What is referral traffic – Why referral SEO is important for websites!

Referral traffic is one of the four main sources of website traffic. The four main sources are direct traffic, referral traffic, organic search traffic, and campaigns. Referral SEO traffic, if fostered correctly can be a consistent source of new visitors to your website.

In this article, we break down what exactly referral traffic is, what are the benefits of it, and how to add it and track it on Google Analytics.

Table of Contents

What is Referral Traffic in SEO?

Referral traffic refers to visitors who arrive at a website from a hyperlink, or backlink, from a third party website. Referral traffic can be website-to-website, as well as from links on social media platforms.

Moreover, people that arrive at your website from other websites, without conducting a Google search, are known as referral traffic. When a person lands on another site after clicking through a link from Facebook or via a website, Google’s tracking tools recognize the visitor as a referral. UTM codes are also used by firms to keep an accurate record of where these traffic sources originate.

The main source of referral traffic is typically from backlinks. Businesses that acquire excellent backlinks also provide consistent sources of fresh visitors to their website. Links are commonly passed from one social group to the next.

What is an example of referral traffic:

The most common form of referral traffic is when a page visitor clicks on a backlink or citation. Backlinks, as well as citations, are integral parts of any referral traffic strategy. These links not only increase your traffic flow from another website but also influence your Domain Authority (DA).

Examples of referral traffic sources include:

  • A visitor finds your link on a directory and clicks it
  • Someone finds your backlink on a third party website and chooses to view your website
  • A social media user finds your website link on your Facebook page
  • Someone using a forum finds your comment and uses your link to visit your website

Why is Referral Traffic Important

Business owners and inbound marketers find referral traffic to be an essential source of highly-motivated and high-value website visitors. This is because the traffic arriving at your website is being sent by a trusted website that is strongly correlated to your business’ services or products.

Moreover, referral traffic also benefits your online business by boosting a website’s search engine optimization (SEO) score. Two ways referral traffic indirectly boosts website’s SEO is by:

  • The first way is by building backlinks. Backlinks are a huge contributing factor to domain authority. The higher the website’s DA the better search engines will rank the website and its content. Therefore, referral traffic can be a good indicator of how relevant your backlinks are as well as the quality of the referring domains.
  • Another way referral traffic can indirectly impact your search engine optimization score is through social media clicks. Links on social media posts may not increase your site’s domain authority, but they do send positive signals back to search engines. These signals tell Google that your content is popular and people like to read it. 

Backlinks and social media signals are invaluable when it comes to your business’ SEO score. However, getting traffic to your site is only the first part. To truly benefit from referral traffic, you will want to make sure you have incorporated website optimization techniques, as well as written compelling high-quality content.

Let’s take a deeper look at four different benefits of referral traffic for your business online.

Benefits of referral traffic

To expand on the points above, we highlight four different benefits of referral traffic for your website below.

1. Improved brand exposure and recognition

The more overall visitors a website has, the more referral traffic it gets. Improved exposure and leads from a website’s business cycle may lead to higher profits. Greater brand awareness and social media relevance may be achieved through increased exposure from other sites. Collaborations with other websites, for example, may offer new digital marketing possibilities in the future, such as referral traffic.

SEO strategies will improve as a business’s website gains more referrals. As backlinks help increase referral traffic as well as the domain authority of the website, a website will find that their rankings for relevant keywords will be increased. However, best practices for referral SEO suggest that links and referral traffic should only be gained from the most relevant sources. This is essential as the more correlated the referral traffic is, the better search engine optimization results the website will have due to the high-quality and relevant traffic being sent to the web page.

3. Development of networking opportunities and future leads

When a website networks and links to a relevant industry website, it provides the business with an opportunity to create possibilities for future collaborations and partnerships. Both enterprises might benefit from becoming a referral partner with each other. Whereas an external partnership could lead to larger events such as reciprocal exhibitions or store-level collaboration activities, in order to enhance referral traffic and obtain more exposure.

Overall, networking digitally and offline can help a business tap into well established and highly related audiences. Resulting in a reduction or resources to produce materials and content for both businesses involved.

4. Ability to tap into a new, diverse audience

With link building, you can create a network of backlinks and sources of referral SEO traffic that your website can tap into reach a larger and more diverse audience. For example, another website’s traffic may be completely different from your own traffic in terms of demographics or even geography. However, if the niches are correlated to each other and the links are from trusted websites, you can see an increase in high-quality clients for your business.

Even though the traffic may be different than your own, it can bring additional exposure to an untapped audience as well as valuable insights into audience preferences.

How To Increase Referral Traffic

Now that you know what referral traffic is, and the benefits it provides in the form of high-quality leads and for your site’s SEO score, it is time to talk about how to increase the traffic. 

