How To Analyze and Grow Website Traffic [And Why It Matters]
The biggest challenge with Google Analytics for many small business owners is that it provides too much information. Every report means something to someone, but which are most important from a small business perspective?
If you’re responsible for a small business website, chances are you have Google Analytics installed to track your website traffic. Google Analytics is used on more than half of all websites. And if it’s not installed, it should be: the Google Analytics (GA) tool is free, powerful, and easy to set up—what more could you want?
For many small business owners, the biggest problem with GA is that it provides too much information. There are a dozen reports under the “Audience” tab alone (not counting “custom” reports). Every report means something to someone, but which are most important from a small business perspective?
That’s a question that takes an entirely separate blog post. The short answer? One of the most actionable reports for a small business is the Traffic Sources report. To access it within GA, click on Traffic Sources > Overview in the left sidebar menu. You should see something like this:
Although the percentages will vary from site to site, the Google categorizations remain the same: direct, referral or search visits. Which sources of traffic should you work to increase? All of them! And although you can adopt a number of strategies to boost your site’s traffic, a proven approach is web presence optimization (WPO): the art and science of being found.
As you study your Traffic Sources report, it helps to understand each type of web traffic, which also helps you learn more about your audience—and in turn, you can make improvements to your site that better serve visitors, thereby boosting your traffic. Let’s take a look at the three traffic sources and how you can improve them:
Direct traffic primarily comes from two sources: visitors typing in a site URL directly into their browser, or clicking on a stored bookmark. The first group is likely to contain more prospective customers and others new to your site, while the latter is more often existing customers and partners.
To drive more repeat (bookmarked) direct visits, offer resources, additional products/services, support and other reasons, including regularly updated content, for customers to keep returning to your site.
New direct visits result from both offline and online branding activities. Offline tactics include trade shows and other events, business cards, direct mail, printed brochures, signage and print advertising.
Online branding tactics include media mentions, building links by writing guest posts and articles, product reviews, social media, and industry activities like directory listings and trade association membership. Note that, as part of an effective WPO strategy, these activities also drive more referral visits and create valuable backlinks that help attract more visits from search.
Referral traffic results from visitors clicking links on other websites that lead to your website—think of it as following a trail of digital breadcrumbs directly to your online hub. Possible sources of referral traffic links include:
- News articles in trade, local or business publications
- Coverage by industry or financial analysts
- Product reviews
- Blogs (guest posts, comments or blogroll links)
- Industry and local business directories
- Partner websites (e.g., retailers, resellers, technology partners, affiliates or vendors)
- Social media sites (e.g., YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, SlideShare, Scoop.it)
- Online forums and discussion boards
- Trade show and event websites
- Other company or product websites or microsites (mostly for large organizations)
In many cases, your company may attract such links over time simply through normal business activities. A more proactive (and effective) approach, however, is to help build links through a combined digital marketing strategy that includes PR, social, content and SEO. As you use each of these components to build links and boost your visibility, keep a close eye on your referral traffic. What types of sites send the most traffic your way? That data is a clear signal to continue using those sources in order to keep your referral traffic at optimal levels. Additionally, a robust set of WPO metrics can help in evaluating the value of traffic from each referral source as well as identify competitor links and tactics to emulate.
As you can probably guess, search traffic is comprised of visits from Google, Yahoo!, Bing and a host of smaller search engines. To increase search traffic, your site needs to be optimized to rank highly in the search engines for the types of phrases that buyers use when searching for the types of products and/or services you offer.
Rankings are determined by a combination of relevance (how well does the content on your site align with the search query) and authority (the number and quality of backlinks to your website).
Backlinks, as noted above, can be generated through PR, social, SEO, and other marketing tactics. Links are most valuable when they appear on sites that are highly relevant to your business, i.e., other websites that your prospective customers would be likely to visit for information. Links from low-quality, general purpose directories were helpful for ranking at one time, but are now essentially worthless (and can even be harmful to rankings if your site has too many such links).
The best type of content is that which educates your buyers or helps them solve problems, and only indirectly promotes your products or services. After all, your customers don’t necessarily want to hear how great you are—they want help solving their problems as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. And many times, some of the most valuable backlinks to your site will be those that are created voluntarily and spontaneously by others—bloggers, site owners, social media users—based on the quality and usefulness of your content.
Given the near ubiquitous use of the web for researching product and services prior to buying, optimizing all of your potential sources of site traffic gives you the best chance to be found when your prospective customers are looking. And as you continue to analyze your site’s traffic, be aware that website marketing and traffic building are ongoing processes. It’s critical to regularly examine your data so that you can spot potential problems and fix them before your site’s visibility and traffic is further compromised. On the flip side, your customers will tell you what you’re doing right—you simply have to pay attention to the data and understand that it not only tells you a powerful story about your customers, but also helps you make key decisions.
Are you listening?