Diversifying Your Site’s Traffic Channels: Why & How
Updated: Feb 17
What is the source of your website’s traffic? Maybe you have a strong social media presence? Or perhaps you have had some success through search engines like Google? The truth is having only one strong source of web traffic is not a good idea, and you are much better off if you actively seek a diverse array of traffic channels. Relying on only one source for most of your traffic can leave you exposed if a turn for the worse for that source takes place. Diversifying your acquisition channels is also valuable because your competitors can eat up your market share that could have come from those channels, in turn eating up a portion of your overall market share.
Every company and their website are unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to picking the right channel split. What you are selling, how you sell it, and who you are selling it to are important factors to consider when thinking about your target mix. While there is more than one correct way to diversify your traffic, there are generally accepted best practices that have a proven track record in generating consistent and healthy traffic growth. These practices offer a lot of flexibility in your approach, but also provide a proven framework to put you in a position to see meaningful growth!
Below we will discuss some of the most common types of traffic for most business websites. We will look at how each channel provides unique value, generally what percentage of your traffic should come from each channel, and effective strategies to invest in growing site traffic through these channels.
There is no denying that there is one behemoth in the world of online search, and that behemoth is Google. Google owns over 90% of the worldwide search engine market share, and the distant 2nd place is Bing with less than 3%. Setting aside a small percent of search related resources into a secondary engine can be helpful, but your best bet to generate traffic in the world of search is sticking primarily with Google.
Search is uniquely valuable for two primary reasons. The first is that for many websites, search engines are the most effective way to generate traffic from potential customers who had no previous knowledge of your brand. If you are an online bicycle retailer called Joe’s Bicycles that that specializes in bikes for those with back or spinal issues, you might very well have a clear target market- those who suffer from some sort of injury or condition that prevents them from comfortably riding a traditional bicycle. But how do they know to find you? How do they even know you exist? If they hadn’t previously heard of your brand, they wouldn’t know to go to your website or find your social media profiles. But maybe they knew they were looking for a specialized bicycle retailer and searched on Google for “bicycles for someone with back problems”. They didn’t know about you, but they knew they wanted something like what you were offering. This is an incredibly powerful tool in generating new impressions, new visitors, and new business.
The second reason search is uniquely important is the intent of search engine users compared to other channels. Google and Bing both have higher website conversion rates for users acquired through these sources than almost every other major player in the game. They outperform Facebook. They outperform Instagram. They outperform YouTube. They outperform Twitter. Users who find you through search engines are simply more likely to be demonstrating a willingness to purchase. They are on a search engine because they are looking for something. They just don’t know yet that what they are searching for is your site!
SMBs should be wary of trying to go after too general or too popular of search terms. If a small mom-and-pop barbershop in Orlando, FL were to try to improve their search performance for the term “barbershop”, it will be almost impossible to compete with the national chains who put limitless resources into ensuring their place in the search results. But if the small barbershop went after “barbershop Orlando” instead, they just might be a competitive player in the space for searches with both of those words. SMBs should be creative and strategic in the search terms and keywords they try to improve in terms of site impressions. There is an overused expression that the best way to bury a deep secret is to hide it on the second page of results for a Google search. It is better to make it on the first page of a more targeted or niche search than on the tenth page of a generalized and more popular search term.
There are two main ways you can build your presence on search engines. The first is called search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. It targets unpaid traffic rather than paid traffic, and the strategy is essentially adapting your website to fit the criteria that search engine algorithms are looking for when deciding which websites to show as a result of a search. There are many ways to improve your SEO, and this traffic medium is so popular right now that there are entire businesses dedicated to helping companies effectively navigate the murky waters of this nuanced and often detail-oriented traffic acquisition strategy. But you don’t have to be overwhelmed by SEO- you can start with some of the basics and slowly but steadily work your way up the Google results list!
