Website Traffic Sources: Search Engine and Referral Traffic
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On November 8, 2012
Last modified:November 26, 2012


Where does your website traffic really come from, and what do you need to do to get more traffic?
In the previous post, we learnt direct traffic and considered it as the first targeted traffic source.
Let’s continue our not-so-basic information of different traffic sources as well as their impact on our website traffic generation.
In this post, let’s look into the other major sources:
Search engine traffic and referral traffic.

 What Search Engine Traffic Is

I don’t think there is necessary to have a definition here, but for the sake of being thorough:
Search Engine Traffic refers to all visitors coming to your blog via search engines. 
When people search for a particular search query, they are appeared with a search engine results page (SERP) together with two options: organic results and paid results.

Both results are reported under search traffic in your Google Analytics.

search engine traffic

If you don’t use Google AdWords to generate paid traffic, then you can assume that all your search engine traffic is naturally organic.
If you use the Google PPC roulette, then you need to compare your “paid” with “non-paid” traffic to know which traffic is which.

paid search engine traffic

How to Improve Search Engine Traffic CTR

In the context of organic results, CTR (CTR stands for Click-Through Rate) refers to how often searchers click on your site listing out of all the times it gets shown in the search results.
However, being listed on the first page of Google search engine is no guarantee of search engine traffic.
Low CTR usually when search engine users do not click on your site, but rather your competitors’, no matter how highly your website ranks for any number of  SEO keywords.
Here, I want to focus on 7 ways that can help you optimize your CTR in Search Engine Results and improve your organic traffic.

1. Write Intriguing and Descriptive Titles

The fact is that in order to achieve better rankings, many SEOs tend to over optimize their page titles. Unfortunately, they offer low quality titles that look irrelevant or spammy to the initial query of the user just by doing so. As a result, their CTR might drop because most users avoid clicking on these pages.
To improve the CTR effectively, the title should be short (about 64-70 chars or less), descriptive. Also, it should contain a relevant number of keywords as well as engage the user to click on the page. Another way is to incorporate the name of your website at the end of the title. In cases of the brand name of the website is known and trusted by the users, then way can be very helpful. In general, you should take a look at your titles and descriptions then ask yourself the following questions:
Do your Page titles accurately reflect the contents of your page?
Are they compelling enough?
Do they offer potential visitors good reasons to click?
Google Webmaster Tools is a great place to check up on your titles and descriptions, and also to identify potential problems you might have.

Your Page titles should not look like this:  spammy-title

2. Optimize your META-description

The meta-description should include the main keyword and also briefly explain the content of the post as well as engage the user to read more. (Check out for more about the use of keywords)

Moreover, to significantly develop the Click-Through Rate, it should incorporate a call to action. Keep in mind that the description also should contain enough information to attract the user’s attention, but not just answer his questions directly without visiting the site.

Your meta-description should avoid looking like picture below:bad-meta-description

3. Use Rich Snippets

Most search engines conclude that the more information in the snippets, the easier for users to find relevant pages within the SERPs (Check out to learn more about Relevance optimization). So, they try to provide to the users additional useful information about the returned sites with Rich Snippets. The Rich Snippets contain more data than regular ones, and they contain information such as addresses, dates, ratings etc. The bigger the Rich Snippets are, the more likely to attract the user’s attention and more likely to be clicked by the users they are. Thus, even before entering your website, you can improve your CTR and provide users with useful information just by using microformats, microdata, RDFa to mark structured content within your HTML pages.


4. Use SiteLinks

Links that are shown below some results in the SERPs are the Sitelinks, which help users easily navigate the sites. The sitelinks usually appear in cases where the search query of the user seems to be relevant to a specific result, and the result’s website is considered a trustworthy source. Having sitelinks in your snippet tends to attract the users’ attention and can help them navigate your site easily.
Even though, having very little control over the sitelinks, webmasters are calculated algorithmically. With 2 following ways, one can affect the displayed links:

  • Block the irrelevant sitelinks just by accessing the site configuration panel of the Google Webmaster Tools service.
  • Create solid Link Architecture by focusing on important segments of your site and using optimized and descriptive anchor texts.

5. Have Breadcrumb Navigation

The Breadcrumb is a navigation aid, which allows users to keep track of their locations within sites by offering them full navigation path that one can follow to land on a particular page. Search Engines determine breadcrumbs and display information on your pages in the search results. In these cases, instead of showing users the actual URL address of the page, search engines present all the steps or categories between your site’s homepage and the landing page. breadcrumb-navigation

6. Use the Social Layers

Google tries to give a Social flavor to the search results by using social layers. If users log in Google account, they can see which pages are +1’d or Retweeted by their friends with Google+ or Twitter. In addition, in some cases they can see the total number of +1s that a specific result has. As a result, giving incentives to your visitors to share and bookmark your site is not only put an impact on your traffic and SEO but also on your CTR.


7. Google Instant Preview

Google Instant Preview gives the user the opportunity to see a screenshot of your page without visiting your website actually. Google Instant Preview does not always display the flash elements of the page then, the screenshot of pages that contain flash looks pretty bad and confusing. Even though, there are several ways to resolve this problem, it is advised not to rely much on Flash elements. Due to its functionality, having a nice design help you attract the user’s attention and make them click on your site and of course affect your CTR positively.
Increasing the organic CTR is extremely important, since it can attract more search engine traffic to your website without actually changing your SEO campaign (Learn about SEO traffic 101). Remember, to understand how your users think and evaluate the search engine results is considered as the best way to improve your CTR.
Keep in mind that if no one clicks, you’ve got a problem that need to be fixed quickly no matter how highly your site ranks.

How Much Search Engine Traffic Is Too Much?

