What is referral traffic and how to get more?

Visitors to a website or blog are lumped under the general term of “traffic”. Traffic is split into three categories: direct, search and referral. Direct traffic arrives as a result of visitors typing in the name of your site, or part of it, into their web browser's address bar, by clicking on a bookmark, or on a link in an email or newsletter. Search traffic is directed to your site by a search engine, such as Google or Bing. Referral traffic can come from several sources, and, if you can get it, is very beneficial to your online business.

Definition of referral traffic

Referral traffic is when people land on your website via another website or social media site. You will notice, for example, that many blogs have links in the sidebar to other, similar blogs – they are “referral links.” Another example is when a friend on Facebook or Twitter shares a link to an interesting, important or humorous site. Links to your web page from another site are called “backlinks.”

The benefits of referral traffic

There are two major benefits of referral traffic – the first increases business, whether that be actual sales or simply by bringing your business to the attention of the public. The second is that the more traffic your site receives, the higher up in search engine results your link will be. Thus your search engine traffic can increase as a direct result of referrals. Improving your website referrals to attract search engine traffic is called “search engine optimisation,” or SEO.


Pay-per-click traffic referrals are generated by website owners paying other websites to display their links. By far the largest of these is Google's Adwords. Businesses pay Google a certain amount for particular “keywords” that relate to that business. For example, a website selling apparel may use keywords like “ladies' fashion tops,” or “girls' fleece jackets.” Those keyword ads are displayed on web pages that carry advertising. The advertiser then pays Google for each click through to his site. This kind of traffic is known as “targeted.” In the off-line sales world, the equivalent was called a “qualified referral.” In other words, the person was assessed as a likely buyer even before the sales-person got to meet them.

The cost per click can vary enormously from a few pennies up to several pounds. Google is not the only pay-per-click company, but it is the largest.

Quality referrals

There are varying degrees of good and not-so-good referral traffic. Good traffic arrives via a reputable source, especially one with similar or connected content. Good traffic includes visitors who spend time on a website, perhaps clicking on other pages within the site. It includes people who click on sales links and also the ones that click on advertisements. Even those which leave your site via a link that you have provided is counted as good traffic. Good traffic is seen by search engines as “natural” and reflects normal browsing behaviour.

Low quality “unnatural” referral traffic is generated by sites that may have a reputation for spamming (bombarding people with unwanted advertisements). Often these visitors will click on your site and leave immediately by the “back button” on their web browser because they have no interest in the content. If your website has too many low quality backlinks, then it may be penalised by the search engines, meaning it will appear lower and lower in search results.

Where to find good quality referral traffic

Good quality referral traffic comes from good quality backlinks. The best are those that are connected to your own business. For example, if you sell fabric remnants, then a link from a popular crafting blog will do wonders for your traffic. If the owner of the blog includes your link in a post, that is even better. Social media traffic was, up until recently, not counted as particularly good by search engines, but that is changing, as the power of “going viral” can mean huge success for a company or individual.

Sources of good quality referral traffic are: links on similar sites, your own blog or online newsletter, your Facebook page or group, Twitter, forums and news articles. You can also link between two or more websites that you own. However, be careful of doing too much interlinking, as search engines can recognise these patterns and penalise your site. Natural links take time to build – and search engines see that as a good thing.

Tips for increasing referral traffic

If you are just setting up your website, then you can do much to attract traffic. Begin with social media. Set up a Facebook account specifically for your business and create a separate page. Post regularly and link it to your main social account. It might not be a good idea to bombard your friends and family constantly though. Do the same with Twitter. Look for similar business and individuals and start following them. Surf the web to find forums and blogs that cover topics similar to yours, and begin to build up a reputation for providing useful information. You can add the link to your site in your forum signature. Do not blatantly post your link on forums and blogs, or you will be banned as a spammer.

Create a blog and post regularly – this is where you can promote your business intensively simply writing about what your business is doing, new products and other connected news. The more value you give in relation to the business you are in, the better. Add links to other blogs and perhaps contact the owners and suggest reciprocal links.

Analysing traffic

Google provides many tools to help businesses improve traffic, among them is Google Analytics. You can sign up for an account even if you don't use their Adwords to generate traffic. Google Analytics will tell you how much traffic your site receives, where it comes from and even how long visitors remain on your web pages.

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About the Author

Beverley Gee began her freelance writing career in 1982. She earned a National Diploma in information technology and business studies at Coleg Glan Hafren, Cardiff, U.K. She has written for several U.K. publications including the "South Wales Echo" and her local newspaper, "The Diary." She is also a qualified reflexologist.