What Is Web Traffic and Why Should You Track It?

Christy Walters


April 20, 2023 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

europe cars in traffic to represent web traffic

How do you know if your website is working? The obvious answer is by visiting it and making sure the pages and content load. But all that tells you is if your website is functioning, not if it’s working properly to help you achieve your business goals. The best way to tell if your website is working for your business is to track web traffic to learn more about how your audience interacts with your website. Today we’re looking at what web traffic is and how you can start monitoring it to learn more about your content channels and assets:

What Is Website Traffic?

europe cars in traffic to represent web traffic

Image via Unsplash by @anoukfotografeert

Web traffic is any visit your website receives from a browser, searcher, or user. Most companies measure web traffic by volume, looking at the collective number of visits over a period, such as days, weeks, or months. Your website traffic volume often depends on your audience’s goals, the purpose of your website, and the way people access your website.

11 Types of Web Traffic

There are multiple types of website traffic you can monitor and track to better understand how people find and interact with your website. These include:

1. Organic Traffic

Organic traffic records the number of visitors who find or access your website from an unpaid source. This traffic typically comes from search engines or a naturally earned referral source. We call this traffic “organic” because you didn’t pay for an advertisement to direct that traffic to your website.

Related: How To Get Free Organic Traffic to Your Website

2. Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is any traffic that comes straight to your website without a referral. People don’t click from another site, link, or ad to reach your website. Some of the most common types of direct traffic include:

  • Typing a website’s URL into the address bar and hitting “Enter”
  • Accessing a website from a browser bookmark
  • Adding a web page to your “read later” list within a browser and accessing it later
  • Setting a website as your browser home page and opening a browser window

Related: Organic Traffic vs Direct Traffic: What You Need to Know

3. Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is any web traffic that comes from people who visit your website by clicking a referral link. These links come from any third-party websites that host a link to your site. These may include:

  • Online directories
  • Forums
  • Websites or blogs on other domains

Although search engines and social media platforms are third-party sites to your website, search and social traffic are not referral traffic. Most analytics programs categorize search and social traffic as their own types of web visits.

4. Search Traffic

Search traffic is any web traffic that comes to your site from a search engine like Google or Bing. There are two common types of search traffic: paid and organic. We discuss both of those niche types of search traffic here in their own sections.

5. Email Traffic

Email traffic is any web visits you get from company or promotional emails. Most email marketing campaigns contain links that send readers to your website to complete an action or conversion. Email traffic may only appear for certain pages on your site, like dedicated landing pages, where you direct visitors to complete a call to action.

6. Social Traffic

Social traffic is any web visits you get from social media sites and platforms. These sites may refer people to your website through post links, website links in profiles or bios, or links in stories and other interactive content. Some social platforms that may provide traffic include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat

Related: How To Use Social Media To Drive Web Traffic

7. Paid Ad Traffic

Paid ad traffic includes any website visits that you get from people clicking links on your paid advertisements. These may appear across the internet as banner ads, boosted posts, or monetized or affiliate links. Unlike with referral traffic, paid social media ad traffic is part of paid ad traffic rather than social traffic. That’s because it has a monetary component and looks at the cost of acquisition for each lead. This is part of the return on investment (ROI) when reviewing your analytics.

Related: Is Paid Traffic Worth the Money?

8. Paid Search Traffic

Paid search traffic covers any website visits that you get from search engine marketing (SEM). These ads appear within a search engine results page (SERP) for specific keywords or search terms. You may often compare paid search traffic to organic search traffic for certain keywords to determine if paying for ad space within those SERPs is worth the investment.

Related: SEO vs PPC: When To Use Each Marketing Strategy

9. Branded Traffic

Branded traffic comprises web traffic from people searching for brand-specific keywords. These keywords typically only include those that navigate exclusively to your company’s domain. An example of some branded keywords that could bring in branded traffic include:

Related: What Is Branded Traffic and How Does It Affect SEO?

10. Domain Redirect Traffic

Domain redirect traffic is traffic that comes from a user typing the wrong URL for your website into the address bar and getting redirected to the correct website. This type of traffic isn’t something that happens automatically. Instead, your web or IT team must use a program or service to make this happen. For example, if someone tried to type in www.coopypress.com, they wouldn’t automatically get redirected to www.copypress.com unless our web team purchased that domain and instituted a redirect to our main website.

screenshot of a coopypress.com that can't be reached to show domain redirect web traffic

Domain redirect traffic is one of the less common traffic types you’ll have on your website. It’s more common for companies that use a lot of paid advertising to redirect people trying to complete a direct traffic visit to push them toward an ad or conversion page.