As mentioned above, it is important to make sure your website is set up properly and is fully optimized. Therefore, before you run off trying to increase your traffic, go through your website and evaluate your content, website design, and any other on-page SEO components you can think of.

The goal is to attract new visitors and retain them on your website to work to convert them into a lead. By ensuring all of these components are optimized and operating the way they should be, you can drastically increase your overall conversion rate.

Now that your website is in tip-top shape, let’s take a look at five ways to increase your website traffic: 

1. Ensure Google Analytics is categorizing referral traffic correctly:

There can be issues with how Google Analytics (GA) classifies your traffic (more on this in the section below). There are issues with ‘dark traffic’ and specifically ‘dark social’ getting classified as direct traffic.

Classification issues happen when no information regarding the traffic source is passed on to GA, due to missing tags, or misconfiguration. By ensuring that your Google Analytics is set up properly you can increase your referral traffic.

2. Be active on industry forums:

Niche-specific forums can be gold mines for your overall marketing strategy. Whereas, by engaging with other users and providing meaningful information you can drive referral traffic back to your website. While using forums, make sure to include your brand as well as your website URL on your profile. That way if people find your content insightful and useful, they can easily get to the rest of your content on your website.

Here are a few tips to get you started with being active on forums

  • When commenting on forums, make sure they are active. No need to waste time on forums that don’t get any new posts
  • Make sure to register your account using your brand/company name. This will help people associate the comments with your company.
  • Create a signature that stands out and has a call-to-action link. This CTA link is what will drive referral traffic to your website.
  • Participate in sections of the forum that you have expertise in. It is important to be able to add unique insights to the forum. Not just regurgitated content from someone else.
  • Offer your advice by using real-life examples – don’t just give advice. Try to add value through your own experiences.

3. Comment on blogs:

Similar to being active on forums, you can comment on other people’s blogs and content to include your URL. By leaving meaningful, and insightful comments (make sure you comment first, so people can see it) with a link to your website, you can drive traffic back to your website. Just make sure not to spam your link all over the internet. 

Here are a few strategies that will help you with commenting on other blogs:

  • Make sure that your feedback is helpful! Complainers and braggers are not appreciated. Just keep your remarks to yourself if they are negative or promotional.
  • Remember that you’re trying to increase traffic, so concentrate on blogs with comments that allow linking. You’ll need to add a link to your website in order to do that. Medium and Quora can be great places to take advantage of this!
  • Second place is just the first loser – and that couldn’t be more true than with comments on blogs. If your comment isn’t first it will be difficult to get any visibility and thus be able to generate more clicks and referral traffic. Always aim to be one of the first to comment on a blog.

4. Publish guest blog posts:

Guest blogging can be a great way to do two things. One, as already mentioned, is to build backlinks that help your website get referral traffic. However, the second reason, and possibly the more important one is that guest blogging will help you build brand awareness and a larger audience.

Whereas, when we want to write a guest blog for another website, we first research to find a relevant website in your niche that has high authority and good traffic. Traffic from these types of websites is exactly what you should be looking for: highly motivated and already interested in the industry. Neil Patel provides a great resource that can help you dive into the intricacies of guest blogging further.

Here are a couple tips to keep in mind when guest blogging:

  • Focus on websites that are highly related to your industry or niche. No one wants to read about traveling to Nepal on a blog about soccer in the United States.
  • Always put your target audience first. Many blogs that accept guest posts have guidelines in place to help guest bloggers write articles that match their brand.
  • Make sure you write content under your own name as well as company name. You don’t want your hard work to go to waste because someone else gets the credit and referral traffic.
  • Link to other bloggers and influencers. Your guest blog post will be noticed by them, and they might even help disseminate it, which will boost the exposure and referral traffic it generates.

Want to find opportunities for guest blogging in your niche? Use the following search parameter in Google search:

Search parameter: (keyword) “phrase”

Search Example: referral traffic SEO “submit guest post”

Here are some other “phrase” options you can use to find guest post opportunities:

  • “submission guidelines”
  • “guest post guidelines”
  • “submit guest post”
  • “accepting guest posts”
  • “contribute an article”
  • “submit content”
  • “guest post”
  • “want to write”
  • “write for us”
  • “add a post”
  • “become a contributor”
  • “guest post by”
  • “submit your post”

5. Publish Your Website To Online Directories:

Online directories are one of the first things you should look to do when you start a new website. These are easy ‘wins’ to get your business’ name out there. However, don’t go signing up for every directory available. Focus on industry-specific, high-quality directories in your locality.

Directories will help with referral traffic, as well as with your local SEO profile. Directories and resources like Google Business Profile (Google My Business) will help people searching for local services and products find your business.

