What Is Referral Traffic and Is Your Website Getting It?

Christy Walters


May 3, 2023

two tan people holding hands to represent referral traffic

Do you know that 92% of consumers are more likely to take a brand or product suggestion from a friend rather than from an advertisement? People are more likely to take the word of someone they know, or sometimes even a stranger, over what a marketing team tells them about a brand or product. Though your content marketing isn’t selling any of your products or services directly, this word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendation strategy still applies to bringing traffic to your website. Referral traffic is the web visit equivalent of a WOM suggestion. Today, we’re looking at what referral traffic is and the impact it has on your brand, SEO, and marketing plans:

What Is Referral Traffic?

Referral traffic is any visit to your website or domain that comes from a third-party site. You receive referral traffic from backlinks that lead to your site from other domains. Sites that send traffic to yours are called “referrers” because they refer traffic from one location to the next. Some of the most common sources of referral traffic are content partnerships, affiliate links, and news coverage.

Related: What Is Web Traffic and Why Should You Track It?

Why Does Referral Traffic Matter for Marketing and SEO?

Referral traffic is one of the most common types of traffic that comes to your website. This is because people trust what other authoritative sources say about your brand, products, or services. If their favorite blogger or influencer mentions your company and links to your website in their content, those audience members are more likely to give your brand a look. While it’s possible to run a successful business without grabbing referral traffic, why would you want to? Here are a few reasons why referral traffic matters for your marketing efforts:

Improves Website and Brand Exposure

The more you focus on attracting referral traffic the more brand exposure you get. Creating partnerships with new publishers and creating high-quality content that’s worth sharing are just two ways you can expose your brand to new audiences. When your website and content start receiving more backlinks, that means new companies and audience members are taking notice that you exist. More brand exposure can lead to more traffic, conversions, and sales.

Finds New Audiences

When you get more brand exposure, that also helps you find new audiences to attract with your content and advertising. By putting your content marketing assets and links to your website where new audiences spend time, you make spark their interest. As we already said, word-of-mouth marketing helps attract new audiences. Creating partnerships with influencers, publishers, and other organizations that encourage them to share your links and content can help your website reap this benefit.

Develops Networks

Working with influencers, publishers, and other websites helps develop your professional network. You get to know the webmasters and marketing teams at other organizations. When you have this type of network, it can help with future marketing collaborations. Networking is also beneficial when you’re trying to attract new leads.

For example, if you have a good networking partnership with an organization in an industry adjacent to yours, they might be able to recommend new leads and clients for you. If a web hosting company has a client that needs content marketing services, they could recommend an industry partner. If the hosting company works with CopyPress, they may refer that client to us to discuss a new partnership.

Improves SEO

Referral traffic comes from backlinks. The more quality backlinks you have, the better your site and content perform in search. Referrals from high-quality and trustworthy websites show Google and other search engines that your site, too, is trustworthy. This improves your domain authority and your potential to rank better in search. Better search positioning may lead to more referral traffic and more organic search traffic.

Proves Channel Success

Tracking referral traffic from different sources can help you understand which channels and marketing methods are most effective at helping you reach your brand goals. This is especially helpful for working with content promotion partnerships. Tracking referral traffic and its sources can tell you which ones are most successful in bringing in visits, conversions, and sales. Knowing your best assets can help you plan your budget and marketing strategies accordingly.

Is Search Traffic Referral Traffic?

Search traffic and referral traffic are not the same things. Although a search engine is technically a third-party website off your domain that sends you traffic, it’s a category of traffic all its own. Search traffic is any website visitor that comes to your domain from a search engine query, paid or organic. The difference between referrals and search traffic comes down to two main things: properties and analytics.

Most analytics programs separate these types of traffic into two distinct categories to give you more insights into how people reach your website. The programs do this because they view search engines and other websites as different types of properties. Third-party referral sites link to your website by choice or through a link-building partnership with your brand. Search engines, instead, rank sites and content based on a series of factors that signal relevance, authority, and trustworthiness.

