What Is Referral Traffic?

Website traffic refers to the visitors that go to your website. Within that, though, are a few different kinds of traffic, like direct traffic, organic traffic and referral traffic.

We have articles that go over direct traffic and organic traffic. But what is referral traffic, exactly?

Referral traffic refers to the visitors that end up on your website from another website. That means they didn’t search in Google for your site or the type of content you produce.

There might be a backlink to your content from a blog post or social media post, for example. (By nature, a backlink comes from an external site. If it was on your own website — like one blog post that links to another blog post on the same site — that’s called an internal link.)

When this happens, search engines recognize that the visitor is a referral. Website owners can also use tracking codes to determine exactly where traffic sources come from.

What is Referral Traffic According to Google?

What is referral traffic according to Google? In the Analytics Help section , it’s described this way: “Referral traffic is the segment of traffic that arrives on your website through another source, like through a link on another domain.”

In Google Analytics, the domain names of referring sites are called “sources” in your reports. This lets you see where traffic is coming from so you can adapt your marketing strategy.

To see information about referral traffic in Google Analytics, go to Reports > Acquisition > Traffic Acquisition.

How to find out what is referral traffic in Google Analytics.

If you have referral traffic, you should see a dedicated row in the list:

The section for what is referral traffic in Google Analytics.
Source: MonsterInsights

Google Analytics also lets you filter by traffic source in case you want to exclude certain domains. For example, if you notice a spam site is sending referral traffic to your site, you can exclude that domain from the report to get a more holistic view of your performance.

Benefits of Referral Traffic

Backlink-building is an important part of SEO, and it’s what sends referral traffic to your site. It’s also an important metric for inbound marketers to track and analyze.

(Inbound marketing relies on creating valuable content that your audience will be attracted to rather than reeling them in with ads.)

Referral traffic is important for marketing because it (a) puts your content in front of more people and (b) sends valuable customers to your site from an external trusted domain.

Knowing Your Referral Sources

If you use UTM tracking, you can get even more value out of referrals. By seeing the sites and platforms that are generating the most referral traffic, you can focus your efforts there to increase performance.

Referral Traffic and SEO

Backlinks and referral traffic are excellent for SEO. When a visitor comes to your site from another site, search engines consider it a positive ranking signal. Here’s why:

  • The visitor is confident in the referring site.
  • The referring site is considered authoritative. That makes your site seem more authoritative, too.
  • Your content is considered relevant.

Referral Traffic Expands Your Reach

Having your site mentioned and linked to on other domains and social profiles can do a lot for brand awareness — and the perks that come along with that:

  • More exposure for your brand
  • Better brand recognition
  • New networking opportunities
  • More leads in the future
  • Connecting with a more diverse audience

How Social Media and Referral Traffic are Related

Social media is one of the top ways to get referral traffic to your website.

According to the 2023 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, 86% of marketers say that social media has led to increased brand exposure.

A graph showing the importance of social media.
Caption: Source: Social Media Examiner

The report also found that long-term use of social media (1 year and more) led to more traffic, with Facebook being the biggest traffic producer.

The best part about referral traffic via social media is that you can control a large part of it. By creating profiles on the social platforms that appeal to your audience, you can post content and direct people back to your website.

5 Tips for Using Social Media for Referral Traffic

  1. Be consistent by posting regularly, ideally once a day (if not more).
  2. Install a WordPress plugin to easily share your website content to social media.
  3. Share posts when your audience is most active.
  4. Engage with your audience to build relationships on each platform.
  5. Set up a brand ambassador program to encourage customers and fans to create user-generated content (UGC).

4 Ways to Get More Referral Traffic

There are lots of ways to get more backlinks and referral traffic to your site, and we suggest you start with these four.

Write Guest Blog Posts

A guest blog post is when you write an article for another website that shares the same audience as you.

While guidelines vary, you can usually mention your brand and what you do; include a link back to your website; and add your author bio (all while providing lots of value for the readers, of course).

Set your sights on thought leadership blogs in your niche or at least related to it. Write for the target audience, follow the website’s guidelines and always publish under your own name.

Participate in Forums

Get involved in industry forums but make sure that you’re contributing to the conversation rather than just promoting yourself. Some forums even have rules against self-promotion, and ignoring them could get you kicked out.

Google search results.

There are ways to increase brand awareness and present yourself as a thought leader without being overly promotional, though. Use your brand name for your handle, fill out your profile section with brand info and links, and, if the forum allows it, create a signature that has a link to your website.

Submit Your Website to Directories

You don’t want to submit your website to any and every directory out there, but the quality ones can be a decent source of referral traffic.

Moz has a resource for finding directories by category, and you can also do a Google search for [your niche] + directory.

Google search results.

Get Your Company on Review Sites

Review sites like Angi, BBB, Tripadvisor and Yelp are useful for consumers in the last stage of the customer journey when they’re ready to make a purchase. This is when they compare products and vendors to get closer to a final decision.

Your first step is to get listed on the review sites that are relevant to your niche. (Houzz for housing-related brands, Tripadvisor for travel brands, etc.)

Google search results.

After that, you actually have to get reviews. Here’s a list of ways to get more reviews for your business.

What Is Referral Traffic? Final Thoughts

Referral traffic and backlinks go hand in hand. Organic search isn’t the only way that people make their way to your website, and knowing the top sites that are referring traffic to you is powerful. Plus, you have a lot of control over referral traffic from social media, which is something you don’t get from improving your backlink profile.

To understand website traffic even better, check out our article about direct traffic vs. organic traffic.

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