11. Subdomain Traffic

Subdomain traffic includes any visits you get to your website’s subdomains. Some common subdomains include eCommerce stores, location-specific websites, members-only areas of websites, or blogs. Search engines and analytics programs often see your subdomains as separate web entities, even though they attach to your primary domain. For this reason, you may track your subdomain traffic separately from your primary domain traffic. Doing this can still bring you valuable insights into how people visit and interact with your site.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Subdomain Traffic

What Elements Factor Into Web Traffic?

In the 1990s when the internet first became widely popular, web traffic was the premiere statistic. The more people who found and visited your site, the better it performed on search engines. Of course, that was before other web metrics existed. Today, web traffic isn’t just about the click and visit. Many other elements affect this statistic:

Visits or Sessions

Visits were the original hallmark of web traffic. They include each click that someone makes from a search engine or another website. They also include any direct traffic that comes from people typing your URL into the address bar and hitting enter. Web traffic analysts also call visits “sessions.” Though Google Analytics and other programs use the terms interchangeably, you can often think of a visit as anyone landing on your website from an outside source and a session as the time they actively engage with your website. Sessions end when someone leaves your website or when they’re inactive on your site for longer than 30 minutes.

Length of Visit or Session

Today, most web analysts aren’t as concerned with the number of visits or sessions their sites get. The more important metric is the length of the visit or session. Having a high traffic volume doesn’t matter if people only stay on your website for a few seconds at a time. When sessions only last a few seconds, people aren’t really exploring your site. They’re not reading any content or browsing your eCommerce store or service pages. But the longer an active visit, the more engaged people are with your site, and your business by extension.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a web metric that measures the percentage of visitors who enter a site and leave within a few seconds rather than browsing other pages and content. This metric ties closely to the length of a visit or session. It helps tell you how many of your visits and sessions are valuable. If you have high bounce rates on specific pages or across your site you may benefit from optimizing your website to get people to stay longer.

Related: Website Analysis: What It Is and Why You Need It

Conversion Percentage

If people are staying on your website for long periods and your bounce rate is good, the next important thing to look at for web traffic is how much of it is converting. While it’s great to have a lot of engaged visitors, engagement isn’t what pays the bills and makes a profit. It’s important to see the number of visitors that convert across your website. A conversion doesn’t always mean making a purchase, though that’s likely the most common conversion for eCommerce sites. 

Other types of conversions for B2B businesses may include signing up for a newsletterdownloading an eBook or resource, or scheduling a call with a sales representative. All these actions show that your engaged visitors are still moving through the marketing funnel and getting closer to becoming paying clients or customers with your brand.

Unique and Returning Visitors

Unique visitors make up the web traffic of people or devices that have never visited your site before. They’re brand new and seeing your content for the first time. Returning visitors are those who have come to your site before, either using the same login, browser, or device. It’s important to track both of these metrics when looking at your web traffic to understand how many new audience members you’re bringing in and how many are returning for more interactions with your brand.

Page Visits

Tracking page visits as part of your web traffic helps you understand where your audience looks when they’re on your site. Each page has different information that may be of interest to different segments of your audience. For example, your blogs may be more interesting for people looking for information while your services pages are more popular with people ready to purchase from the company. Tracking which pages people visit and how long they stay there can help you learn more about your target audience and their wants and needs.

Average Page Views Per Visitor

Web traffic tracks more than just the pages people visit by also looking at how many they visit throughout one session. The more people click around on your site when they visit, the more interested they are in your products, services, or content. Higher engagement, such as visiting multiple pages in one session, often leads to higher conversion rates.

Time on Page

The time visitors spend on each page is a helpful web traffic statistic for tour content marketing. When people spend more time on pages with blog posts, articles, videos, or interactive content, it means they’re engaging with it. They’re reading or watching your pieces all the way through. This engagement is an indicator that they’re pleased with what they’re seeing and may come back again for more.


Tracking channels for your web traffic can tell you where your visitors originated. This helps you learn where and how people found your content. Some of the most common channels that send traffic to your website include:

  • Search engines
  • Social media platforms
  • Paid advertising
  • Emails
  • Third-party sites

The more you know about where your audience comes from, the better you can create content for those channels to target new visitors.

Live Visitors

The number of live visitors on your website tells you how much of your traffic is currently active. A live visitor can either be a unique or returning visitor, but they’re also one that is actively browsing your site as you’re checking your analytics. This metric can tell you more about your website’s speed and capacity based on the number of visitors you receive at one time. For example, Ticketmaster likely should have been paying attention to its live visitors and bandwidth capacity when selling tickets to the Taylor Swift Eras Tour to avoid crashes and slow load times.

