How to Increase Website Traffic: Direct, Search, Referral, and Social

How to Increase Website Traffic: Direct, Search, Referral, and Social

If you don’t know where your visitors are coming from, how do you know where to focus your marketing efforts? Understanding your website traffic sources is the first step to increasing your website traffic.

Website traffic metrics can clue you in on how well your site is doing and how many people it is reaching.

Google Analytics is a popular solution for measuring such metrics and many webmasters check their Google Analytics dashboards on a daily basis in an attempt to gain actionable insights about visitors.

Specifically, Google Analytics’ web traffic source metric measures how many visitors come to your website from various channels.

Once you have a better understanding of how visitors find your site, you’ll have a better idea regarding what is working and where you may need to make improvements.

In general, more (relevant) visitors mean more opportunities, so it’s important to always be thinking about how to increase relevant website traffic.

In this post, we’ll look at how to increase website traffic by taking a step back and looking at the various traffic sources your visitors can come from.

Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics:

  • Direct Traffic
  • Search Traffic
  • Referral Traffic
  • Social Traffic

So…put on your darkest shades, because we’re about to shine a lot of light on the subject of increasing traffic to your website.

Sunglasses Emoji

How to Increase Website Traffic

Before you can effectively increase website traffic, it’s important to spend some time understanding the various types of traffic sources.

Each indicates different types of users and behaviors. Depending on your needs, some sources may represent better fit prospects for your offers than others.

In terms of using a tool like Google Analytics, there are four main sources of traffic:

  • Direct traffic
  • Search traffic (paid and organic)
  • Referral traffic
  • Social traffic

Let’s dig into various strategies for increasing website traffic specific to each source.

#1: Direct Traffic

Direct traffic refers to the situations where your URL is being entered directly into users’ browsers. A high direct traffic metric indicates good brand recognition and customer loyalty.

Consider brands like Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook — most Internet users don’t need a search engine to access these sites.

If you don’t have a big brand name, you can still get direct traffic from effective marketing campaigns that focus on promoting your website.

A spike in direct traffic could be the result of a well-executed advertisement or event that includes references to your website URL.

For a great example of how a non-big brand name was able to generate direct traffic from a well-executed ad, check out the video below:

Typical direct traffic visitors include:

  • Returning visitors/customers
  • Visitors referred by word-of-mouth
  • Visitors that may have seen or interacted with offline campaigns

How to Increase Direct Traffic

Strategies to increase direct traffic focus on improving customer experience and retention.

First things first — simplify your site name for easy recall. Keep your site name as close to your brand name as possible (again, check out the video above to see how effective this is).

You want people to be able to easily recall it. Dot-com (.com) domains are preferable because they’re so widespread. If the dot-com version of your brand name is taken, choose another trustworthy extension.

Note that increasing direct traffic shouldn’t be your sole focus for increasing web traffic in general. But it’s worth spending some time here.

One way to do that is to improve your offline marketing efforts.

Some basic tactics to consider:

  • Having business cards made with your domain name and keeping them on hand.
  • Getting a booth at industry events with signage that features your domain name.
  • Sponsoring an organization that has connections to your customer base with promotional imagery that incorporates your domain name (in addition to your branding).

Before doing any direct marketing, it’s a good idea to make sure your website is ready to handle an influx of visitors.

Website performance (like page load time) is a major aspect of providing a great user experience.

Using a performance-boosting plugin like Hummingbird (90,000+ active installations) can help you to improve page speed and make Google happy (page speed is a named search ranking factor).

Hummingbird minification screen
Notice how dark Hummingbird’s shades are? That’s because this plugin’ll make your website run blindingly fast!

Hummingbird optimizes your website’s page speed, thanks to the minification, compression, and caching of your website files.

#2: Search Traffic

There are two types of search traffic: paid and organic.

Paid Search Traffic

When you pay for ads to appear in relevant search results, you generate paid search traffic. Paid ads let you target specific audiences, and because most operate on a cost-per-click (CPC) model, you only get charged when users click on your ads. Visitors that visit your site from a relevant ad can be considered to have a high purchase intent — good news from a conversions standpoint.