Related: Is Search Traffic the Same as Referral Traffic?

Is Social Media Traffic Referral Traffic?

Social media traffic is a type of referral traffic. These platforms are third-party sites that link to yours through shares, ads, and organic posts from creators or followers. Some analytics programs lump social traffic into referral traffic metrics, but not all. Especially with the popularity of social media today, it’s not uncommon to see this type of traffic traced and recorded in its own category. Some programs even track social media traffic in two categories: paid and organic. This distinction may show the difference between traffic from paid ads on each platform and organic traffic from post shares and comments.

If your brand has a large social media presence on many platforms, we recommend leaving social media traffic tracking as its own category. That way you can distinguish between the traffic you’re bringing in from website content and syndication partnerships and your social media marketing. If your brand doesn’t rely on social media as one of its big traffic sources but does have a presence, you may choose to include social traffic with referral traffic. In this case, there won’t be much of a distinction between the two.

Related: How To Use Social Media To Drive Web Traffic

What Types of Referral Traffic Work Best?

There are plenty of links that help you earn referral traffic. But they’re not made equally. Some may be more likely to get clicks than others. Here are some of the most likely sources of content placement and referral traffic for websites:

  • News outlets and aggregators: These sources often bring your website referral traffic because they don’t reproduce your content. Instead, they reference an article, topic, or idea, and readers have to visit your site to get more information.
  • Resource lists: Bloggers and influencers may make lists of their favorite products or service providers for different niches and share them with their audience on various channels. These pieces may get you more referral links from people at the middle of the marketing funnel looking to compare products or services.
  • Reviews: Links within reviews on any platform may lead to more referral traffic, especially from positive reviews. These tools take WOM marketing into the digital space and allow real customers or partners to share their thoughts about your brand with the world.

What Types of Referral Traffic Work the Least?

If there’s a list of the best ways to get referral traffic, there has to be a list of the worst. Here are some common link-building strategies that you may think help you build referral traffic but often end up being less effective:

  • Image credits: While it’s courteous of other sites to give your brand recognition if they use one of your images, the backlink often doesn’t generate many clicks or referral traffic.
  • In-text blog or resource article links: Even though this is a huge link-building goal for many companies, in-text links don’t generate as much referral traffic as you might expect. The link has to be so irresistible that people are willing to leave the content they’re currently exploring to view something else, and the probability of that happening is lower than when they’re exploring a resource list or a review.
  • Guest post links: While guest posting is often viewed as a great link-building tactic, it often brings less referral traffic than you’d hope. Because most guest posts reproduce full blog or article content, there isn’t much reason for people to return to your website unless they want to explore a specific product or service mentioned within the content.

How Do You Gain Referral Traffic?

There are plenty of strategies and channels that can help increase your referral traffic. But what really makes those strategies and channels work? Here are some tips to help you gain referral traffic no matter the methods you choose to earn it:

Explore Your Audience

Knowing your audience is a key way to help you get more referral traffic. And by the audience, we don’t just mean the people you want to buy things from your company. Your “audience” for content marketing and website visits is much larger than just your leads and customers. Researchers, journalists, potential brand partners, and competitors all visit your website, too. 

Aside from your competitors, these are the people you’re looking to wow with your content to get referral links. The more you know about how they look for information and what they might find valuable to share with their own audiences can help you develop better web pages and content to earn more backlinks.


Though paid traffic is its own type of traffic to track, advertising your website and content can lead to more referrals. Advertising helps with brand awareness and recognition. Even if your ad doesn’t bring in tons and tons of clicks, it can bring your company name to the searcher’s or browser’s attention. Later, when they’re looking at another website and see a link to your company site, they may be more likely to click. This happens because they’ve already had exposure to your brand through advertising.


We already mentioned this above, but networking is a key step to earning more referral traffic. The better relationships you create with content partners, influencers, and even journalists, the more chances you have to get referrals. In marketing, you can network both online and offline. Engage with people on social media platforms like LinkedIn or in forums to create new connections. You can also meet people in your industry at conferences, trade shows, or other in-person events designed for networking.