Visitor Location

Visitor location metrics tell you more about the audience that’s visiting your website. This is especially important for location-based businesses to understand if they’re receiving quality web traffic. For example, a small ice cream shop in rural Ohio may not get any business from website visitors in Texas. Learning where your traffic comes from can help you identify if you’re reaching the right audience.

Operating Systems, Browsers, and Devices

Most web traffic analytics programs also track the operating systems, browsers, or devices people use to access your website. This tells you how your web visitors are interacting with your information. Learning what programs and devices they use to find your content can help you better optimize your website to give them the best user experience when they visit.

Cost Per Lead (CPL)

Cost per lead, or other similar terms like cost per customer (CPC) or customer acquisition cost (CAC), looks at how much money it costs to bring one qualified lead to your website. This metric matters for your paid traffic campaigns because the amount you have to pay per lead directly ties to your budget. With a smaller budget or higher CPL cost, you may not be able to bring in as many qualified leads as you could through organic methods.

Related: What Is a Customer Acquisition Cost?

Why Should You Care About Web Traffic?

Web traffic metrics help you understand how people view and interact with your website. After all, a website without any visitors isn’t much of a website at all. The entire point of having a site for your company is to attract visitors online and encourage them to interact with your brand. Analyzing your web traffic helps give your team a better understanding of who is visiting your site and why. 

With this data, you can determine if you’re targeting the right audience for your products and services. You can also see if those are the people who are actually visiting your site. More visitors also lead to better brand recognition, more engagement, and more conversions from your audience.

How Does a Website Record Traffic?

When a user visits your website, their computer or device communicates with your website’s server. The device tells your server which pages the user accesses by transmitting distinct files from your webpage to their device. Servers compile all the file requests from each web page to determine the length of a session. The server saves this information in a program called the “server log” on its hard drive. This log becomes the database of information your team uses to understand website traffic and visitor activity on your site.

What Tools Can You Use To See Your Web Traffic?

One of the most common tools businesses use to track website traffic is Google Analytics. This free program allows you to link it to your website and then it monitors all the important website information you want to learn. You can pull reports and compare traffic data across pages for more in-depth analysis.

Aside from Google Analytics, companies use an array of tracking tools to learn more about their website performance. Ahrefs provides tracking on which pages on your site get the most traffic. SEMRush lets you look at traffic generated by your backlinks and paid ads. Other tools, like programs that offer heatmaps or session recordings, can give you deeper insights into visitors’ behavior related to your web traffic. Some companies with innovative IT teams may even develop their own traffic-tracking programs to monitor specific visitor website behavior.

Related: How To Set Up Google Analytics for a Website

Traffic Volume vs. Traffic Quality

One of the biggest debates about web traffic is which matters more: volume or quality. Sure, it probably feels great to look at your website metrics and see thousands of visits, views, and sessions. But with no context, traffic volume is just a vanity number. While increasing your traffic volume can increase your conversions and sales, that only happens if you’re bringing in high-quality traffic in large numbers. When your traffic quality is better, meaning you’re bringing in more qualified leads to your site, then you have a better chance to see an increase in engagement, conversions, and purchases.

To increase both your traffic volume and quality, work to improve your SEO and optimize your pages for search intent. You can also work on your content promotion to present your website to more qualified visitors where they already spend time.

Related: Traffic Loss: What It Is and How To Diagnose It

What Is a Good Number of Website Visits?

As we’ve said, it’s hard to determine what is a “good” number of website visits and traffic without any additional context. A number that’s “good” for one company might be terrible or exceptional for another. When looking at your web traffic numbers and metrics, you have to consider unique aspects of your brand, such as:

  • How long your company has been in business
  • How long you’ve had an active website
  • The average number of website visits you receive
  • The number of additional channels where you share your website link and content
  • How big your industry or niche is
  • The quality of traffic you’re receiving
  • The conversion rate of your website visitors

All of these elements can affect what your team considers a good volume of traffic for your site. What looks good to a small startup business is going to be much different than what looks good to a corporation like Amazon. It’s best to track your website data for a few months to establish a baseline. Then, as you run targeted campaigns to attract more website traffic, you can see how those efforts change your numbers.

Drive and Track More Web Traffic With These Resources

Website traffic and all its components are helpful for understanding how your audience finds and views your website and how they interact with it when they visit. But you don’t have to sit idly by and watch the numbers. Instead, make a plan to drive traffic to your website using some of our CopyPress resources:

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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