Unfortunately, competition for desirable keywords can make ads very expensive in some industries.

Also, the widespread use of ad blockers means there’s a lower chance that people will see your ad (which can mean wasted spend if you’re using a CPM (cost per thousand) model).

Google Paid Traffic Ads.
You can buy visibility for your website by paying for traffic…

Organic Search Traffic

Most of the Internet-using population makes daily use of search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and, as such, they are the best source of free, organic search traffic.

Organic search traffic is fairly high-quality amongst the various types of referral traffic. It’s comprised of users actively seeking out your site — their click-through is a vote of confidence that you have the answer to whatever they were searching for.

Of course, in order to rank high enough in relevant search to be really considered as an option, you’ll have to invest in SEO.

Organic search traffic results on Google.
… or increase traffic organically using SEO.

How to Increase Organic Traffic

Increasing organic traffic can be pretty straightforward if you have an SEO strategy in place.

Following SEO best practices includes making sure your website is regularly updated. All else equal, Google is more likely to rank content from websites that don’t sit dormant for extended periods of time.

A blog strategy (backed with relevant keyword research) can help — even if you can only justify posting new content once a month. Consistency is the key to success.

On a related note, make sure to cultivate a keyword research strategy. If you’re new to SEO, one of the most important foundational lessons is how to do keyword research for SEO.

For WordPress websites, plugins like SmartCrawl (30,000+ installations) can help ensure that you’re using keywords effectively.

SmartCrawl WordPress SEO plugin.
SmartCrawl helps boost your site’s SEO in places you didn’t even know you could boost SEO!

The SmartCrawl plugin gives you suggestions to optimize pages or posts based on a chosen focus keyword.

It also analyzes pages to remind you of optimization opportunities you may have forgotten about (like related internal links) and generates XML sitemaps so search engines can easily consume information about the URLs on your site.

While you’re at it, keep page load times quick. As mentioned, site speed is an important SEO ranking factor.

If you’ve got a picture-heavy site (a blog that makes use of featured images on every count), a plugin like Smush (1,000,000+ installations) can help.

Smush WordPress Optimization plugin.
Image-heavy sites benefit from using Smush compression to further reduce page-loading speed and attract more love and traffic from search engines and visitors…get the picture?

Smush is an award-winning plugin that compresses images — after backing up the original files — without any noticeable loss in quality.

Last but not least, keep your site secure. Website security matters for SEO. In fact, SEO is a primary reason for the majority of site hacks.

If hackers manage to place dubious links on your site, this can result in you being blacklisted by search engines. For WordPress sites, it’s a good idea to install and activate the best plugins to enhance your site’s security. We, of course, recommend using Defender combined with our secure managed hosting for your site.

Cartoon of DevMan and Hacker working on laptops.
Improving your site’s security will help to ensure that only good traffic gets through.

#3: Referral Traffic

Referral traffic comes from sources other than search engine results or direct marketing.

A lot of referral traffic indicates that other websites find your content relevant and valuable.

When multiple websites link to your site, search engines pick up on that. More referrals to your site mean it’s considered more trustworthy and reliable.

Some examples of possible sources of referral traffic include:

  • Guest blogs. This can take one of two (or both) forms: you may pitch posts to authority sites in your niche, or if your site is popular, you can solicit guest posts from others. By sharing content on other relevant industry websites, you’ll get exposure to new audiences (and website traffic).
  • Partner/sponsor websites. Whether you’re a brand or a blogger, both parties mutually benefit from mentions and links within partnerships.
  • Media coverage. Mentions on online magazines, newspapers, or press releases can be a great source of website traffic. This website traffic tactic can also have other positive implications for business thanks to the social proof that comes with a feature on a well-known industry publication.
  • Online reviews. Yelp, Google Reviews, and Angie’s List are just a few examples of online review sites that can drive relevant referral traffic to your website. Depending on your industry and niche, make sure that you also have a listing on industry-specific review sites (like Avvo for Lawyers). Then, use a listings management tool to make sure that your business information stays consistent across listings to help with local SEO.
  • Email newsletters. Referral traffic can take the form of people clicking on links from your own email list, or instances where your website link has been included on other organizations’ newsletters. You can set up link tracking (or make use of UTM codes) to determine if your email newsletters successfully drive website traffic.

