Website Traffic Sources: Which One Should You Focus On?

February 9, 2017 / Ads & Funnels, Digital Marketing / By Kathy Alice

You’ve built your website, it looks awesome. Launch day comes, with much fanfare. Finally your website is done!

And then you wait. And aside from your friends and family, no one seems to visit your website. So it slowly dawns on you that you need a website traffic strategy. But which traffic source should you focus on?

Definitions: Traffic Sources and Traffic Channels

The terms “traffic sources” and “traffic channels” are sometimes used interchangeably (I admit, I’ve been guilty of this). However there is a distinction between the two which we will now cover to make sure we are all on the same page. Knowing this distinction is especially helpful when you navigate Google Analytics.

Traffic Sources:

As the name suggests, a traffic source is the “source” that is sending your website traffic. What exactly is sending traffic to your website? Is it a search engine? Another website? Or did your visitor type your URL directly into a browser? If Google Search sent you traffic, then Google is the traffic source for that visitor. But if that visitor came from a search on Bing, then Bing is the traffic source.

As you might think, it’s useful to be able to group all visitors that came from “like” traffic sources (such as search engines or social media networks) together. The good news is that you can group traffic sources, using traffic channels.

Traffic Channels

Each traffic channel is a group of traffic sources that all belong to the same category (Google Analytics calls this a “Medium”).

Here is a list of 4 common traffic channels:

  • Organic Search: Traffic from the Search Engines.
  • Referral: Traffic from other websites.
  • Direct: Traffic from Typed in traffic, bookmarks or non browser sources.
  • Paid Traffic: Traffic you have paid money to get to your website.

To see your traffic channels in Google Analytics, click on “Acquisition” on the left hand menu and then “All Traffic -> Channels”.

Here’s what mine looks like:

Google Analytics Traffic Channels


You’ll notice that Google Analytics has provided “Social” as an additional traffic channel. Social is a type of Referral traffic – but it’s handy to track it separately from other Referral traffic. In Google Analytics, you can click through the Social traffic channel and see how much traffic you got from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and the other major social media networks.


Another traffic channel you may want to track is “Email”. If you are sending email to a list (whether it’s your list or another’s) use the Google Campaign UTM parameters so that the traffic is properly tracked (this just got added to my “todo” list!). Google provides a “Campaign URL builder” to help you construct your URLs with the UTM parameters.

Google’s Campaign URL builder

With UTM parameters you can track your traffic down to the specific email you send. You can also use these parameters for Social or Paid Traffic Campaigns.

Free Traffic vs. Paid Traffic?

So which is better “free traffic” or “paid traffic”? When people ask this question, they usually are comparing organic search traffic to paid traffic. Truth is, there is several different types of free traffic (such as referral and direct). And none of it is really “free”. Which is why I like to use the term “unpaid” rather than “free”.

No matter which traffic channel you focus on, it takes effort to increase traffic to your website. Nothing is for “free”. Remember that next time you see an offer that promises you tons of traffic for very little effort.

What traffic channel is best for you depends on where you want to invest in your online marketing as well as what type of marketing your business more naturally lends itself to.

In the below video I talk about the various traffic sources/channels and the pros and cons of each:

In the above video at about the 11 minute mark, I give an example of using one traffic channel (Paid Traffic: Facebook Ad campaigns) to leverage another (Organic Traffic from SEO). If you want to give this a go, but find Facebook’s Ad Platform overwhelming: start with my 3 Ninja Tips to Awesome Facebook Ad Campaigns.

  • Email Marketing and Paid Traffic: Great for FAST traffic but not long lasting.
  • Organic Traffic: Takes a while to build up but can pay you dividends for a long time.
  • Direct and Branded Organic Traffic: Strong brands can enjoy long lasting traffic that is highly converting.

Look for multiple leverage points with your traffic building efforts

As I mention in the video, truth is that if you are serious about your online business, you don’t want to focus on just one traffic source or even channel. The internet is littered with dead sites that lost organic traffic (and lots of revenue) after a Google algorithm update.

The cool thing is that with your online marketing efforts to increase traffic, it can be more than the sum of its parts. Your Social Media efforts can lift your SEO. Building a relationship with another website may could not only give you access to a bigger email list but also a guest post opportunity. And check out my example (in the video above) of how to use paid traffic to leverage your SEO traffic. This strategy is more common than you might think.

What traffic channel do you need to invest in right now?

All of this can be overwhelming. So what do you focus on right now? In many cases my answer is “content”, which is the currency of much of the Internet. Remember “content” doesn’t have to be text, if you are into videos, video marketing is a great way to get traffic.

So figure out what content you can provide (even if it is you being interviewed) and focus on consistently getting that content created and shared.

Another answer is “relationships”. Whether you want to focus on email marketing or you’re looking for other people to share your content, relationships power the reach of your content.

And finally don’t overlook paid traffic or your email list for getting your offer in front of the right people. These channels are highly converting, particularly if you have built a relationship with your prospects.

I put together an infographic to help you figure out what traffic channels are a fit for what your online marketing goals are.

What traffic channels should you focus on?

Share this Image On Your Site

None of the above traffic channels are exclusive, as I mentioned before one channel can leverage the other. But if you are new on online marketing, there is wisdom in focusing on one traffic channel at a time. When you master one channel, then you can move on to another.

About the Author Kathy Alice

Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.

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  1. If you want to get high-quality traffic that will fit your niche, I recommend using Udimi. This is the best place where you can buy quality solo ads.

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