Referral Traffic (Links)

‘Referral Traffic’ is the technical name for links to your site. A referral is when someone on another website clicks on a hyperlink to your website and lands on one of your webpages.

Links have formed the basis for determining “trust” on the internet for much of its existence. It was, in part, Google’s use of link analysis that allowed Google to revolutionize search engines and dominate the internet.

Though Google has claimed that links play much less of a role in determining search results than they used to, most people in the SEO world strongly suspect or believe that links are basically as important as they’ve ever been.

The long and the short of it: if you can’t get direct traffic, you want referral traffic. It’s the second best type of traffic. (Arguably the first in many ways.)

  • Links send people to your site from other sites
  • Traffic through links indicates to Google and Bing and others that your site is valuable and trustworthy

How to Get Links

More has been written on how to get links (“link-building”) than any other topic in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There are more guides than any one person could ever read or, probably, count. So I won’t give you a guide here, but instead just outline a basic process:

  1. Create something people might want to link to (“content”)
  2. Put that content up online
  3. Tell people about it.
  4. Get links.

That’s it. It sounds very simple but, because people have been doing this for 20 years, there’s a lot of competition, probably even in your niche of your industry.


Creating content for the internet is a topic in and of itself. So here are just the briefest of guidelines:

  • It has to be interesting to your potential visitors/clients and to people who might want to link to it
  • It can be an article but it could also be an embedded or hosted picture (“infographic”), video or audio file, with your business name on it
  • If the topic has already been covered online – especially if it has been covered online by lots of people – your take on the topic has to be unique and, ideally, better than everyone else’s
  • It should be “evergreen” – i.e. it will remain relevant in the coming months and years

Doesn’t sound so easy now, does it?


  • If you’ve written an article you need to upload it to your site in a way that makes sense with what is already on your website. (If you’re a wordpress user: Is it a post or a page?)
  • If you’ve made an infographic, you should embed it on your site with some text, but you should also put the infographic on social media with links to its original home
  • If you’ve made a video or audio file then there’s controversy about where to store it – teach the controversy!!!

I cannot stress enough that, wherever you put it, the content has to be accessible by users and robots.

Because the internet is now quite graphic-driven, as people are visual, written content without graphics is going to struggle, all other things being equal, so having some graphics is a big plus.

Your content should be added to your sitemaps and, if it’s a page rather than a post, it should also be added to your homepage or wherever your directory of pages is.


The process of letting people know about your new content is part of “content marketing” – using your content to drive sales – but also part of link-building.

The easiest way of telling people about your content is posting it to social media. This won’t help with links unless you get lucky.  In this case, getting lucky means:

  • Your content is shared tons of times (goes viral) and the likes and shares keep it prominent in social media feeds, causing your post(s) to, in essence, be a link to your site
  • Someone sees your post and decides to write about your content, creating a link on their site

If you have a newsletter, this is a relatively simple way of telling people who already know your business about your content, though it won’t help with links unless those in your newsletter list have sites of their own, or they share your newsletter with people who do, and those site owners choose to link to your post.

If you are a member of a forum related to your business, and that forum allows commercial posts, you can post links to your content in the forum, following the forum’s guidelines. This is an actual permanent link, so it’s better than the above two options.

Depending upon the type of content, you may be able to post it on certain other sites that fall somewhere between forums and social media (Reddit for example) or in a directory-type site which compiles links to content like yours. You may have to ask for permission depending upon the site’s policies.

But none of this is really going to get you links quickly, unless something you created goes viral (or you’re followed by people who really want to link to your stuff).


As I said, there are link-building guides everywhere – many of which are much better than anything I can tell you – but the short answer is: you ask for them.

  • You make a list of websites you think would be interested in linking to you. You do that by:
    • Searching your keywords for your content and finding non-competitors who might be interested in your content
    • Seeing who links to your competitors
    • Finding broken links on sites related to your business.
    • Advanced Strategies:
  • And then you contact those websites and ask them to link to you.:
    • You ask webmasters if they would be interested in linking to you
    • You ask webmasters with broken links if they would like to replace their broken links with your content
    • You ask webmasters (if you’re really brazen) if they wouldn’t want to link to your content instead of your competitor’s (your content must be better to do this!)

It’s time-consuming and disheartening but it works much better than posting your content on facebook and hoping that someone who sees it will write a post on their site linking to you content.


Moz’s list of Stupid Myths About Link Building

How to Get Direct Visits to Your Website

There are are essentially five ways someone can come to your website:

  • Directly
  • Through a link (known as a referral)
  • Through a search engine such as Google or Bing
  • Through the ads you see on the internet (known as pay-per-click ads)
  • Through social media.

Direct visits are when the user enters the url of one of the pages of your website into their browser and go directly to your website.

