Where Should Traffic Come From? Finding Your Web Traffic Mix

Apr 30th 2015

Where Should Traffic Come From? Finding Your Web Traffic Mix

When many executives, Marketing Directors, and small business owners ask for web analytics data, they’re usually asking about where traffic, leads and sales come from. Most non-analysts don’t understand the possibilities and potential with web analytics, but knowing the sources where web business originates is a crucial first piece in understanding website performance. Finding that data is as simple as opening an “all traffic” report in your web analytics tool.

What The All Traffic Report Tells You

I’ve poked through hundreds of Google Analytics accounts owned by businesses large and small, and each time I open a new account I always start with a quick overview of the business’ All Traffic report. Along with understanding how much traffic a website is earning, driving, and paying for, the report usually tells me one of three things:

1. This company has diversified their digital marketing investments and likely has a healthy web presence.

2. This company is over-reliant on a particular channel or tactic and is in danger of being crushed by their competitors, a search engine, or other market forces.

3. This company’s analytics implementation appears to be broken and it’s unlikely that they’re making data-driven marketing decisions.

Knowing that the company’s web presence falls into one of these three buckets is great intel into continuing a high-level marketing discussion. When you venture into a discussion with a client about their traffic, the inevitable burning question will surface:

“What should my traffic breakdown look like?”

Unfortunately, as with most analytics answers, there’s no one-size-fits-all response without a strong understanding of the business, the market and the customer. Ultimately, you want to be where your customers are, and that should dictate the channels you invest in and therefore the traffic you drive to your website. If your customers are not on Instagram, then it probably isn’t helpful that 8% of your visitors come from Instagram.

To find your All Traffic report in Google Analytics, go to: Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels

(Rough) Traffic Rules

A business with a mature web presence should generally follow the traffic rules I’m proposing below. New websites, especially aggressive “growth-hacking” startups, will likely have a very different traffic breakdown. For instance, some startups pursue an aggressive social advertising and guest blog strategy, which would influence Referral traffic and Other traffic significantly. A 100-year-old brand in industrial manufacturing who hasn’t marketed on the web may have significant Direct traffic due to brand recognition, but little Search traffic and Referral traffic. Here are my “traffic rules” for a brand with a mature web presence:

< 50% of traffic from search engines. In Google Analytics, add the percentages in the rows for Organic Search & Paid Search. If the majority of your website’s traffic comes from search engines, then you’re at the whim of search engines indexes and/or paying for too much of your traffic. A change to rankings or SERPS could deal a major blow to your site. A CFO decision to cut advertising spend could do the same.

< 30% Referral traffic. It’s great to get free traffic from other websites, but that traffic doesn’t always last, especially if it’s from fast, fleeting content on blogs, news sites and publications. It’s worrying if there’s a lot of referral traffic from social platforms, un-tagged promo campaigns, and bots. Ultimately, you don’t own the sites that send you traffic – you’ll get it for as long as they send it your way.

< 20% Direct. If Direct traffic drives more than 20% of your website’s traffic, you either have analytics implementation problems that need addressing, or you have significant brand awareness and a humble web presence.

<10% Social. If a significant proportion of your web traffic comes from non-paid social media channels, you’re playing on rented land. Social platforms come and go and reach can change depending on the given platform’s algorithms.

< 10% Display. Display traffic includes any Google AdWords Display traffic, including Remarketing campaigns. If over 10% of your traffic comes from Display, you may be recklessly throwing dollars at brand-building efforts or serving up ads to past website visitors too frequently (or both).

< 10% Other. “Other” traffic includes Campaigns you’re running outside of Paid Search and Display. This should include any social ad campaigns (i.e. Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads) and non-AdWords display ad campaigns. Social PPC is revolutionizing advertising due to targeting capabilities, but with refined targeting your traffic numbers should be low and your conversion rates high. If your traffic is heavy on social PPC, you may have poor targeting parameters set up in your campaigns.

<10% Email. If you’re too reliant on email, you may be over-investing in the “promotion” side of marketing. If you’re driving significant email traffic, you’re missing out on driving new users, new sign-ups and new demand for your products/services.

What Should A “Balanced” Pie Look like?

Balanced pies are hard to find in the wild. They require investment in a wide variety of digital marketing activities, including SEO, PPC, Email Marketing, Social Advertising, Blogging, PR, Outreach, and more.

Of course, you’re not optimizing for a balanced pie, you’re optimizing for a healthy, risk-averse traffic profile that can bring you business over the long-term. As social networks come and go, search engine algorithms change, market forces shift, you want to be the marketer who has diversified her traffic profile, not the one who’s jeopardized the web presence of your employer. There is no one-pie that best typifies what a balanced traffic mix should look like.

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