Website traffic guide: Types, how to measure & why it matters

We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Website traffic and its measurements are the most fundamental data describing a website's value. Whether ... Read more

Updated: November 25, 2022 @ 21:05
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(Former) Computer science Ph.D. student, amateur photographer, passionate blogger, SEO-nerd, and tech-enthusiast, Anastasios is the creator of BORDERPOLAR back in October 2020.

Website traffic and its measurements are the most fundamental data describing a website's value. Whether running a personal blog, an online business, an affiliate marketing blog, or a publisher website, your audience's volume and quality define your success.

Website traffic, at its core, is the most apparent stat about a website. It quantifies the number of users visiting a website per day, week, and month. However, this is just scratching the surface of website traffic.

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First, there are multiple types of website traffic, each with significance.

Website traffic types

While the term “website traffic” considers all website visitors, it is essential to classify it into different types that originate from different places and, in most cases, behave differently.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic describes the number of visitors who enter a website by searching on Google or any other search engine like Bing, DuckDuckGo, and others. Typically, organic traffic accounts for the most significant part of a website's traffic, although this may not be the case in some niches.

While organic traffic is “easy” to acquire and on paper comes for free, the real challenge is getting high-quality organic traffic. Targetting specific, high-converting keywords is every website's goal.

Consequently, on-page and off-page SEO are vital and make organic traffic the most expensive for any website.

Direct traffic

Direct traffic is arguably the hardest to acquire as it is connected to establishing a brand, certifying a high level of authority, or maintaining audience loyalty. Direct traffic originates from a bookmark on a user's browser, a direct search in the address bar, e.g., the user types “borderpolar.com” straight up, or a click to a link not available on the web (however, this has a lot to do with user intent).

Examples of direct traffic:

I'm interested in buying the new iPhone, let me go to cnet.com to read a review on it, as this is the website I trust for smartphone reviews.

This article about website traffic on borderpolar.com is amazing. Let me bookmark it and come back in the future whenever I need to look back into all these insights.

Let me go straight to wikipedia.org to find out what NFTs are.

In most cases, direct traffic is associated with achieving and maintaining a high-quality standard. Consequently, receiving direct traffic is hard; sustaining it can be even more challenging.

Referral traffic

Referral traffic originates from other websites, blogs, or forums. There are multiple subcategories of referral traffic, such as social media and email marketing traffic (although this could be viewed as direct traffic). In general, referral traffic is closely associated with link-building SEO efforts. Links on other websites help build a website's authority, increase brand recognition, and serve as entry points to the website.

Sometimes referral traffic can be even more targeted than organic and direct traffic. For instance, it may originate from a niche forum or a social media page where you post your most high-profile articles (I bet our Linkedin page will generate significant visits for this article).

Paid media

Paid media traffic refers to visitors who arrive after clicking on an advertisement on social media. Advertisements on social media can effectively attract visitors to your website and provide you with statistical information about how they behave when they arrive.

Additionally, social advertising platforms offer a variety of data about your campaigns, including demographics and user interests.

Paid search

Paid search traffic comprises users who visit your website after clicking on an advertisement from Google Ads or another PPC platform.

It is imperative to remember that each platform offers different ad formats and different advertising channels. Google Ads, for example, lets you place ads in search results, run YouTube campaigns, or place banners on third-party sites, among others. It is important to distinguish different types of campaigns when evaluating campaign results.

Using search engine ads to get short-term traffic is an excellent complement to organic positioning and SEO strategies. Ensure you target the right keywords and locations to optimize your results.

Website traffic is primarily classified into the above five traffic types. However, there are a few more, less popular variations, such as offline traffic and traffic originating from other campaigns.

Your website's traffic vs. your competitors' traffic

Now that we have established the fundamentals of website traffic let's see why it matters, starting with your website's traffic.

Understanding your own website's traffic

Your website's traffic data is a core measurement of your website's performance. You can extract some of the most important metrics about your website from your traffic data, including:

  • The most visited pages can be great opportunities to redirect users to your highest-converting pages.
  • The most engaging pages can lead to opportunities to increase conversions or may help you identify a content strategy that works well for your website.
  • Landing pages with the highest conversion rates (e.g., affiliate link clicks or product link clicks).
  • Behavior flow (entry points to your website, where users go next, and when they leave or exit pages).
  • Bounce rate: which pages make visitors want to keep browsing your website, and which ones make them turn away?
  • Revenue: which pages generate the highest revenue or lead to more leads, conversions, or sales?
  • Email subscribers: which pages lead to the newest email subscriptions?

These and even more stats are vital to understanding your website's current position and further improving it.