Well, there is such a thing as too much search engine traffic.
An average of 500 algorithm changes are made by Google per year.
Each and every one of them threatens to wipe your site from the face of Google search results, like Panda update did to many different sites.
Let’s imagine what may happen to your traffic picture if your search traffic dries up all of a sudden?
When you consider how long it may take to recover from a Google penalty for small mistakes, like forgotten redirects, server downtime, etc., then count on search traffic as your primary website traffic source is a bit foolish to say.
So what is a good number for search engine traffic?
As a general rule of thumb, no more than 40% of the referred traffic should drive from Google since any significant change is bound to have a negative impact on the bottom line.

What Is Referral Traffic?

Referral traffic is any traffic from any other site coming to your site via a hyperlink.
When a user arrives at your website, the referral information is captured, including the referrer URL if available, date and time information and more.
Probably, referral traffic is both the easiest and the hardest to get because it’s directly affected by the quality of your content.

3 Reasons To Need More Referral Traffic

1. Referral traffic is a great indicator of your brand popularity.
2. Referral traffic is a useful source of natural backlinks.
3. Referral traffic is easy to get because it is entirely up to you and your own efforts.

Different Ways I Get Referral Traffic

Let me show the most recent screenshot of my top 10 referral sites:

1.   Social networks as Twitter and Facebook are my 2 largest sources of referral traffic.
I am quite interested in using Twitter and Facebook in SEO as website traffic driving machines. As long as, you learn how to do and get efficient at it, without getting sucked into it.
Check out this post below to learn more about how I mastered Twitter and Facebook:
How to Drive Traffic from Twitter the Right Way
How to Get More Likes From Facebook

2.   Using as a referral traffic source: While doing my diligent research on the topic, I discover a lot of bad information on where your website traffic exactly comes from when it is listed as a referral traffic source under Google.
It is not your search engine traffic that falls under “Search Engine Traffic” source.
Here are some referrers for this traffic:
• Google Reader: widely used RSS feeders.
• Google Images
• IGoogle
• Google Groups
• listings

3.   Social Media Dashboards
When your visitors use the online version of their favorite social media application, like that shows up under “Referral Traffic“.
However, most of us use desktop applications, for instance what I use is MarketMeSuite.
In that case, referrer of traffic is added to your Direct Traffic stats because Google can’t track that traffic.
Users of social media mobile apps can be said the same.
To say in other words, my referral traffic from social media networks is most likely greater than what is indicated in the Referral Traffic section.

4.   YouTube, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and Bizsugar:
These sites send me referral traffic without engaging much on my part.
I keep them marginally updated at best as they are the perfect model for “set it, and forget it” website traffic generation.
What would happen if I got involved in them…that they make me wonder.


5.   WPSubscribers:
WPSubscribers is a kind of list building plugin that I fell in love with immediately when I laid my hands on it.
By the way, read my full review of the plugin to see what all the noise about WPSubscribers is:
WPSubscribers Review

6.  AttractionMarketingOnline:
Yet another great source of your referral traffic here: networking with fellow bloggers via blog commenting, guest posting, etc, as a result, building relationships with them and gaining quality in-content natural one way link building.
As a matter of fact, this particular blog belongs to a good friend of mine. He publishes exceptional content, so I recommend you add him to your frequently visit list of blogs.
Mind how this referral traffic works: I am happily sending some traffic and a couple of links his way. Win-win.

Let Your Content Speak Itself

It’s out there bottom line for website traffic sources:
If your content sucks, so does your traffic.
Be sure to visit this post with 202 bite-sized tips to increase your blog traffic to get some bright ideas for the next blog post of yours.

 Maintain the Balance Between Website Traffic Sources

In the first part of this series on website traffic sources, you can see that my traffic is fairly divided between the 3 major ones in the Google Analytics screenshot as: Direct Traffic, Search Engine Traffic, and Referral Traffic
In terms of the traffic balance, it’s pretty darn close to being perfect.
It’s like juggling a knife, a torch, and a banana to keep your traffic in balance because each requires its own special handling.
Of course, you want to increase them all, the sooner the better; but, in practice…

DIRECT TRAFFIC comes when you start building your brand.
This is a natural type of traffic that you can’t force in any way other than to follow the suggestions in my first part of the series.
However, it stems from the other website traffic sources, so if you increase your search engine and referral traffic, your direct traffic will also follow the trend.
SEARCH ENGINE TRAFFIC takes time and dedication.
You have to work on your on-page SEO, as well as build both quality and quantity of diverse, and potential relevant links back to your site.
This traffic won’t increase overnight, but consider its amazing potential in terms of being leveraged and highly targeted, because it’s surely worth the effort many times over.
Be sure to pick up your copy of my SEO e-book to learn more about how to make the best of your SEO efforts as well as bring in more search engine traffic.
REFERRAL TRAFFIC is immediate and controllable.
Your traffic will come as soon as you publish a guest post on an authority blog or leave an insightful comment on a hot post.
It’s always easy to remedy if you notice a drop in this traffic. You should get back to networking, visit other blogs, and tweet, etc.
ALWAYS make sure your traffic is diverse. That’s true with the saying “Never put all your eggs in one basket”.
That way is for whatever reason if any of your website traffic sources goes belly up, you should ensure that your blog will not follow it.

Marketing Takeaway

What I wished to achieve by publishing this series on different main website traffic sources was not only give an overall base knowledge on the subject to you, but also help to develop a solid traffic generation strategy that you can take back to your blog.

Did I succeed? Comment to let me know that you’re alive

About Tony Nguyen

Tony Nguyen is the founder of Business Review Center. Since 2011, he has managed a team that has collected customer feedback and complaints on digital products, then tested products, and written product reviews. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, at Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.


  1. Amy Hatada says:

    Superb blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article? I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get advice from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

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