Referral traffic comes from backlinks that lead to your site. When another website shares a link to your content within theirs, that becomes a backlink for your portfolio. Having a large backlink profile can help improve both your referral and search traffic, as long as it’s full of high-quality referrals.

Having many backlinks doesn’t matter if they’re all spammy and low-quality. This can hurt your search engine positioning and domain authority (DA). In turn, a poor DA and low rankings in search may decrease the number of good backlinks you get. Auditing and sculpting your backlink portfolio can help make your site more appealing to search engines and referral partners.

Download your copy of our free eBook: Growing and Sculpting Your Link Portfolio

Create Unique Content

It might sound simple, but the best way to get referrals is to develop high-quality, unique content that people can’t find anywhere else. A well-written article, an informative infographic, or a thorough podcast episode are all things that may attract someone’s attention. If they find it interesting or valuable, they’ll be more likely to share it with their own audiences or social media followers. Content partnerships and collaborations with others in your network are also great ways to create new and individualized content while earning potential backlinks and referrals to your site.

How Can You View and Track Referral Traffic To Your Website?

Analytics programs like Google Analytics are some of the most common tools to help you view and traffic the referral traffic to your website. The programs report the referring domain, the number of visitors it brings, and the behavior of those visitors once they reach your website. To register a referral, the user’s browser shares information with your website server. 

The HTTP referrer identifies where a user came from and where they visited when they got to your website. This information request between the server and the browser includes data about the visitor and the steps they took leading up to landing on your website. Your analytics program captures this information to share with you in reports.

Marketers also use Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs) to track the exact source of referral traffic. This allows them to monitor the traffic they bring in from a specific ad or marketing campaign. For example, if your company runs social media ads, you may use a UTM for ads on each platform to find out which one drives the most traffic to your site.

Related: How To Set Up Google Analytics for a Website

What Metrics and KPIs Help You Track Referral Traffic?

Though referral traffic is its own metric to track in your analytics program, there are other metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that help you understand the value of the referral traffic you’re attracting. Some of them include:

  • Bounce rate: The lower the bounce rate of your referrals, the more time visitors from those sources are spending on your page and absorbing or engaging with your content.
  • Length of session: Tied to bounce rate, the length of a session for each referral tells you how long someone sends on your site once they arrive there.
  • Unique vs. returning visitors: This metric tells you how many referrals are from new audience members compared to returning ones using the same link to visit your site over and over.
  • Conversion rate: This metric helps you determine how many visitors from each referral convert once they reach your website. Conversions may differ based on the purpose of the page, such as downloads, sign-ups, or purchases.

What Is a Good Percentage of Referral Traffic?

Referral traffic is just one type of traffic you can attract to your website. That means that it’s a percentage of the total traffic you receive to your site on any day. You may wonder what a “good” percentage of referral traffic is in comparison to your other traffic types. There isn’t a set number that makes your referral traffic “good” or “bad.” Instead, like with most metrics, it depends more on your baseline averages and current marketing goals.

For example, if you’re not currently receiving any referral traffic and you’re running campaigns to increase it, even 1% or 2% of referrals in your daily traffic is “good.” That means you’re improving this area of your marketing. But if you normally see 7% or 10% of your daily traffic from referrals and that number starts to decrease, you may view that as a “bad” referral percentage. 

Instead of focusing on a specific number, look at your proportions. Likely, you’ll have more organic search traffic than referral traffic. You may also have more referral traffic than direct traffic unless you work for a large corporation.

Referral Traffic Is Just One Traffic Source

Referral traffic isn’t the only way to attract new visitors to your website. You can also bring visitors to your website through search and organic traffic, direct visits, and paid marketing ads, among other sources. Targeting all types of traffic with your marketing materials helps you reach the largest audience possible. When you reach more people, you have a better chance of bringing new visitors to your site and even increasing your SEO and conversion rates.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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