Understanding your competitor's website traffic

The keyword here is opportunity. Understanding your competitor's traffic will help you identify key strategic points, such as:

  • Which pages bring the most traffic to your competitors? What strategy do your competitors use in content creation, internal links, and link building to make them rank so high?
  • Which keywords bring the most traffic to your competitors? Keyword research is one of the most essential elements of SEO. You must master it to identify opportunities in your competitors' rankings and target the right keywords to “steal” their traffic. It is also one of the reasons a guy with little budget created a website with 300,000-500,000 visitors per month within the first year. That's how vital understanding your competitors' traffic is.
  • Which marketing channels bring the most traffic to your competitors? Should you focus on email marketing? Should you focus on social media? Which social media platforms are the best for your business? The answer to these questions may be as simple as looking at your competitors' traffic data.

How to measure website traffic

By now, you should have a clear overview of the different types of website traffic, the variations of traffic-related data, and their value. To put the icing on the cake, we will have to answer how to measure website traffic reliably. The approaches to measuring website traffic are very different between your website and your competitors' websites.

Measuring your website traffic

The good news about your website's traffic measurements is that you can mainly rely on free tools provided by Google. We will reserve mentions to Similarweb, Ahrefs, and Semrush for your competitors' websites, although all three tools work exceptionally well for your own website's measurements.

In this section, we will focus on Google Search Console and Google Analytics because they essentially provide the absolute truth regarding traffic data.

There is no reason to rely on estimations and calculations when the absolute truth is available.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console Search Results Performance page
Image source: Google Search Console

Google Search Console provides all the daily information you need about your website's traffic data. You will find metrics like the total impressions on SERP pages, the total clicks your pages receive, the click-through rate, and the average overall position for your website and your pages.

Google Search Console will help you understand your website's performance on:

  • Google Search Results
  • Google News
  • Google Discover

You will also be able to extract performance data for individual queries, pages, countries, and devices. For instance, you can find your website's average position for a particular query, which pages rank for that query, your site's position in every country it ranks for the query, and so much more.

Google Search Console is a tool you should be using, but it is not limited to website traffic. It will also help you identify errors with your sitemaps, crawling issues, coverage issues, and problems with enhancements, such as how-to schemas, products, review snippets, coverage, and your website's overall page experience, including its Core Web Vitals.

Combine this with its WordPress integrations with All-in-One SEO and Rank Math, and you will extract the maximum value.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics Audience overview for BORDERPOLAR
Image source: Google Analytics

Every search engine provides its analytics tool, but Google Analytics remains the most popular tool, and it comes for free. It's impossible to comprehend the full power of Google Analytics.

Still, in simple words, if you can answer a question about your website's traffic and audience behavior, the answer is in Google Analytics. Audience analysis, demographics, time on page, device distribution, conversions, site speed, site search terms, ad revenue, and many other data categories are all present in Google Analytics.

One challenge related to Google Analytics is adequately customizing it with the ideal reports for your website's business to maximize its value. Still, other users have many ready-made report templates to help you get there.

I would call Google Analytics the oracle with all the answers about your website traffic (except GDPR, GDPL, and CCPA limitations). You have to ask the right questions.

MonsterInsights

MonsterInsights is not an analytics tool in its own right. Additionally, it is not a free tool. On the contrary, it is a pretty expensive one. So why is a Google Analytics plugin for WordPress on this list?

While Google Analytics has all the necessary information, you may have to get your hands dirty to find it yourself. MonsterInsights removes that complexity for you by providing all the views and reports your business will need.

It is no longer a mandatory tool to take full advantage of Google Analytics. Most analytics experts won't need it. It is almost a no-brainer for everyone else, as you can tell by its 3+ million downloads on the WordPress plugin repository.

Important note: Don't buy the plus, pro, or agency version unless you are 100% sure you need them. These are essential for agencies, publishers, or e-commerce websites. Meanwhile, small businesses and personal blogs interested in basic reports like landing pages, time-on-page, bounce rates, and more will be OK with the free version.

How to measure your competitors' website traffic

The fundamental difference between your website's traffic and competitors' website traffic is availability. As we explained, you can use tools to measure your site's traffic, and all the collected data is available to analyze and optimize your business strategy.

On the other hand, your competitors' traffic is not publicly available. This is where website traffic and SEO tools help bridge this knowledge gap. These tools rely on approximations and publicly accessible analytics data to achieve that.

However, there is a crucial difference between these two tool categories:

  • Website traffic tools like Similarweb and Alexa.com provide information about all traffic types; organic, direct, referral, and paid traffic. To produce an accurate estimation, these tools rely on third-party data sources and heuristics that estimate organic search traffic based on a website's ranking for a particular keyword, the estimated click-through rate of that SERP position, and the monthly volume of the keyword.
  • On the other hand, SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz focus on organic and paid search traffic.

As a general rule of thumb, the former category will better provide a more accurate overview of all the traffic channels and the number of visitors they generate.

Meanwhile, top-tier SEO tools are more sophisticated and accurate in evaluating organic and paid search traffic numbers.

There is value in both tool categories as SEO tools are necessary to establish a strong SEO and SEM strategy (remember that on most sites, the majority of their traffic originates from search engines).

