What is Organic Traffic, and How Does it Compare to Paid and Direct Traffic?

Your website is a bridge between potential customers and your business, which is why how much organic traffic your website receives is so important. Increased traffic as a whole means higher brand visibility, but not all types of web traffic are created equal: none is more important than organic traffic, with paid and direct traffic coming secondary. Understanding the differences between these types of traffic and how to increase them is key to an effective digital marketing strategy.  In this article, we’ll explain what organic traffic is, how to improve how much organic traffic your website receives, and how to track it. 

What do the different traffic sources mean?

There are lots of different types of traffic, but these are the three main streams to focus on:

Organic search traffic refers to anyone who visits your website from unpaid sources, like from non-sponsored Google search results. It represents brand new eyes on your business and is essentially free traffic, making organic traffic the most important form of traffic your website can get. Any traffic your website gets from search results without any paid advertising or promotion involved is considered organic traffic.

Paid search traffic, on the other hand, refers to traffic from paid advertising campaigns you can run on search engines like Google or Bing. These search results appear first on Google with the “Sponsored” tag.

The biggest difference between direct and organic traffic is user intent. Direct traffic is traffic that comes from anyone who visits your website by typing in the URL directly in their browser or from a bookmark, not from a referring website. Lots of direct traffic can indicate loyal customers already familiar with your business. However, any traffic that Google Analytics can’t identify the referring website of is categorised as direct traffic, not referral traffic like organic and paid traffic.

Why is Organic Traffic Important?

The benefits of organic traffic are precious because they allow you to reach people who have never heard of your business. They’re not random people either – they come from organic search results by searching specific keywords on Google and other search engines, with a relevant and specific intent related to your business. This is the traffic that has the highest chance of conversion. As your organic traffic grows, you’ll also see direct traffic increase in time as a result.

Your website’s traffic also affects where your link on a search engine is ranked. Search engines like Google use website traffic as a metric to determine how relevant and popular your website is and rank it on the search engine results page accordingly, making it easier for potential customers to find your website when searching for relevant keywords.

Another benefit and key difference between organic and paid traffic is that it’s cost-effective, making it a more sustainable approach in the long run. While the strategies that drive organic traffic might carry costs initially, the traffic is free. On the other hand, every single click that comes from a paid search ad carries a cost. This cost is normally between $1 and $2 for every click – which adds up quickly if you’re hoping for a large spike in traffic. Organic traffic offers a way to diversify your traffic streams and reduce your dependency on these often costly paid search campaigns. 

Focusing your efforts on organic search traffic is also more credible to potential customers than paid advertising. Around 94% of all search traffic goes to organic results over paid ads because people trust the search results below more than the “Sponsored” ones above. This is why organic traffic is more important than paid traffic and the search engine marketing industry is growing exponentially: the market size increased 11.4% annually on average between 2017 and 2022, reaching $225.3 billion in revenue.

How to Increase Organic Traffic To Your Website Through SEO

The branch of digital marketing that focuses on improving organic traffic is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Google uses an algorithm to rank the order in which websites appear in search engine results based on over 200 factors. SEO is the art of fine-tuning your website in line with these factors, so Google ranks it higher when someone googles topics related to your organisation.

The first step is to find and analyse the terms with high search volume people use related to your business. This can be done through keyword research, using a keyword research tool like Google’s keyword planner. Keyword research helps understand user intent, allowing you to better tailor your website to match. These keywords should be integral to your website’s pages and content to increase your ranking when people search them.

These are some other key SEO strategies:

  • Regularly populate your website with high-quality, keyword-rich content that your target audience will find genuinely informative and helpful. Doing this increases your authority with the Google Algorithm and gives people more reason to visit your site and stay longer. While it requires a bit of work and takes time to show results, this is one of the most surefire ways to increase your place in search rankings. To get a few tips on how to do this, you can read our guide to creating great website content.
  • Make sure your website design provides a good user experience (UX). Good UX means ensuring your website is responsive and mobile optimised, loads quickly, and your website structure and layout facilitate easy navigation. Google takes all these factors into account when ranking your website.
  • Another strategy is link building, or “backlinking.” This means strategically increasing the number of hyperlinks to your website on other sites. If your website is linked from one website to another to on lots of heavily trafficked and reputable sites, the Google Algorithm takes this as an endorsement that your website is valuable and trustworthy and ranks it accordingly.

These are just a few of the many different SEO efforts a digital marketing agency would implement to improve your ranking. SEO is an ongoing marketing strategy that takes time and expertise, but it is the best way to drive more organic traffic to your site in a sustainable, long-term way. The results won’t be instant, but if your SEO is done right, they will pay off, and you’ll see an increase in organic traffic. 

How To Track Organic and Direct Traffic With Web Analytics

Tracking your website’s overall traffic numbers is vital to ensure your marketing strategy is working and your website is doing well overall. You can access Google Analytics and Google Search Console if you’re the website owner. These are the best analytics tools to monitor how much overall site traffic you’re getting and whether the traffic lands on your website from paid, direct or organic sources the most. This is invaluable data you can use to make informed decisions about improving your website’s content, user experience, and marketing to get organic traffic on your site and reach your traffic KPI.

You can do this in Google Analytics by clicking on “All Traffic” and then “Channels” to see a detailed breakdown of where your traffic is coming from. For each channel, you can see detailed website analytics like bounce rate (how long users stay on your site) and how many individual people that source of traffic has sent to your website. You can click “Source/Medium” to get more detailed information about the specific websites and platforms driving traffic. Under “Referrals,” you can see a list of external websites that have referred traffic to your site, a great way to check on how your link-building efforts are tracking.

Under “Acquisition,” click “Organic Search” to see which keywords best drive traffic to your website from the search engine rankings. This is how you check that your organic SEO campaign is working and which keywords you should keep focusing on. It also offers key insights like impressions, click-through rate, and how your website ranks for different keywords. 

This website analytics tool is handy but not perfect. If you see an unexplained spike in direct traffic in Google Analytics, there could be a few reasons for this other than a lot of people typing in your URL directly all of a sudden. An experiment run by SearchEngineLand and Groupon revealed that as much as 60% of traffic considered to be direct traffic is actually organic traffic that Google Analytics has mislabelled. Sometimes Google doesn’t always get it right where traffic comes from.

We hope this article gave you a clearer picture of what direct, paid and organic traffic refers to and how the traffic is different. Now that you know more about organic and paid traffic, you might want to start learning about Search Engine Optimisation, what it is, techniques, and more! Start with our article on What is SEO.

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