Next time you poke around your Google Analytics account, take a look at the Traffic Sources Overview page, in particular at the pie chart that breaks down your traffic sources. What percentage of traffic comes from referring sources? If you look at the graph below you’ll see that for this particular site, about 20% of their traffic over a six month period came from referring sites including Wired.com, Businessweek.com, blogs.wsj.com, and more. While it’s definitely a smaller percentage than direct and search traffic, you can’t discredit the value of that referral traffic or those referring links!
Why should site owners care about their smallest source of traffic? Here’s what link building expert Eric Ward had to say;
At the end of the day, there are a trillion web sites. There are a billion search phrases., yet there are only ten to twenty search results being fought over. That’s a fools game. The sites that thrive and survive will be the sites that find ways to create link profiles that provide them with traffic other than from Google. When people brag about increasing their rankings at Google, I always ask them what happens if those rankings vanish? For me, the perfect link profile is one that does not rely too heavily on Google, one that doesn’t cause you to have a panic attack if your rank drops from 3rd to 9th.
There is no denying that it’s a Google world and we all live in it. Heck, the SEO industry pretty much only exists because there is a Google! While most sites can’t afford to ignore Google if they want to keep their doors open, Eric raises an interesting point—there is only one #1 spot per keyword and depending on your industry there could be thousands of websites vying for that top spot. If you aren’t in the top ten in Google what other ways are people finding your site?
The same way they did before Google existed—referring links! In his interview, Eric explains that “a link was the only way another human would know a site existed.” Those referring links were the only way a site could generate traffic, so building links from relevant sources wasn’t just best practice, it was the only practice.
Depending on the source, visitors from referral links might be even better potential customers than those that come to your website organically. For instance, if you owned a pet store, then referred visitors from a social app like WhereMyDogsAt might convert better than those that are just searching for “Boston pet store;” they are out and about and ready to act. Similarly, referred visitors from the local vet’s website might spend more on organic dog food and training classes than someone who found your website in Google, because being linked to their vet’s website lends some authority to your website and store. Having come through a referral link from a highly trusted source, they might not feel the need to “shop around” as much.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to referral links is that every link you build has the potential to drive targeted traffic to your website! The best links tend to be the ones that don’t just make your link profile look better to search engines, but those that send visitors to your site over time. I’ve found that when you look at links as a traffic source and not just a way to rank better, you tend to build higher quality and more relevant referral links. Search engines reward those links well!
Even a small trickle of visitors adds up over 6 months. Consider this: if you have 100 referral links and each source only sends 10 visitors a month, then that’s still an extra 1,000 visits a month and 12,000 visitors a year! While referral traffic might make up a smaller percentage of the overall traffic to your site, it is still an incredible valuable piece of the pie. Building more referring links leads to a stronger link profile, more targeted traffic, and independence from Google.