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How to Analyze Referring Traffic

Search engine traffic is something you rave about because it usually converts well, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the traffic you get from referring sites. Here are a few things you can analyze to improve your referral traffic.

Pageviews per visitor

Some referring sites will drive more page views per visitor. If your revenue is ad driven, it is really important to increase your page views per visitor. In this case here are a few things you can do:

  1. Look for the referring sites that drive you the most pageviews per visitor.
  2. Analyze why those specific sites drive you more page views per visitor. In most cases those sites drive you more page views per visitor because they tend to be more related to your website.
  3. After you understand why those specific sites drive you more pageviews, consider creating a business relationship with them. There is always more you can do with them.
  4. Lastly, you want to find new sites that haven’t linked to you yet that are relevant to your business. These sites should help increase your average pageviews per visitor.

Bounce rate

If certain referring sites have a high bounce rate, your conversions from these traffic sources are probably going to be really low. One thing you can do is use services like Google Website Optimizer and Crazy Egg to get a better understanding of how visitors from specific traffic sources engage with your website.

One thing you can also try out is to show customized messages to certain referring traffic sources, similar to the screenshot below.

Time on site

Sometimes people just don’t want to spend too much time on your website. Trying to solve this is a very difficult thing to do. If most of your referring traffic sources have a very low time on site, there is probably a lot of room for improvement.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to survey your audience with an online survey tool. This way you can find out what they like about your website and what they dislike. Hopefully you will be able to fix the things they dislike and understand their needs better which should help increase the time each visitor spends on your website.


In most cases, the best referring traffic sources are the ones who that bring visitors who have a high level of engagement with you site. For each site engagement is going to be different, but for a blog a common engagement metric is the number of comments.

If you look at the screenshot above it shows what referring sites cause visitors to comment on my blog posts. One traffic source that I would have never expected to cause a decent amount of engagement is Twitter. So after finding out how valuable Twitter is, I decided to put Twitter badges on my blog. This has helped increase traffic from Twitter, thus causing more comments on my blog.

You can’t just measure referring sites based on the traffic they drive; you have to look at which sites are causing engagement. So stop measuring vanity metrics and start the measuring actionable metrics.

Percentage of new visitors

Don’t just analyze which traffic sources are sending you traffic, but look at which traffic sources are driving you new visitors. Some sources are going to drive you a lot of traffic, but very few new visitors.

If you want to grow your website you have to get new visitors coming to your website. So instead of just trying to convince related or somewhat competing sites to link to you, go after new sites whose visitors may have never heard of your site.

Low hanging fruit

Instead of sorting referring traffic from high to low, I prefer sorting from low to high. This allows you to see what sites are linking to you, but aren’t driving much traffic.

For example, Huffington Post linked to my website and drove very little traffic. So instead of assuming that the Huffington Post is a useless referring site, I’ll try to get my website on there again because according to Alexa, it is a very popular site. Plus if a website already linked to you once, you have a very high chance of getting a link again.

Geo based traffic

If your business specializes in regional sales, you need to start going after regional traffic. What you will notice is that certain referring sites drive more traffic from specific regions.

Building relationships with sites that concentrate on a specific region is the best way to get more specific geographic based traffic. The easiest way to do this is to get involved in local business events within that region.


Traffic isn’t always about quantity. If you want to grow your website go after quality referring traffic and don’t just worry about your raw visitor count going up.

  1. What are you using to generate that report on how many comments come from each referrer?

  2. Do you have a ballpark response rate for surveys given to visitors from referring sites?

    Great post –

  3. Aside from Google Analytics, what are other tools do you use to track site traffic?

  4. Josh, I am using KISSmetrics. ;-)

    Ben, I don’t. For each site it is going to be different.

    Bryan, I use Feedburner, Crazy Egg, and Omniture.

  5. Neil, you are absolutely right when you suggest the tactic of GEO-TARGETING.

    Many of our clients like dentists, lawyers, and other such professionals need quality traffic from surrounding geographical areas – national traffic or a visit from the UK will do them no good.


  6. considering the importance it has,it is not prudent not to work on this.Referring traffic is really an important way to getting your site ‘there’

  7. you would need a loyal reader base if you are promoting products as your main source of income. however, if your bread and butter is ppc, then i personally think you don’t need to be worried about bounce rates… what do you think?

  8. I know that referring traffic is something which gives a slight boost to your site but “search engine” traffic is the “Key”.

    My site has lots of referring traffic which is bit satisfying but want to increase “search engine traffic”. Having more than 1000 pages indexed i should atleast get a fair amount of traffic but that’s not the case. Do you have any idea on how to improve “search engine” traffic?

  9. Hi, its informative article. I just want to know that what is best thing in these “Direct Visitors, Search Engine referrer OR referrer site” ???

    Thanks a lot !

  10. How can we increase the referral traffic as well as direct traffic???

  11. Corrinne Seese Aug 10, 2011 at 8:26 am

    My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for. can you offer guest writers to write content in your case? I wouldn’t mind publishing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome blog!


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