What Is Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from other websites. It’s one of the default channel groupings in Google Analytics. Next to organic traffic, it’s probably the next best source of traffic for your website.

Want to learn why?

Before diving right in, make sure you setup your Google Analytics account properly. While it’s one of the most popular web analytics tools, if not configured properly, you could end up making bad decisions because of inaccurate data. Download this guide to set it up properly.

What is Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is traffic from other websites apart from Google’s own search engine. If you clicked on one of links here in this page and it led to another website, my website is counted as a referral traffic in their Google Analytic’s account. And it also works the other way around.

There are two distinctions that need to be clarified here.

First, if you search on Google and clicked on one of those results, you are technically coming from another website (Google’s). But, those searches are tracked under organic traffic. There will be instances when you’ll receive referral traffic from google.com such as those coming from forums or help center, regardless, if your traffic comes from search engines, that falls under organic traffic.

Next, traffic from social media also comes from another website, but because Google Analytics already has a special channel dedicated to it, it won’t be included in your referral traffic.

Importance of Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is a sign of brand recognition and/or successful partnership or collaboration.

Again, referral traffic is traffic coming from other websites. That means they have a link to your website, people clicked on it and landed on yours.

However, most people tend to overlook referral traffic because backlinks have been given so much emphases in the world of SEO. But, what most people don’t realize is that referral traffic from that particular website is an indication of a high-quality and relevant backlink—which should be the gold standard of determining whether a link back to your site is worth it.

Referral Traffic Issues: Two Things You Need to Do

One thing to keep in mind when looking at referral traffic is that it is prone problems. There are two prominent ones that I’ll share here.

1. Referral Spam Traffic

Referral spam traffic are fake hits to your Google Analytics account.

According to Kinsta, the purpose is simple: a spammer has a website they want to boost the search engine rankings for. The spammer sends out multiple requests with fake URLs that link back to the website they want to advertise.

Here’s how it would look like on your GA account if you have one:

ga referral spam

Referral spam isn’t as bad as it used to before since Google has been working on reducing this, but sometimes they still exist. Make sure you add an exclude filter that looks like this:

Google Analytics Referral Spam FIlter

2. Traffic from Development or Staging Site

Another instance where referral traffic might come from is from your staging or development side. You’re going to obviously check a lot of times whether the links are working.

You’d want to exclude both types of traffic because it inflates the traffic in your reports.

How to Increase Referral Traffic

Traffic from other websites is a great source of quality leads. Unfortunately, most people in the marketing industry tend to neglect them because they are caught up in link building opportunities instead.

That said, here are some ways you can do to increase your referral traffic. These aren’t mutually exclusive. You can combine these for bigger effects.

1. Co-Marketing Activities

The main goal of referral traffic is to get traffic from other websites to yours. Hosting online events or partnering for campaigns with other websites or brands help you get referral traffic because they would create several pieces of content on their platform and link back to yours.

Whether that’s a single landing page or several blog posts, people can find you in those posts. I’m not familiar with other industries but in marketing, these are when you’d see two or more brands partner up for campaigns.

2. Guest Blogging

Another way to get referral traffic is via guest blogging, or posting on other websites.

Again, the purpose here is not to get links to manipulate rankings — which is a very controversial issue lately. Rather, guest blogging is a great way to increase your reach and awareness.

If the 3rd party website is relevant and has good readership, then people will find your site. Then, it’s up to your content to get them to stay there and, hopefully, keep coming back.

3. Create Linkable Content

The easiest way to get referral traffic is get other people to constantly talk about you or that thing you did or made. That’s why tools (see below) and awesome content work best to get referral traffic.

For example, I was shocked when I constantly getting a few dozen traffic from my article on how to use Google Optimize. When I looked inside Google Analytics, most of them were coming from referral traffic from Search Engine Roundtable.

4. Build a Tool

Have you ever tried Googling for a tool that lets you do stuff online? Like convert PDF to PNG, or create gif from images.

You’ll noticed that there are a variety of tools that’ll show up on Google. Their output is similar but the rankings will differ every now and then. It’s because more and more tools are being created.

And since they are useful, people are linking to them on their own websites.

Sample SERP for Tools

5. Old-Fashioned PR

Press releases are usually used by big companies or those with full marketing teams. They send PRs to media and news outlets in advance so that on a certain day, all these websites are talking about them which greatly increases your reach.

PRs are used on all stages of a company— from getting funded, launching a new product, to relaunches. The downside ian that since most are coming from media outlets, referral traffic are spikes then suddenly die down.

Unless you get picked up by other sites which focus on your niche or continue to produce evergreen content, then the traffic will be short-lived. That said, the reach might be worth it for your company.

6. Do Something Controversial

What’s a good way to get people to talk about you? Do something controversial.

And it doesn’t have to be negative like sexual harassment cases. It just needs to be something that is not widely accepted like those two examples above.

The underlying principle here is that it has to be inherently good. Unpopular. But good.

Increasing salaries of everyone in the company? Good. Publishing everyone’s salaries so there’s no guessing whether employees are earning enough or not. Good.

What can you do that is widely unpopular but can be a great way to get other websites talking about you?

7. Answer HARO Emails

This is commonly used as a link building tactic, but is a great way to get referral traffic. Think about it. You simply answer emails, and if the journalist (the person who requested for info) likes your pitch, the you’d get cited for their article.

This gives you a high authority backlink and traffic as well. If there’s a good fit, relevance, and readership from the requesting site (big site names are Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.), then you’ll get a lot of exposure from it.

Over to You

Growing your referral traffic is a great way to increase brand awareness. Digital marketing is so much more than just getting backlinks.

It’s all about providing value to other people—your customers. Focus on serving them and getting your content in front of their eyes without being annoying.

When was the last time you checked your referral traffic in Google Analytics? Are you getting consistent traffic from specific websites? Why not send them an email thanking them for linking to yours. Or maybe enter into a small comarketing campaign with them if it aligns with your goals.

Ariel Lim

Ariel Lim

Management consultant / MBA / Inbound marketer who helps startups generate leads, create and execute strategies.

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