The other way you can build your presence on search engines is paid search. Paid search is self-evident in its name- paying Google or other search engines to put your website high up in their result lists for pre-specified search terms that relate to your business. Unlike SEO, paid search is only a source of traffic for as long as you are willing to actively pay. Once you make an adjustment to your website that positively impacts SEO, you will permanently reap the benefits of that adjustment, but once you stop paying Google to promote your site, you will lose all the traffic being generated from that source. On the other hand, paid search has its benefits as well. There is something to be said for being able to generate contrived short-term spikes in traffic whenever you have a particular product or promotion on your website that you want to share with as many potential customers as possible.
It is best for your website’s long-term growth to combine these two strategies for a balanced approach to generating search traffic. Generally, you should aim to have between 25–50% of your site’s overall traffic coming from search engines.
Direct traffic is traffic that navigates directly to your site without having clicked on a link from another website. Direct traffic can come from a user already knowing your website and directly finding you by putting your URL in the address bar. It can also come from a user saving your website as a bookmark or clicking on a link contained in an email from a third party. Having a portion of your traffic navigate to your site directly indicates that you have enough brand awareness that people are actively seeking your site rather than stumbling upon it or discovering it accidentally. Return visitors are also more likely to be direct traffic as they have already been on your website in the past and are more likely to have premeditated intention of visiting again.
There are a lot of ways you can generate direct traffic, and it is the only website acquisition channel that can be grown offline. Direct traffic is mostly traffic seeking you out rather than the other way around. That means that the person has decided to go to your website before ever seeing a link to your page. Business cards, providing info about your website at your physical location (if you have one), word of mouth, and other brand awareness practices can help drive direct website traffic. As hinted at earlier, generating a website or brand experience that keeps return customers coming back for more also drives direct traffic.
While having some portion of your traffic come directly to your site is important, it is not a good sign if too high a percentage of your traffic gets to your site directly. If too much of your traffic is coming directly, you either have digital marketing problems that need addressing or you have significant brand awareness and a modest web presence. You should aim to have between 10–25% of your web visits come to your site through direct traffic.
Referral traffic refers to web visits to your site from links that appear on other websites. Technically, social media is a sub-category of referrals, but for the sake of this article let’s count social media separately. Referral traffic can be a great source of traffic, but also dangerous if relied on too heavily. Unless a link is coming from another website you own, you don’t control it. There is inherent risk in entrusting control of your site’s traffic in someone else’s hands. They could remove it or move it to a place on their site that generates less traffic without your consent.
The world wide web is an expansive and deep place, and there is a vast variety of websites (and types of websites) that could be the source of referral links. Links from blog posts or news articles can provide short-term lifts in traffic.
Partnering with other companies to share each other’s website links on your own sites benefits both parties’ referral traffic and gives a bonus boost in SEO by generating more backlinks. Publishing your site on review sites (and making sure you have positive reviews) can be effective. Another common strategy is writing or producing your own content, then getting that content published on other sites such as Medium.com.
There is a “cheap” option as well. There are a lot of sites out there that specialize in helping you improve your backlink scores by allowing you to input your website information and be indexed as part of their website’s catalog of backlinks. You’ll rarely get any valuable traffic from these links, and there’s a good chance that any traffic would be primarily spam, but this approach can positively contribute towards SEO backlinks. When I say this option is cheap, I don’t mean in terms of money. I mean that this is a tactic meant to take advantage of the quirks of Google’s SEO algorithms rather than generating authentic, valuable traffic through the links themselves. We would recommend focusing your referral efforts on the other suggestions mentioned.
Excluding social media, having your referral traffic make up anywhere between 10–25% of your total puts you in a good spot where you are benefiting from free traffic, but not relying on it to the point that you could be left exposed if you lost your backlinks. As with all the other traffic channels, a healthy distribution of referral links is always safer than relying on one or two.
Social media has become a major source of traffic for businesses across all sizes and industries. Social media has transformed over the years in the way that businesses interact with it, and it has molded into not just a traffic channel, but a place where you can communicate with your target market directly and create an interactive environment that leads to a cementing of brand loyalty. For larger companies, social media has even turned into a customer service platform in some cases! It is the easiest, most direct way for a company to connect with their users online.