Direct visits are the best visits. Direct traffic, the sum total of all your direct visits, is incredibly valuable. Direct visits are considered the best visits for a simple reason: user intent. The idea is, the person went to the trouble of typing in (or copying and pasting) your url; they must really want to visit your website. Therefore, a high proportion of direct traffic in your total traffic is good for your site (provided your traffic is good).

There are two types of direct visits: real direct visits and referrals posing as direct.


Referral Visits Posing as Direct Visits

One way you can get direct traffic, perhaps the most common way depending upon your site, is by users copying your url from somewhere – a social media post, a website, an email – and pasting it into your browser. This visit is counted as a direct visit even though it’s not. The good news is that it’s still good traffic.


How to Get Direct Traffic

There are two ways to get direct traffic:

  • Offline
  • Online


If your site url is somewhere offline – anywhere offline – and a user types it into their browser, this is a going to be counted as a direct visit. Here are some ways you can get direct traffic:

  • Url on a business card
  • Url on a billboard or other public ad or display
  • Url in the Yellow Pages
  • Word of mouth.


It’s a lot harder to do this online. Basically, direct traffic coming from online only is going to either come from the referrals as direct traffic listed above, or through online word of mouth, i.e. branding.

Making your site well known enough so that people decide they are going to visit it is really hard. Think about whether or not you’re ever done this: entered a url you’ve never been to before because someone online told you to visit this site (without a link) or you otherwise heard about the site.

Basically, it’s much better to focus your efforts offline until your company is famous enough (or niche enough) to be famous online.

How Do People Find My Website?

There was a time when all you had to do was put up a webpage on the internet and people would find it.

However, that time is long past. As in, decades past. Then time when you can get people to come to your website without doing anything is over. In 2018, you need to attract visitors using a variety of online and offline methods. If you do not do this, you will not get any traffic, unless you have the most niche business, or you have a large, pre-existing clientele who suddenly decide they need to tell other people about your site. (Neither of these things is likely.) So


The Ways People Find Websites

There are only five ways people can find your website, be they potential clients, current or former clients, or total strangers:

  • Direct Traffic
  • Referrals
  • Search Engine Traffic
  • Paid Traffic
  • Social Media

That’s it. If someone does not find your website through one of these four “channels,” they are not getting to your website.

I am going to cover these five channels in separate posts, but here is a brief overview:


Direct Traffic

Someone types in your website url into their browser, or copies and pastes it into their browser. Direct traffic can come from:

  • typing in your site url that they saw offline
  • typing in your site url from memory
  • typing in your site url and it populates in the browser because
    • they’ve been there before
    • it’s a really popular website
  • pasting your site url from an email or a social media post.

(Email links are sometimes considered direct as well.)


Referred Traffic

Traffic that comes by referral comes from links on other websites. (Technically, social media traffic could be considered referred as well.) You can get traffic this way when someone

  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of another webpage
  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of a forum post
  • clicks a link to a page on your site embedded in the text of a comment on a site or post.

Sometimes, links sent by email (by friends, family, or spammers), are also considered referrals. But these links are more ephemeral, given that they are not available to the public and they are unlikely to generate repeat visits, except in one very specific circumstance.


Search Engine Traffic

Someone finds your site by using Google (or Bing) to find what they are looking for, such as “Digital Marketing Consultant Toronto.”


Paid Traffic

You pay for ads, in search (Google, Bing), or in social media (Facebook, Twitter), or on related sites. When a user clicks on the ad, she comes to your site. You pay for the click.


Social Media Traffic

A type of referred traffic, but not as permanent as a link from a website, because of how social media functions.


These are the only ways potential customers will ever find your website. And you can’t just rely on search traffic any more. So, what do you do with this information?

How Do I Know if My Site Has Problems

I’m sorry to say that putting a website online is not as simple as uploading it to a server and leaving it there untouched forever. Technology is constantly changing and your site will require updates. If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator, these will be handled for you. But if you are using a CMS, these will need to be done yourself.

Additionally, there could be other problems with your site, unrelated to out of date plugins or themes or code. There could be errors missed when uploading the site, or unforeseen issues that pop up.

The long and the short of it is, you need to be able to diagnose problems on your website whenever you have the time to check. How do you do that?


Checking for Updates

If you are using a CMS (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress), your CMS will tell you about updates when you login to your website. Even if you are never going to add new content, it is a good idea for you or your website to periodically long in to your site to see if there are updates. I’d recommend once a week, at minimum.

If you are using an out-of-the-box site creator most mandatory updates should be handled for you by the service you are using.

If you have a custom built site you will unfortunately need a webmaster on call to discover what you need updated and when. Once again, a custom site is a terrible idea.


Checking for Problems

There are other problems that will arise over the life of your website. Fortunately, most of them that will impact how potential customers find you can be found using Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools). I did a presentation on how to set up a Search Console account in 2017. Using Search Console, you should be able to discover most problems which will affect how people find your website through search engines.

Unfortunately, for typos, you’ll just have to read your site content (or have someone else do it).