On the flip side, website traffic tools are vital in establishing multi-faceted digital marketing and advertising strategies and understanding and optimizing multiple channels, including SEO.

There are significant advantages in understanding how the search engines view a website and how the audience views a website to understand its operating model better.

With all this clear, let's see what these tools bring to the table.

Note: All three tools below are beautiful alternatives to the first set of tools that measure your website's traffic. The difference is that these will work with estimates for the most part, so it's much better to set up GSC and GA for your project to deal with absolute truths regarding your business.

Similarweb

Similarweb marketing channels traffic analysis
Image source: Similarweb

I omitted Amazon's Alexa.com from this list as we are less than two months removed from its discontinuation date on May 1st. I called Similarweb Alexa's best and closest alternative in a previous article.

Additionally, you can explore approximations of Google Analytics metrics such as total visits, unique visitors, bounce rate, pages per visit, average visit duration, unique visitors, and page views.

Similarweb website traffic and engagement
Image source: Similarweb

Similarweb's traffic data and insights are targeted toward business departments that think “bigger picture.” Understanding the traffic for multiple marketing channels, benchmarking, audience analysis, and consumer journey are just some of the aspects Similarweb delves into.

Similarweb is ideal for businesses looking for insights related to:

  • Market and company research
  • Competitive analysis
  • Lead generation and enrichment
  • Sales engagement
  • Lead generation and enrichment
  • Fraud detection
  • Stock intelligence
  • Merges & acquisitions
  • Consumer demand and shopper behavior
  • On-Site search optimization

You will still be able to perform SEO tasks like keyword research with SImilarweb, but's power lies elsewhere.

Similarweb's focus is the external outlook of your business's or competitors' websites. This is quite unique compared to traditional SEO tools. While the tool is available on a free plan, you will find this somewhat limiting.

Ideally, you would want to look at its Digital Research, Digital Marketing, Sales, or Investor Intelligence plans.

For more details, make sure to read my Similarweb review.


Semrush

Image source: Semrush

Semrush is an ideal tool for organic search traffic research and insights. While Ahrefs may have the overall edge thanks to its amazing backlink discovery algorithms, for those looking to understand organic search traffic, Semrush has the edge fully.

This comes down to having more accurate and up-to-date keyword monthly volumes and being a bit more sophisticated than Ahrefs when assigning a CTR to a position.

However, with Similarweb's recent updates, I believe that even in organic search traffic, Similarweb delivers more realistic numbers and traffic shares from known keywords.

You will also find the Traffic Analytics section, which approximates Google Analytics data such as the number of organic visits, a website's unique visitors, the pages/visit, average visit duration, and a website's bounce rate.

Semrush traffic analytics
Image source: Semrush

Semrush can view the top organic keywords that drive traffic to competitors, monitor any position changes, and classify them by user intent. This opens the door to dissolving competitors' strategies and finding opportunities to outrank them for the exact keywords where there is an opening.

Overall I would consider Semrush an excellent tool for keyword research starting from scratch, thanks to its keyword magic tool that provides excellent recommendations, SEM (paid traffic insights for your website, PPC keyword research, and PLA research).

It also performs well in other SEO aspects such as link building, spam/toxicity score detection, and on-site audits. Semrush comes with a 7-day free trial that will help unravel its features.

For more details, you can look at my Semrush review.


Ahrefs

Ahrefs Organic Traffic Keywords analysis
Image source: Ahrefs

Ahrefs offers the same information as Semrush when looking at its organic keywords and traffic tabs. You can view the top traffic-generating pages on a competitor's website along with their highest ranking keywords and all the metrics you would expect like monthly volume, keyword difficulty (KD), position, the top-ranking keyword in the case of pages, the generated traffic amount and traffic share, and of course, the value of a page based on its CPC and traffic.

You can also access basic SEO stats on the overview page, including a domain's DR and UR, backlinks, referring domains, organic keywords, traffic, and overall traffic value.

You can also view and export all-time, monthly, and yearly traffic reports.

It's worth noting that Ahrefs is the go-to tool to analyze your competitors' backlink profiles rather than analyze organic traffic, but it does pretty well in this department too.

You will also find the historical position and traffic data for keywords that can prove extremely valuable, especially when looking at keyword volume trends.

I have not reviewed Ahrefs yet, but you can try it for free by taking advantage of its 7-day free trial.

Final words

In this post, we covered the different types of website traffic and their importance in analyzing your and your competitors' websites. We also covered some of the best tools for analyzing your business's traffic or competitors'.

In case you are not already using Google Analytics and Google Search console, my advice is to get into both tools as soon as possible, as they are invaluable and 100% free.

The decision for businesses looking to analyze competitors' traffic comes down to your budget and needs. For smaller businesses that look to grow organically, the initial step usually involves getting started with Semrush or Ahrefs.

For businesses operating on a larger scale and competing in eCommerce, I recommend Similarweb as it will enhance all aspects of your digital marketing efforts.

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