.

Search Engine Traffic: The goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to get as many visits from search engines as possible. Visits from search engines represent ‘free’ traffic that is visiting our site to find the answer to a specific question. The hope is that some of these search engine visitors will contact us about marketing services. If this ‘free’ traffic from the search engines results in new business, it’s easy to see the value of SEO: free visits from search engines can result in new business.

A Note About the ‘Search Engine Traffic’ category: Thanks to a blog post from James Royal-Lawson, I’ve learned that Google’s ‘search engine traffic’ category is a little misleading. You can read up on the technical aspects of Google source attribution here. Be warned: the explanation is somewhat technical, and for many website owners the final numbers won’t be much different. Still, it’s interesting stuff.

Direct Traffic: Direct visits come in a few different forms. Some people might have bookmarked a page on our website that they found interesting or useful and decided to return to our site later using that bookmark. This would be a considered a ‘direct’ visit. Someone who typed our URL SporkMarketing.com into the title bar of their browser would also be a direct visit. It’s important to note that direct visits can be stimulated by advertisements. If someone views one of our YouTube videos and then types SporkMarketing.com into their browser, that’s a direct visit…but it might have been triggered by an advertisement.

Referred Visitors: If someone on another website clicks on a link pointing to our website, that is often counted as a referral. I say ‘often’ because this isn’t 100% fool-proof tracking…but it’s usually very good.

Other Visitors: Other visits represent specially ‘tagged’ links that we’ve deployed. We’ll explore this later, but it’s possible to tag a link with a special code so we can track specific visits from that link.

There are many other possible sources of traffic that fall under the refferal category. Other common traffic sources include:

  • Google image search: There is a substantial volume of image searches on Google. If your images are tagged and the files are named in a descriptive manner, you will see a fair amount of visits from Google’s image search engine.
  • Web directory listings: Depending on the type of business you have, you may find that consumer directories (i.e. YellowPages.com, Yelp.com, etc.) result in a substantial number of visitors.
  • Social networks: Twitter, Facebook, and social bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit can send substantial amounts of traffic to your site if you use them correctly.

Anyone with anything to add? Questions?