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Traffic Source Ratios – Is There a Magic Formula for Success?

By Char

So I was thinking, is there a magic ratio for success based on where your visitors come from? I don’t know the answer to this question so bear with me as we talk through this together.

If you take a look at your site statistics, the visitors to your site come from three basic categories:

  • Bookmarks/Direct (type address into the URL box)
  • Search Engines (keyword and key phrase searches)
  • Referrals (links from other sites)

My guess is, depending on what the goals of your site are, the optimal ratios would be different.

Business site – the goal of your company web site or blog is to build a trust and relationship between yourself and a potential (or return) client. The product or service you provide is targeted at a specific audience and while, search engine traffic is is good for brand awareness and just finding you, it will rarely seal the deal.

  1. Referrals – 60%
  2. Bookmarks/Direct – 30%
  3. Search Engine – 10%

Monetized resource/consumer product site – Whether your site is monetized through direct advertising, affiliate links, Adsense, or you are trying to sell a consumer product, search engine traffic becomes much more important.

  1. Search Engine – 50%
  2. Referrals – 30%
  3. Bookmarks/Direct – 20%

If you have a good idea as to what your end goal for your web site is, it does make it easier to allocate your time and resources into going after the type of traffic you wish to attract.

My question to you – am I just stating the obvious or do you think there is a formula for success? Or am I grasping at straws? I would love to get your insight, opinions, and if anyone can find links to other discussions on this topic, please share!

Categories : Web Marketing




This is a great topic and a huge question. I think you’ve done a great job of narrowing down incoming traffic to those three main categories. But of course, within each of them there are so many sub-categories. Within the Search Engine category you have organic and paid, google, yahoo, ask, etc. Within referrals you have to include social bookmarking sites which could almost be placed in an entirely new category.

Personally, I love to see a lot of direct requests. It means that people are typing my site in because they specifically want to go there. That means that I’ve created brand awareness which is a good thing.

Referrals are next best because they are coming from a -hopefully- trusted source.

Search engine traffic is great, but it requires more work to convert into business.

I’m not sure that there’s a magic formula. But I think that anything you can do to increase Direct and Referral traffic will benefit any type of business.


Do you consider feed visitors ‘direct’ or ‘bookmarks’? I think that would help me decide how I feel, but currently direct and bookmarks are my fav. If someone cares enough to type in my url or to save my address, then they love me and I heart that kind of traffic ;)


I think you are definitely on the right track. I pulled a report recently comparing CJ earnings alone for eMoms vs. ShoestringSmarts – and SS has beat out eMoms with a tiny fraction of the traffic.

So the sources, although important to help trend visitors, are only as good as the targeted traffic they can send your way. Also don’t forget PPC, which has taken me quite a while to get the hang of, but I’m finally having some good results with it lately. Even though you could lump it in with SEO/Search, I think it should be it’s own animal because it takes a completely different learning curve and skill set to get it right. :)

Hope it helps and great post!


Interesting topic, Char. Like Robyn I was thinking about which category feed subscribers would fall into. And I guess it depends on which type of reader they are using. A web based reader would probably be a referral but a computer based platform would be direct.

Personally I think those are some of the best traffic because those folks care enough to subscribe.

Ultimately I think the critical factor isn’t so much the source of the traffic as it is sustainable growth. Any major spike in traffic (for example a big Digg) feels good. But the business growth will come from consistently increasing traffic over the long haul not from the spikes.

A site that measures it’s page views in the hundreds of thousands or millions per month can be made profitable regardless of the traffic source.


I’m going to have to play follower here – sort of.

When I analyze my own traffic, I look at directs and I pay very close attention to the searches. When I know I’m going to have a slow week, I look back at historical spikes in traffic and the searches that landed visitors on my site and try to tap into the same keywords or similar.

It keeps the traffic flow going while I’m tending to other things – like family :)

I do have to admit, I’m not overly impressed with FeedBurner these days. One day I have 150+ subscribers and the next I have 100 and then back up again.

Hopefully the bugs will get worked out before long.


Thanks for adding your insight everyone!

@Ed – I like that you equate direct requests to building your brand.

@Robyn – Feed visitors are a lot like direct/bookmarked visitors – and for most of our blogs, they are the type of traffic we are really prefer.

@Wendy – PPC is an area I am ready to start exploring more – especially for a few of my sites.

@Chris – good point about sustainable growth. We are all after more numbers and more traffic – and all types of traffic play into the equation. I was just wondering out loud what is the best combination and you all have helped reinforce my initial thoughts.

@Gayla – I have also been looking closer at search terms for two reasons – one to make sure I am staying on target topic wise and in some cases to give my readers more of what they are looking for. Same thoughts here on Feedburner! I was at 300 one day and 250 the next – I know to expect fluctuations, but sometimes they can just make you crazy.


I thought the fluctuations in Feedburner were due to the automated feeders, bots and aggregators and possibly scrapers? Mine fluctates about +/- 15 on a dialy basis.


Actually i disagree that search engine referral is not as important for business sites. If anything, many of my customers found my site through search engines, and purchased my products. You maybe right depending on the type of product, but for more generic and perhaps less costly products, search engine traffic, i believe, is as important if not more than direct referral traffic. Search engine traffic has the ability to give you a volume that direct referrals can never match. So don’t underestimate its power and influence :)


My actual search numbers are increasing every day :) , which makes sense as I post every day. The more content you have, the better the search results.

As for a percentage, that’s not an accurate stat for me, as I particpate in a lot of running forums (my site is a running & fitness site), so a lot of my traffic comes from referrals.


On one of my sites I get about 700 visitors a day.
I have 15% Direct address/ bookmark rate
40% search engines
55% referrals from other sites.
I think this should be different depending on your type of site.

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