We all want more users on our website, right? After all, isn't that the whole point of SEO?
So why on earth wouldn't website traffic be a useful Key Performance Indicator for you to track?
Well, as you may have noticed from the articles in our series so far, it's because tracking traffic isn't always as simple as it seems.
More traffic isn't better for your website if it's not the right traffic. And telling the difference between the two means a better understanding of where your users are coming from, and how they're finding you.
Only armed with that information can you get a true picture of whether your traffic is actually benefiting your business.
So, in this guide we'll talk about what website traffic is, how to track it, how to analyse that traffic, and how to increase your web traffic the right way, bringing in the right users.
We'll look at:
Let's get started!
What is website traffic?
Website traffic can mean a couple of different things. To some people, it's the number of sessions your website generates over a certain period. For others, it's the number of unique users.
"Sessions" counts how many new sessions are started on your website, so if I visit the website in the morning, leave the site then visit again in the afternoon, it will be counted as 2 sessions.
"Users" counts the number of unique users who visit the website. So in my example above, I would only count for 1, as I'm the same user returning to the site.
It's important to note that these figures aren't 100% accurate, and there are often factors that can skew your results - such as people not allowing the use of tracking cookies, or visiting your website from different devices.
So the first thing to think about is which version of "traffic" is going to be most useful to you.
If you run a subscription-based website, one that relies on advertising, or where people usually need several visits before converting, then it might be best to track sessions, as it's important to know that people are returning to the website.
For you a new user who never returns might not be as valuable as one who makes repeat visits, so it's the number of sessions you are going to want to be your primary target.
However, if your website is driven more to a single point of sale, or if you're trying to reach a wider audience through your digital marketing, then Users might be more appropriate.
Often you'll actually use both metrics to get a more rounded view of how people find and engage with your website.
How to analyse your web traffic
Now you know what traffic is, time to see what it's like on your own website.
As usual, the best place to start measuring your website traffic is going to be Google Analytics.
Step one is to look at the raw data, whether you're focusing on users or sessions, and these are readily available in the "Overview" section.
Try to get a feel for how many visitors/sessions you're getting in an average month and whether the traffic to your site is trending up or down.
This will help give you a baseline for how your website is currently performing.
But how can you work out if that baseline is good or bad? For that, we need to do a bit more digging.
Compare website traffic with competitors
Make sure you choose your closest and most direct competitors, and it can sometimes be a good idea to throw a big industry name in there as well.
That's because we're trying to work out where your website stands in comparison to other businesses in your market. If you're getting a lot less traffic than your closest competitors, then that's a warning sign that there's probably work to be done.
Similarly, if your numbers are closer to the big names in your industry, it may be a sign that your website is already doing excellent work for you!
It could also be a hint that there's something not quite right with your data - which is why we never take numbers at face value.
Page by page traffic analysis
One of the simplest ways to get a deeper insight into your website traffic is to look at it page by page.
Using the Behaviour - Site Content section in Google Analytics you can see:
- which of your pages are generating the most traffic
- whether users are getting there directly or through another page on the website
- how many people leave the website on that page
- how many people come to the site via that page but never click further
For most websites, it's going to be the home page that generates the most traffic. But you'd be surprised how many people have a high ranking article, page or product that also generates a huge level of interaction.
Using your bounce rate to analyse web traffic
A high bounce rate is often a sign that you're not bringing the right users to your website, so this is a handy way to see if you might have any issues.
Firstly, it's no good looking at the bounce rate across your entire website to draw conclusions. It's much better to break things down by sections or even specific pages on your website (particularly pages that generate a lot of traffic).
A lot of traffic matched with a high bounce rate can indicate that you're not giving the people on this page the content that they want or expect.
This certainly isn't always the case! But it is a sign that you're not directing users to the right place, or perhaps you're not targeting the right terms.
Identifying bad website traffic
It would be lovely to think that all visits to your website are a bonus. But, if you have lots of traffic that isn't really relevant to you, it makes it harder to analyse your website's performance.
And on top of that, it can even hide trends, spikes and falls in your numbers, making it harder to identify and correct problems or capitalise on successes.
But what is bad traffic? How can you spot it? And what can you do about it?
In this next section we'll go through some classic examples of bad traffic, and show you how to keep it out of your reports.
A recent client of ours had been tracking their website traffic for several years, and when we took over we noticed there were a huge number of users with their language set to "C".
This is a bot language.
So their data had been skewed for several years, as bots were being counted as genuine website users. In fact, around 30% of their traffic was artificial, which had a huge impact on their website metrics.
As well as language, another thing to look out for is your website getting a lot of traffic outside your area of business.
For example, if you only operate in the UK, then lots of visitors from other countries might be no use to you.
Of course, this isn't always a big problem, for example, if you do a lot of content marketing, then it's quite common to get links (and thus traffic) from websites all over the world - and that's a natural part of the process.
However, it is important to keep an eye out for lots of traffic from specific countries, particularly any sudden influxes of users from countries where you don't operate. It might be another sign that you're getting bot traffic.
Excluding bot traffic from your reports
So it's important that we exclude any bot traffic from your data, as it's going to artificially inflate your numbers.
You can do this in a number of ways. Firstly, there is an option in Google Analytics for "Bot Filtering", which should remove this data from your records ongoing.
But that's not going to remove them from your HISTORIC data - and that's really important too.
The easiest way to do this is to set up segments in your Google Analytics that will exclude the majority of your bots.
For your website, that might be creating a segment that's only for visitors based in the UK, or to exclude visitors with their language set to "C".
