Marketing Analytics: Understanding Website Traffic Sources

Man in white shirt holding tablet with SEO graph projected upwards with rocket ship arrow.

SEO—Search Engine Optimization—is ultimately a tool to get traffic to your website, so it can be very tempting to just look at the numbers of total users and think all is great with your marketing and advertising. But it’s important to look beyond just all traffic to see where that traffic is coming from: its source. Today we’re going over the big four—direct, organic, CPC, and referral—and providing you with an understanding of website traffic: where it’s from, how it helps, and what to watch out for.

Understanding the Traffic Sources of Your Website

Depending on what platform you’re on, your traffic source might be called something like acquisitions (such as in Google Analytics 4) or mediums (like in the reporting software Swydo). Either way, these are showing where your users came from to get to your site—a key insight when it comes to your marketing. We’ll go over each below.

Note: this blog is going to be rather Google-centric, as Google Analytics and many analytics/reporting apps use Google Search as the de facto organic traffic source and Google Ads as the CPC.

Direct Traffic: Users by URL/IRL

Direct traffic is users that opened up a browser and went directly to your website, with no intermediary such as a search engine or social media. These are users that have already visited once, have you bookmarked, or know your URL by heart (a good reason to have a simple domain). This can also include IRL (non-internet based) sources such as physical marketing like mail or billboards, business cards, or even QR codes. This traffic tends to be returning—repeat customers or people taking a second look.

Organic Traffic: Users from Search Engines

Organic traffic, also known as search traffic, is the primary focus of SEO, and for many websites, this will be their largest source of users. If you’re pulling your data from Google Analytics, this is most likely going to be 100% Google Search traffic, with other search engines being lumped into referral traffic. If your primary market is in the US, this will be fine, but if you’re pulling from other parts of the world, you may see a lot of traffic from those other search engines. Organic traffic tends to be more scattershot than other traffic sources.

CPC Traffic: Google Ads

Cost Per Click (CPC) or online ad-driven traffic in general can be hard to track. For Google Analytics and many derived analytics platforms, you’ll generally see CPC traffic from Google Ads separated out into its own category, with other traffic being placed in referral sources. You may need to dive deeper into those platforms (such as Facebook Insights) to separate “organic” and “ad” traffic at the source to get a better idea of ad performance. A well-made and funded ad campaign can send many users to your site—it’s up to you to keep them there, however.

Referral Traffic: Social Media and Websites

As alluded to above, referral traffic tends to be odds and ends, but can also contain very important traffic—notably that from social media. Sometimes this might be separated out as “Organic Social Media” by Google Analytics, but it doesn’t always catch all, especially with newer platforms. This source can also be a great insight into other places that are linking to your website as a resource, common if you’re service-oriented, have blogs, or otherwise offer useful resources.

What Do Spikes in Traffic Sources Mean?

If you’re starting marketing (especially online advertising), you can see some massive changes in your traffic. Some are good, some are bad, and some are a mixed bag. Let’s go over some common spikes, other attached KPIs, and what to watch out for.

  • High Organic Traffic: High organic traffic (search traffic) means you’re getting a lot of hits from Google Search. This can be overall good SEO or SEO tools like blogs. Note that these can have a high bounce rate depending on if services are available in the user’s area.
  • CPC Spikes of Traffic: When starting up ad campaigns, it’s important to monitor traffic to the website to make sure they are properly configured. Make sure they are pointing to the right pages with the right Calls to Action to get the most conversions.
  • Weird Direct/Referral Spikes: A common sight on most websites is the occasional spike of bot-driven traffic (either actual traffic or “ghost” traffic that only hits the Analytics code). This traffic is usually spotted by its low session duration (as low as 0 seconds) and high bounce rate. The referral version may point at fraudulent traffic sellers like “” or “”

An important thing to remember with any new traffic is to analyze both it and how your website is utilizing it. Marketing doesn’t end at getting a visitor to your website: having the right content and sales funnels is required to turn that traffic into leads or even sales. If you need help with your marketing— from social media, advertising, and SEO to get visitors to your site to building the perfect website to keep them there—contact Vision Advertising. We not only have the skills to bring that traffic in but the analytical know-how to track and optimize your marketing for it.

Find An Internship Experience That’s Tailored to YOU!<< >>Twitter vs. Threads: The Marketer and Advertiser Take

About the author : Alex Geyer

Alex wears many hats, and not just because he’s bald. A writer by background, Alex writes “content” for Vision – anything from social media statuses to blogs to website copy and beyond. In addition, as Senior Brand Strategist, he builds and maintains all search engine advertising for Vision, manages multiple client projects, and herds many meetings. In his free time, he starts and stops writing novels, reads a copious amount of fiction, plays video games, and an enthusiastic chef at home. He’s trying to become a better plant daddy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.