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7 Types of Traffic and How to Optimize It

Computer Desk

No business can stay afloat, let alone grow, without traffic, but the concept is such a grand piece of online marketing that it’s best to divide it into multiple topics. Check out each of the main types of online traffic to better understand which ones are worth optimizing for your own business. We’ve also added optimization tips for each.

Direct Traffic

Imagine you want to search online for a certain store in your local mall. You type in that mall’s URL by memory, and boom, you’re on the site. This is direct traffic, and it only gives you natural, warm leads who are familiar with your business, as accidentally typing in the URL is extremely unlikely.

Web browser designs make repeat direct traffic easy to rack up. Autocompletion URLs based on browser cache information allow someone to begin typing in the URL to your site, hit enter, and instantly go there. There isn’t much more to direct traffic, so the only real way to encourage it is by having a simple, easy-to-remember URL that you can mention easily.

Search Traffic

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Search traffic is the opposite of direct. As seen from the ubiquity of search engines, people aren’t usually sure what they’re looking for and want a list of options. When people type something into a search engine, find your site among the results, and click, that’s a successful search hit. Search engine optimization is no less valuable today than it was a decade ago, but many of the rules have changed.

Do not follow old, black hat gimmicks to try to make your website show up more often, such as keyword-stuffing, link-farming, and anything that relies on exploiting the system. Sure, sometimes bad SEO websites get away with this, but they’re far more likely to get punished by the algorithms. Instead, focus on making good content that serves a defined audience and includes natural placement of long-tail keywords.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic simply means someone not associated with your business offered a direct link to your website, and traffic followed it to you. It pairs very well with a search traffic strategy, especially with things such as blog tours. If you can get a number of related businesses, experts, and content providers to make or host content that links back to you, referral traffic will gradually pour in.

While it is good to know what referral traffic is, this is a very broad category, so it’s best to move on and focus on smaller subtypes. This will help you understand what sort of referral traffic you should optimize for.

Social Traffic

This next type of traffic — social — can work in perfect harmony with an SEO campaign. When someone finds your website through a post, shared or otherwise, on social media, that qualifies as a social hit. Even if they searched within the social media site and found you, it’s better classified as social traffic before search traffic. To a degree, social might be considered a type of referral traffic.

Social traffic is also a challenge to master. While search traffic can bring about steady, solid flows with enough effort, social has the potential to explode due to the viral nature of shared content. We can’t emphasize enough that last word: content. Amusing memes or agreeable posts might get you engagement, but what really inspires people to spread something around the internet is helpful, entertaining, or otherwise impactful blog posts, infographics, videos, etc.

Optimizing such things will come down to research on what sites are most popular with your audience and what’s working for your competitors. It also helps to study what people wish your competitors were doing better.

Organic Traffic

This is another large category worth understanding. Organic traffic simply means there was no paid advertisement involved in getting the online hit. Good SEO content invites organic traffic by being naturally worthy of showing up in relevant search engine result pages. Since everything we’ve covered so far is technically organic traffic, let’s move on to its counterpart.

Paid Traffic

Somewhat separate from all other types, paid traffic means you are spending money to get the impressions, clicks, and other results associated with traffic. It blends into social traffic very well, now that sites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to boost posts, create ads, and more.

Most successful online businesses rely on paid traffic to some degree. The key is split testing and refinement and better understanding one’s audience and what ads they are most likely to click. This way, you’ll end up with more clicks for less overall ad spend and can begin forming a reliable model of profit made in sales per dollar spent on advertising.

Email Traffic

Email traffic is a type of referral where you, or someone else, send emails en masse to people on an opt-in list. The sent email can entice them to click a link that takes them to the page you want them to visit. This sort of strategy is thunderously powerful and worth the effort taken to build an authentic list of interested leads or connections with others who have big lists.

Email traffic works best with content marketing. Use content to draw people to your site via search, social, paid traffic, etc., and then offer an incentive, such as a comprehensive e-book on the same topic, in exchange for signing up to a mailing list. The other powerful strategy is a mutual referral, where two businesses with similar audiences recommend each other’s content, essentially sharing leads to grow each other’s lists.

You might have noticed that creating great content and testing things are the yin and yang to most traffic types, especially the really powerful ones like search and email. Hopefully, now that you’ve seen such a gargantuan topic as online traffic sliced into seven categories, you have a better sense of where to focus your time and money. Just remember not to undersell the potential of making great content, because that trend shows no sign of slowing down.

About the author

Shane Hall