Four types of web traffic every small business needs

In today’s blog post we have Thomas Eder of Sawgrass Digital Marketing here to shed light on the four types of web traffic every small business needs, why you need to diversify your traffic sources, and when to invest in paid or unpaid sources of traffic.

Traffic is the lifeblood of every website and it’s something that all small businesses need.

Without traffic, a website is like a ghost ship floating in the middle of a vast lonely ocean. Traffic gives you the opportunity to connect with your customers online and make sales. If you can’t connect with your customers, logically speaking you can’t expect them to be aware of your offers.

While that may sound obvious this is one of the most prevalent reasons for poor sales within a small business. The second is a poor offer but for the purpose of this article let’s assume that your offer is awesome and the people that do know about you love your products and/or services.

So why do businesses spend more time worrying about their web design or logo when both of those things will be 100% useless if no one is ever exposed to them? You can have the worst offer in the world and still make sales with decent traffic but you would be hard pressed to give away the best offer in the world for free without traffic. One clearly needs to come before the other.

This is why traffic needs to be your number one priority when it comes to your online marketing. Not your web design, logo, or blog. You can re-invest in those areas once your traffic is at a suitable level, don’t put the cart before the horse.

Small businesses FAIL because they are incapable of reaching and selling to their market at a rate that sustains the business. No customers mean no cash flow which is death for any operation.

“But Tom, isn’t traffic hard to get? I also heard it’s expensive!”

Well.. if you can’t live without it and trust me you can’t, then you need to find a way to make it happen, right?

The beautiful part about web traffic is its diversity, you aren’t tied to one option and can make adaptations to your traffic strategy as your demand or available capital increases. Businesses of any size or means can tap into a traffic source, and to do so you just need to be aware of your options.

You can find traffic for your website in many places and at many price points, even free. But you do need to be aware of the traffic sources available to you, how they relate to your business, their level of investment, and how you might be able to tap into these traffic sources to generate awareness and drive sales.

At a macro level traffic can be broken down into two general categories that I’ll cover briefly. It’s important to understand that web traffic always falls into these two high-level groups, which are paid traffic and free traffic also known earned traffic, depending upon which vernacular you use. Some types of traffic can technically exist within both categories but typically only occupy one within a given campaign or strategy. I won’t dive too deep into these macro categories but the distinction is very important so pay attention and take notes.

Paid traffic encompasses just that, paid sources of traffic a.k.a. advertising. Advertising comes in a million different shapes, sizes, and flavors, and you’re really only limited by your budget. The upside is its accessibility and ease of implementation, the downside is the cost. Advertising is costly for two reasons; competition and strategy. To avoid blowing your budget you’ll need to ensure your ad campaign is placed properly and has strong strategic backing. Both require expert involvement, which you’ll also pay for.

Free or earned traffic is obviously free, it’s anything that isn’t paid to advertise and that fact makes it easy to distinguish between the two. Some marketers call it earned traffic because, in reality, nothing is truly free. You’ll always be required to put forth some amount of effort, time, or resources to building a free traffic stream.

Traffic comes in many shapes and forms and no one form of traffic is better than the other. Some types are harder to get but result in greater conversions, other forms might be easy but the quality of the traffic may not be leading to sales. It pays to understand where traffic originates from on the web and how you can tap into these sources. It also pays to understand where your customer resides online, where they search for information, interact with others, or spend their free time.

So let’s examine the four types of traffic as defined by Google Analytics, their pro’s and con’s, and how you can tap into these sources to connect with customers and make your offers known.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is the most basic or straightforward form of traffic and consists of people who visit your website directly by typing your URL into the web browser, or at least that’s the easy way to describe it. In reality, direct traffic according to Google Analytics comes from a multitude of sources. This can include link clicks in emails, PDF’s, or mobile apps and direct traffic is often the bucket used when certain sources cannot be properly attributed due to a technical error or incompatibility, which happens more often than you’d think.