How to Increase Referral Traffic

Increasing referral traffic often means proactively partnering up with sites from similar or related niches.

Other strategies to increase referral traffic include:

  • Focusing on creating high-quality content. Whether you want to improve SEO or increase referral traffic, the underlying tactic remains the same — high-quality content is worth investing in. Ultimately, you want people to find information on your site valuable enough to share. Otherwise, why bother creating it?
  • Writing catchy headlines.  Studies have found the majority of people share articles online based on the headline. If you’ve written a useful, well-researched article, there’s no shame in leveraging the power of clickbait headlines to get people to read it. Just make sure to follow through on satisfying the curiosity created by your headline once people click through to your website.
  • Building your email newsletter list. The best WordPress email marketing plugins can help with this! The HubSpot WordPress plugin (100,000+ active installations) can help you to implement marketing email automation, create opt-in forms, and track analytics to determine how effectively you’re converting visitors into followers and customers.
HubSpot WordPress plugin.
HubSpot WordPress plugin.

For more tips on increasing this type of traffic specifically, check out this guide to increasing referral web traffic.

#3: Social Traffic

Social traffic is really another form of referral traffic, however Google Analytics groups this type of website traffic under its own special heading.

As the name suggests, social traffic is traffic that comes from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social channels.

Unless you pay for advertising, social traffic is free — not accounting for the time you spend creating content or the cost to hire help to manage your channels.

Google does not directly consider the impact of social links in its search ranking algorithm, unlike referral posts from websites.

However, the traffic generated by social media is still important for achieving business goals — especially considering how much time the average user spends on their phone, scrolling through social networking sites.

Social Media Influencer
Influencers can drive social media traffic to your site…cool! (source:

How to Increase Social Traffic

The best way to increase social traffic is by increasing social media followers.

Start by increasing your Interactions with followers. Social media allows users to keep in touch with their favorite brands and businesses like never before. People are always looking for connection, so interact with your followers to gain insights regarding what your customers want — straight from the horse’s mouth — and effectively build customer loyalty (which increases the likelihood of direct traffic). Loyal customers will bring new followers (and customers) to you.

Next, make sure you’re posting — often. Social scheduling tools such as CoSchedule (10,000+ active installations) make it easy to keep your posting calendar full with relevant content.

Technically, CoSchedule can operate as a standalone web application, but its real power lies in its close integration with WordPress. The CoSchedule plugin helps you accomplish several tasks at once. You can manage the blog editorial process across multiple team members while planning out promotional tasks (like accompanying social posts and scheduling) to drive traffic once a new article is live.

CoSchedule doesn’t offer a free plan but their Individual Editorial Calendar plan offers a reasonable point of entry for some of the plugin’s best features. Check out their complete Marketing Suite for other useful tools as you scale.

Another useful tool for content promotion is Revive Old Posts (40,000+ active installations).

Revive Old Posts - Social media traffic plugin for WordPress.
Revive Old Posts – Social media traffic plugin for WordPress.

Formerly, Tweet Old Post, Revive Old Posts is a set-it-and-forget-it type of WordPress traffic plugin. It brings new life to old content by periodically resharing custom formatted social posts to Facebook and Twitter. With a premium license, you can also automate blog content resharing to Facebook Groups, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Final Thoughts: 4 Ways to Increase Website Traffic

Whether you’re focused on direct, search, referral, or social traffic, it’s best to establish a system that works toward conversions.

All the traffic in the world is no good if it’s not quality. Besides focusing on tactics to increase website traffic, you must also consider the implication of relevance.

When working to increase website traffic, make sure that your efforts are targeting the most relevant audience. 100 visitors who represent members of your target audience are going to be much better prospects than 1,000 random visitors who will never be interested in buying from you.

Start by understanding where your traffic comes from and you’ll soon leave your competitors in the shade.