When you look at your referral traffic in Google Analytics, you see traffic from links on other pages. It may make you happy to see it, but do you know what to do with the information?
For most traffic to your website, analytics can give you good ideas about on-site optimization: what’s working and what needs work at your website.
This is an area of analytics that can show increases and decreases that don’t necessarily have much to do with your website.
For example, a blog post linking to your site may bring you a lot of traffic while that blog post is getting plenty of visits, but traffic will fall off when that post loses traffic — perhaps because it was time-sensitive and doesn’t continue to show up in searches. Or you may receive clicks through from an ad or sponsorship announcement that end when your month of sponsorship ends.
Neither of these examples says something about your website.
Instead, referral traffic can give you ideas about off-site optimization: the kind of linkbuilding, social media, and advertising that is likely to be beneficial to your website and your business.
In this example from our lab site, we can see that Google (this is referrals from Google, remember, so it will be Google groups and other types of content, not search at Google.com) and Pinterest are the top referral sites, and that both show growth. We should step up efforts there.
That was easy.
Next, however, we see traffic from Proteacher.net and Crowdflower.com. Proteacher send much less traffic than Pinterest and Google, but is growing faster. Crowdflower is falling. How can we decide whether these are good places for us to put resources?
First, we have to find out what these links are. A search at Google using our site name and specifying the site will show us the links:
We find that teachers have been sharing our site at a professional discussion group. This is a lot like Pinterest, but not as popular. We can’t place links there ourselves, so we can only be happy we have the links and notice what kind of content appeals to this audience. Refining our linkbait can encourage this type of link.
Crowdflower is different. A search shows no links at Google, and the site itself is unrelated to our website. It is probably referral spam, so we should ignore it.
We continue down through the list, seeing social media and links we would expect to send traffic — and one more example of actionable items, in this case visits from mobile Pinterest and TalkLikeaPirate.com.
Where Pinterest is concerned, the mobile numbers are still low, but the increase is impressive — we’d better make sure our site looks good on mobile devices.
Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up in about a month, so this no-change is just a good reminder to us to update and polish up the page that site links to so it’ll be ready for visitors when we get closer to the Big Day.
You’re looking, as is so often the case with Analytics, for surprises.
If you never look at your analytics, you won’t know what’s surprising. Check it often enough to get a sense of what’s ordinary so you can catch opportunities — or let us help you.