Traffic Source ROI Which One Is the Most Effective?

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We talked earlier about the traffic coming into your blog – what they’re looking for, how they found you, and most important, where they’re coming from. Today, let’s talk about which of those traffic sources is the most effective.

Just in case you missed those earlier posts, there are three main sources for blog traffic: Search Engine traffic, Referral traffic and Direct traffic. As to which is most effective, they’re each special in their own way.

traffic source

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Search Engine Traffic

In the beginning, when your blog is still relatively new, the bulk of your traffic will be coming from the search engines. For this reason, it’s important that you focus on keywords so you can attract targeted traffic.

Most of the search engine traffic that arrives on your blog will be first-time visitors, looking for specific answers to specific questions. If you over-deliver, and give them loads of great quality content, these visitors will turn into Direct Traffic, which will help increase your overall traffic.

So, search engine traffic is most effective for helping introduce your blog to new visitors and building Direct Traffic.

Direct Traffic

Direct Traffic is just what it sounds like: Visitors who come directly to your blog, either from a bookmark or by typing your blog’s URL directly into their address bar. These visitors are generally repeat visitors – they’ve either bookmarked your blog on a previous visit or they’re following your RSS feed, which they subscribed to on a previous visit. Or, they simply remember the name of your blog and they’re typing it out themselves.

Since this Direct Traffic consists of repeat visitors, that means they like your blog, which also means they’re more likely to share it with their friends. And, this is the traffic that will most likely turn into paying traffic.

So, Direct Traffic is most effective for sharing your links with their friends and for generating sales.

Referral Traffic

Referral Traffic is the traffic that comes in from the social networks and from the links you build on other blogs, on other properties, and with article marketing. In most cases, Referral visitors will be first-time visitors, however, there’s one big difference.

Unlike the visitors who arrive via the search engines, your blog has been personally recommended to the people who arrive via a referral. They’ve seen your link, posted by their trusted friends, on Facebook or Twitter or another social network. Or another blogger whom they already trust has referred them to your blog.

Again, if someone arrives on your site via a referral link and they like what they see, they’ll most likely turn into a Direct visitor. And those Direct Visitors are the people who are going to share your links and turn into buyers.

As you can see then, all types of traffic are effective for a different reason and each has a role to play in the success of your blog. So don’t neglect one traffic source because you think another is more important. Focus on developing all three traffic sources and you’ll have a success, money-making blog.


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  1. Dave Lucas

    Hmmm… I see surges in each type of incoming traffic from time to time. But I can’t figure out why one day I’ll post something that goes red hot on Google and Bing, then a week later post about a similarly hot topic that fails to register on the search engines. The most constant traffic I encounter is OLD posts from 2005-2009 that have somehow “stuck” to the search engines, particularly Google, and some of them aren’t really that good (while other “marvelous” posts are ignored) – go figure!

    1. Steven

      I agree with you Dave, it’s not always easy to know why some posts get a lot of visitors and some others don’t… Your best bet is to set alerts on Google to discover easily when someone new is linking to you, and keep your eyes opened on Social Media sites to see if you get mentioned by someone with a huge following.

  2. Justin Germino

    Good overview of the traffic types, Direct and Referral traffic are least likely to click on passive ad income methods like AdSense, AdSense banners are most often clicked by Search Visitors, whereas if you sell or affiliate market products your sales are higher potential with referral and direct as you say. Unless the one arriving on your blog via search was looking for the exact product you are offering and is convinced to buy it.

    1. Steven

      Thanks for your comment Justin. Do you have any data to back up your claims about Adsense?

      I would agree that in the past, search visitors were probably more likely to click on an ad than referral or direct visitors, but I believe that retargeting technologies are leveling the field by presenting ads which are targeted directly to the users and not only to the subject of a given page.

    2. Justin Germino

      Not anything concrete, and while you are probably right about the better retargeting technologies for search ads, my site which has 70% search related traffic as primary visitors still sees more profit from AdSense than any affiliate sales.

      My site analytics shows AdSense income vastly increases on months were site gets more unique visits/pageviews in Google Analytics, but affiliate sales/CTR on the “sales” banners on same site remain flat.

  3. Gettysburggerry

    Great overview, and I think many will find this info helpful. Personally I try to check numbers on a regular basis. Numbers are great but as has been pointed out, I find that sometimes we have no control of what happens with a particular post. I think you can see patterns, but you can’t live and die by them…Great post..

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