6. Create linkable assets:

Many people understand information better through visuals, so creating an excellent infographic can be a great way to increase backlinks to your website.

Building linkable assets can help attract other websites to refer to, or even use your infographics in their blogs. This gives you an easy way to generate referral traffic as webmasters will be more inclined to link to these resources. To build these linkable resources collect data, statistics, and build graphs and charts around them that can help visitors better understand your website content.

We all know that these backlinks can help with our content marketing efforts as the links are a ranking factor for Google. Therefore, it is important to monitor the links pointing to your website as you build them with these linkable resources.

The best way to monitor the quality of the unique referring domains pointing to your website is with SEO tools like Ahrefs backlink checker, or with Google Search Console. Both give you information about each referral link pointing to your site, however, Ahrefs will provide you a much more in-depth look at the quality and domain authority of each website.

Now that we have discussed how to increase website traffic, let’s discuss some tips to squeeze as much referral SEO traffic as possible out of these sources.

7. Use social media

Social media marketing can significantly boost your referral traffic in SEO. By building a community of individuals that are interested in your industry and looking for your products and services you can easily market to them through social media posts.

These posts can utilize website content, infographics, videos, and any other type of media. By using these various forms of media, you can link back to your website to allow your social media audience to navigate back to your website and the content they are looking for.

Social media platforms are made differently, and some may serve certain businesses better than others. Therefore, make sure to utilize the platform that speaks best for your business and its audience.

The table below shows the percentage of global referral website traffic generated by the top social media platforms:

Social Media PlatformPercentage of Referral TrafficNumber of Monthly users
Facebook74.13%2.7 billion
Twitter7.73%330 million
Pinterest7.65%322 million
Instagram4.50%1 billion
Youtube3.88%2 billion
Reddit1.06%330 Million
Tumblr0.46%280 Million
Linkedin0.33%260 million
Other0.26%N/A
Percentage of global referral website traffic generated by the top social media platforms

Moreover, to help you with data from the table above, we have also highlighted which social media platforms would be best to drive referral traffic by different industries. We have broken them down ranging from high impact to low impact

FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitterLinkedinYoutube
RetailHighHighHighLowLowHigh
MediaHighMediumLowHighLowHigh
SportsHighHighMediumHighLowHigh
Consumer packaged goodsMediumHighHighLowLowHigh
Financial ServicesHighMediumLowHighHighHigh
AutomotiveMediumHighHighLowLowHigh
Health careHighMediumHighHighLowHigh
Social media platform importance by industry for driving referral traffic

Strategies for generating (even more) referral traffic

To generate referral traffic in SEO, it is important to follow best practices to take advantage of the influx in visitors. Let’s take a look at the suggestions below:

1. Create original content

First things first, you need to have original high-quality content and copy on your website. Original content that provides value is the quickest way to increase referral SEO. This is because content developers, as well as reporters, are looking for unique perspectives and credible sources for facts and data.

When a piece of content can quickly and effectively grab the reader’s attention, they will have a better chance to get them to link to the content from their own website.

The best way to do this is by conducting stellar keyword research, and understand the search intent of the question you are answering. Next, you will want to make sure you answer the query quickly, and factually – meaning, answer their search query towards the top of your page. This way they can get the information quickly and link to it easily.

2. Research your target audience:

By researching your audience and understanding the search intent of the topics you cover, you can create more effective advertisements. In order to do this make sure to analyze the demographics of these individuals, as well as the websites they visit online. 

This is an important stage in researching a potential customer as it allows businesses to understand which third party website (referring domain) may produce the most traffic from a backlink referral on an ad. While researching another website that targets the same audience as your website, pay attention to the type of language they are using, the visuals they include, as well as the call-to actions to help inspire your creations.

3. Advertise your website

Traditional advertising can also help you get referral traffic fast, in addition to verbal and internet networking. First, research and determine the demographics of your target audience. With your website’s advertising campaign you will want to appeal to the target audience’s interests by finding a website they visit and adopting a similar language.

Whether it’s online advertising with Google ads or physical advertisements like billboards and newspaper advertisements, you may benefit from purchasing an advertisement plan that suits your current needs and budget.

4. Network with others regularly

Additional sites to publish backlinks and generate referral traffic on can be found by networking in your industry. In addition to offline networking, use internet platforms such as blogs, chat rooms, and social media sites to find link minded website owners.

Potential partners may be encouraged to research a company’s products or services by speaking about your website and advertising in conversations. A great way to help your marketing efforts offline is to use your business card, or even physical advertisements as a way to quickly generate referral traffic. This can be done by simply adding a QR code to them so people can quickly scan them and land on your website!