In short, direct traffic can come from many places but the large majority of it is just that, direct traffic or in essence a direct visit to your website.

direct traffic

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So how can direct traffic be utilized as a traffic source?

Direct traffic in the simplest sense falls under the free traffic category as it’s difficult to directly attribute the source of the traffic. That said the most common source of direct traffic is offline promotion. This includes radio, television, print media, and word of mouth. For instance, it’s quite common for a potential customer to hear a radio ad for a sale and then visit the company website to research the offer, read reviews, or confirm information in the advertisement.

It’s common to see a large spike in direct traffic after a large-scale offline advertising campaign and gives an insight as to the reach and impact of offline efforts. In short, the next time you run an offline promotion be sure to mention the website a couple times!

Referral Traffic

In a nutshell, referral traffic is link based web search optimization. If someone somewhere links out to your website this is considered a referral. That website is linking to yours as a relevant example or resource and search engines use this to determine the level of relevance your website has to a specific topic. A large number of referrals (links) from a number of highly respected or powerful websites signals a high level of relevance to that topic. This is currently the number one ranking factors within search engines and isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon.

referral traffic

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Some of the best free ways to get quality referral traffic to your website include forums, guest posting, broken link building, press releases and social media. Referral traffic is a high-quality traffic source that drives relevant page views and puts your content in front of a qualified audience. Referrals are a highly respected piece of PR especially when the referring website itself is held in high regard by its visitors. Think of a referral as a vote of confidence for your business by a VIP within your industry.

Don’t forget that referral traffic can also come from advertisements as they are still technically referring your website. This is one of those instances where a traffic type falls into both the paid and unpaid categories. That said search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing is pretty good at determining when a link is paid or earned and they distribute ranking power accordingly.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic comes from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing and the practice of increasing your ranking within these search engines are referred to as SEO or search engine optimization. Organic traffic is one of the highest ROI sources and is quickly becoming one of the best forms of traffic for local small businesses.

organic vs. paid traffic

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By strategically selecting and ranking for keywords or phrases you can laser target your ideal customer online. Organic traffic is also one of the highest converting forms of traffic because people are already in information gathering mode when they come across your website in the search engine. We refer to this as “searcher intent” and a customer that’s displaying a high level of intent is most likely to make a purchase or contact you for a quote. This differs from paid forms of traffic like advertisements because you aren’t interrupting a person with an advertisement they might not be receptive to. As you can imagine, serving ads to an uninterested audience is a great way to waste money. This is why I always recommend organic traffic as a great starting focus for a business that’s new to online marketing.

Social Traffic

Social media traffic comes from links clicks on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and many other sources. This type of traffic is scalable and targeted much like organic traffic. The people that follow you on social media are interested in hearing information, news, and updates about your brand and products. This audience, just like the organic traffic audience is typically displaying red hot buying intent and converts very well.

Building and scaling a strong social media following might be one of the best investments you can make in your traffic generation strategy.

social traffic

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Social media traffic is technically referral traffic but Google Analytics has given this type its own category as it’s become so large and influential that it requires more granular measurement and monitoring, hence the additional traffic type.


In conclusion, know which traffic type and the source is most feasible for your small business and put a strategy in place. A strategy that can be implemented, measured, and evaluated is a strategy than can grow with time and produce results month over month. Traffic strategies are complex systems that evolve with time, you should consult with your digital marketing provider to determine the best traffic strategy for your business. An experienced agency or service provider will be able to work with you to define your offer, position it, and place it in front of the perfect audience online, ideally resulting in a storm of sales and new lifelong customers.


Thomas Eder of Sawgras Digital MarketingThomas Eder is the Founder of Sawgrass Digital Marketing a traffic and conversions focused digital marketing agency. He works with small businesses to increase their revenue with digital marketing. He posts resources and content for marketers, business owners, and entrepreneurs on his Facebook page. You can also find him on twitter @thom_eder and YouTube.