When we think about social media, it is important to keep all of this in mind. It is a representation of your brand, and there are ways that social media can either positively or negatively affect your business that have nothing to do with driving traffic to your site. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the traffic-generating benefits.
Social media can be a particularly valuable traffic source because of its ability to not just drive traffic but allow visitors to “like” or “follow” your social media profile(s). This raises the likelihood that any given visitor will maintain a long-term relationship with your business. There are also so many social media platforms to choose from: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and even now TikTok to name a few! Creating a cross-channel social media presence builds your brand and creates a network of websites where you can generate long-term customer relationships. We recommend your business having accounts on at least 2–3 social media platforms. Your success on social media will be dependent on your ability to creatively connect and engage with potential visitors.
Social media can also be a paid traffic channel. Facebook Ads, for example, is a popular paid channel for businesses utilizing social media. These ads show up in targeted segments’ feeds, and the functionality of Facebook’s ad platform allows you to choose targeted criteria for the users who will see your ad. This is very useful because you can use your customer or web traffic data to inform you about the best groups to target (by gender, age, device type, etc), then apply that knowledge to your ad settings and ensure a more optimized return on your ad spend. Just like paid search, this tactic is only useful for as long as you are willing to actively pay.
It is hard to peg down exactly how much of your traffic should come from social media as it varies wildly from business to business. There are many successful online stores- mostly B2C- that have built the entirety of their brand (and ultimately customer base) through social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook. With that in mind, most successful business websites use social media as part of a larger digital marketing strategy, and they simply treat social media as one piece of the pie. While it depends on many factors, using social media as one tool in the toolbox is what we recommend in most cases. So, what is a good ballpark goal? We say look to have between 5–25% of your traffic coming from social media.
Email and SMS
If you have a customer or prospect’s email address, then you can only contact them through email legally if they actively opted in at some point (usually by checking a checkbox). Email can be a particularly helpful source of traffic because you are targeting your efforts towards a low hanging fruit- return customers and users who already gave you permission to contact them.
Generally, your average email open rate should be between 15–25%, and your average click-through rate should be about 3%. If you are outperforming that, then you have a successful email strategy! If you are hitting these numbers, then you can do the math to see how many users on your email list you’d need to contact to generate a meaningful amount of traffic. Building and maintaining large lists of email addresses that your business can contact is the most effective way to reap the benefits of email marketing.
Like email, using SMS to text a customer is only legal if they opted in at some point. SMS is currently an up-and-comer source in the world of traffic acquisition channels, but don’t let its modest tenure in the digital marketing space fool you. SMS will become more popular than email marketing in the near future; you can count on it. SMS marketing boasts an absurd 19% average click-through rate and is changing the way B2C companies look at direct marketing.
The reason most businesses ultimately can’t rely too heavily on email and SMS is because it is not easy to get a list of customers opting into direct marketing big enough to sustain your website’s traffic growth needs. It is a solid source of mostly return traffic and has an important role within your traffic mix, but this channel likely will not be a major source of new traffic. Email & SMS combined should make up between 5–15% of your web visits.
Display traffic consists of visitors that found your site by clicking on an ad that you ran on another website. Banner ads and image ads on news sites are some common sources of display traffic. A large chunk of display marketing spend tends to go to retargeting of past customers. The biggest player in the display space is Google AdWords Display.
Display traffic is an optional part of a healthy distribution of web traffic and is best seen as a “cherry on top” of your holistic acquisition strategy. Because you can have a solid traffic mix without display, there is no minimum amount of display traffic we recommend. It should be considered a red flag if display makes up more than 10% of your long-term traffic.
As stated earlier, the internet is a vast expanse. With enough creativity, there are always new ways to generate traffic to your website. By creating a diverse traffic mix for your website, you are putting yourself in position not just to maintain a healthy flow of traffic, but also accelerate growth that will in turn grow your business faster and put more money in your pockets.
Traffic acquisition optimization is one of the most impactful ways small and medium-sized businesses use data analytics to inform business decisions, but it is should be viewed as only one piece of your holistic “data strategy”.