Tracking and Analyzing Referral Traffic Data

Increased traffic is all great! But if we’re not tracking and analyzing it properly we won’t be able to make informed decisions around optimizing it. The goal should be to analyze the data in order to optimize various elements of the website as well as increase its conversion rate.

Therefore, in this section, we discuss how to find referral traffic on Google Analytics so we can make sure we are getting everything we can out of our referral traffic.

What is referral traffic on Google Analytics ?

We are assuming for this article that you have already connected your website with Google Analytics (GA). If you haven’t set up Google Analytics for your website yet, use Google’s ‘Get Started with Analytics’ guide.

After integrating your website with GA, you will want to navigate to the section of the report that provides an overview of your website traffic sources. To do that, you will want to:

  1. Open Google Analytics
  2. Navigate to and click on the Acquisition Tab found in the left menu bar
  3. Now open up The Traffic Acquisition Tab.
Referral Traffic Data from Google Analytics
How to access Referral Traffic on Google Analytics

Once inside, you will see the five categories of traffic that Google Analytics monitors. Scroll down until you see the referral traffic section and have a look at the data! Make sure to look at the traffic trends over different periods (for example, from month to month). It may be a good idea to export this data so you can monitor and analyze it the way you see fit.

What is referral traffic in Google Analytics

Google Analytics provides an in-depth report about your referral traffic and where it comes from. Including social media referrals and backlinks from other websites. By monitoring the traffic sources, you can determine how your outreach is performing with other websites as well as how the industry is perceiving your content. The latter is because if you are not conducting outreach to build backlinks, yet are still getting them, it means that your content is doing well organically and that people trust your website.

You can monitor and evaluate your campaigns including social media, public relations (PR), your business’ listings on directories, as well as your overall backlink profile. Moreover, for each of these campaigns, Google Analytics will provide you with information regarding user engagement, events completed, average engagement time per session as well as conversions. These metrics will help you determine just how valuable the websites referring traffic to your site are. 

As mentioned above, referral traffic is one thing, but with all the data being collected regarding each visitor and session, you should be able to optimize your landing pages and content more efficiently. For example, by looking at engagement rate, conversions, and average time spent on each particular page, you will be able to test different elements that can help your overall conversion rate and push people further into your sales funnel.

FAQs: Referral Traffic

Now that we have a solid foundation of information regarding what referral traffic is, as well as how and why we should track it, we have collected a few of the most frequently asked questions to round out your knowledge of referral traffic.

What might an increase in referral traffic mean?

An increase could mean that your website’s content is getting discovered by external websites, and they are creating external links on their site that point to yours. There could be other reasons why you are seeing an increase in traffic. For example, did you recently write a guest blog, sign up for a directory, comment on another blog, engage on a forum, or have a social media post go viral? If you answered yes to any of these, then that is probably the reason you are seeing the increase.

The best way to be sure about where the increase is coming from is to check Google Analytics traffic acquisition data. In that section, you will be able to see exactly where the traffic is coming from.

What Does High Referral Traffic Mean?

Simply, high referral traffic means that there are a lot of external sites linking back to your website. This means that third-party websites find your content to be insightful and trustworthy, and they feel comfortable telling their website visitors they can visit your site for more information.

Where is my Referral Traffic Coming From?

To see where your traffic is coming from, you can use Google Analytics traffic acquisition section. To access the data you can go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals. In this section, you can see the referring sites, as well as metrics about your visitors coming to your website.

Does Referral traffic help SEO?

Referral traffic indirectly helps your SEO profile. Whereas, a visitor is either arriving at your website by interacting with a social media platform or is clicking on a backlink to your website. Both of these actions send positive signals to Google about the quality of your website and its content. Additionally, the more backlinks you have, the higher your domain authority, and thus, your SEO profile.

What is Website Traffic in General:

Before we get into the finer details of referral traffic we need to make sure we know what website traffic is in general. Website traffic is defined as how each unique visitor arrived at a website from its origin. Every visitor will have a specific origin and method for arriving at the website. The main sources of website traffic include:

Key takeaways: Referral Traffic

Referral traffic provides highly motivated and interested visitors to your website. They are usually already interested in your topic (they clicked a link to get to your website) and are searching for more information about the products and services you provide.

Analyzing data from Google Analytics provides regarding the referring sites, as well as the visitors’ actions once arriving at your site, can help you craft new ideas and methods to optimize your website. Remember these are exciting leads that have been placed into your sales funnel by another site, they have done the hard work, and it’s now time for you to capitalize on it!

Clear Door SEO is a SEO company in Portland, Oregon providing tailored SEO services. If you are interested in getting more personalized help with your referral traffic, either classifying it correctly, or driving more referral SEO traffic back to your website, then contact us today!

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