With your new segment in place in Google Analytics, you'll then be getting a more accurate, bot-less picture of genuine users on your website.
Mismatched search intent
Search intent is a massively important aim for every website, in that you want the content your user sees to match their search intent.
For example, if they've searched "buy cashmere scarf", you can match their search intent by directing them towards your cashmere scarf product page where they can buy straight away.
However, search terms are often a lot less clear cut than that, and sometimes a keyphrase that you think would be a perfect target, is actually being used in a way you didn't expect.
For example someone searching for "Accommodation Hull" could be looking for several different things:
- Temporary accommodation, like a hotel or B&B
- Somewhere to rent
- Somewhere to purchase
- Specific accommodation types - like student accommodation
You could put all your time and effort into this keyword, only to find that the majority of people aren't looking for the specific service you provide - and even if you generate a lot of organic traffic this way, it's not the RIGHT traffic.
So before you try to rank for any keywords, it's so important to do some in-depth keyphrase research so you can identify keywords with the right user intent that are good ranking opportunities too.
A similar issue with organic traffic is irrelevant keywords - although we find that this is more of an issue on websites that either don't have much of an SEO strategy, or who have engaged in some of the darker SEO arts…!
When we start working on a website that's been around for a while, but has never had an SEO strategy, it can be quite common for them to rank for some very unusual terms.
That's because the lack of SEO often means the website isn't really telling Google what it wants to rank for. Sometimes through lack of content, often through lack of meta titles and tags, and almost always through the absence of a keyword strategy.
Because the website isn't telling Google what keyphrases it thinks are important, Google is having to guess.
And while Google is incredibly clever, it certainly isn't omnipotent!
That's how a recent client of ours ended up ranking for the distance between two train stations in their town. It was utterly irrelevant to their business, but it was mentioned on their website to help people find their location.
And because there wasn't enough information on the website to show Google what terms were actually relevant, it decided to go with a term it could at least find.
The other common reason that your website might be ranking for irrelevant terms is because back in the day, you could write "Britney Spears" all over a website to try and generate more visitors.
Naturally those visitors would be totally irrelevant to your business (well, unless you were running a fan site perhaps!), but it was a way that some people tried to fudge their data to show that their website was more popular than it actually was.
Luckily, Google's a lot smarter than that now - not to mention that it's now a lot harder to rank for those super competitive terms than it was back in the early 2000s!
But occasionally you do get websites with a kind of keyword hangover from those bad old days.
The best advice in these situations is simply to refocus your keyword strategy. Do your research, find some good, relevant targets, abandon any terms that you're ranking for by accident, and actively remove any that might be misleading.
How to increase your website traffic
Of course when we're talking about increasing your website traffic, what we actually want to do is increase the number of target customers on your website.
After all, it's relevant traffic that we're after, not just blindly boosting the numbers.
So, how do you go about getting more visitors to your website, and making sure they're the right ones?
In our experience, there are 6 main areas to look at:
- Keyword research
- Website optimisation
- Content marketing
- Link building
- Local SEO
- Social media
Keyword research is the foundation of good SEO. It's what identifies the best opportunities, new opportunities, and gets you to set up your campaigns and your website in the right way.
It's keyword research that means we can match user intent, direct people to the most appropriate page for their search query, and identify opportunities that other people may ave overlooked.
Having a well optimised website is another way to reach a wider audience. The higher your webpages rank, the more likely you'll pull in more users.
Content marketing is a great way to target long-tail keywords and help your website rank, but it's also a great way to show your experience and knowledge.
Good articles can rank well, but great articles can also generate backlinks and social sharing, all of which can bring in more traffic.
Google sees links as a vote of confidence in your website, and the better value that link, the more benefit it brings you. For example, a link from another website in your industry, or one from a reputable source like a university is often worth a lot more than a standard directory link.
A good link building strategy is all about targeting those higher value links, and where possible, using relevant anchor text as an additional way to tell Google what your page is all about.
Link building is often primarily about showing Google that other websites consider your content relevant, but it can also be a source of new visitors too.
Local SEO is often seen as something that only matters if you do business in a specific local area, but a lot of local SEO, such as citation building and Google My Business optimisation, is helpful to national and even international businesses too.
Using your social media accounts is another way to bring in users from different areas around the web.
Social can often be one of the more difficult areas to target, as you need a clear plan and strategy for how to reach your target audience, and just as importantly, what you can do to encourage them onto your website.
What insights can I get from my website traffic?
To really be able to use web traffic as an effective Key Performance Indicator, you need to take in everything you've learned in this article and put it into practice, including:
- Deciding whether you want to focus on users, sessions or a combination of both
- Filtering out the "bad" traffic so you can be confident that your user numbers are accurate and that the users themselves are likely to be part of your target audience
- Taking a look at pages that seem to have a particularly high bounce rate to see whether there are specific issues that need addressing
- Getting an idea of the sort of traffic your competitors are achieving, as well as which keyphrases they're targeting
- Putting together a plan for how you're going to bring in more users, while making sure you're still targeting relevant traffic
For website traffic to be a KPI for your business, you need to know that it's an accurate reflection of what's happening on your website, as well as where you stand compared to direct competitors in the industry.
And once you've got that knowledge, you can use it to not just increase traffic, but to make sure that traffic is made up of your target audience.
Because more people on your website isn't always a great thing. But more people looking for your products, services and knowledge - that is what can bring you a lot more business.
And if you're looking for someone to help you understand and grow a relevant audience for your website, we'd certainly love to hear from you!