What Is Referral Traffic? Definition, Benefits, and Tactics

If you have a website or blog, web traffic is probably always on your mind. Tactics like search engine optimization (SEO), paid ads, and guest blogging work well, but they aren’t the only options you have. Referral traffic is a great way to keep a steady stream of website traffic to your site, and it’s easy to put an effective strategy together.

So what is referral traffic, and how can it help you get more leads and customers? Here’s everything you need to know, including how to increase referral traffic to your site.

Key Takeaways

  • Referral traffic refers to visitors who arrive at your site by clicking a link from another site.
  • Benefits include bringing in new leads, increased authority, better SEO results, and more brand visibility in search results.
  • Possible disadvantages include a lack of control over the quality of traffic from the referring websites and volatility in the number of referrals received.
  • You can build referral traffic through high-quality blog content, eye-catching infographics, a guest blogging strategy, and getting mentioned on review sites.
what is referral traffic

What Does Referral Traffic Mean?

When people click a link on a website or social media platform that leads to your website, it’s considered to be referral traffic. Google Analytics (or any other tracking software) will refer to the originating website as the “referrer.”

If the referral traffic (aka backlinks) is high quality, it can provide many benefits, from better search engine result rankings to more leads.

Referral Traffic vs. Direct Traffic

Not sure how referral traffic sources differ from direct?

  • Referral traffic refers to visitors who arrive at a site by clicking on a link on a different site.
  • Direct traffic refers to visitors who arrive by typing a website’s URL directly into their browser or by clicking a bookmark. 

Benefits of Referral Traffic

When a website refers traffic to your site, it can benefit you in a number of ways, including by bringing in new and potentially engaged audiences. Additionally, referral traffic can also be a sign of a website’s popularity and authority, as other websites are linking to it, which helps a website’s standing in Google.

Here are the top benefits referring websites provide:

  • New audience: Referral traffic can bring in new visitors who may not have found your website through other channels. This can help to expand your website’s reach and attract new potential customers.
  • Increased engagement: Visitors referred by another website or social media channel may be more engaged and have a higher likelihood of converting into customers.
  • Improved SEO: Referral links can be important for optimization. Search engines, such as Google, use the number and quality of links pointing to a website as positive ranking factors (as long it’s from trusted websites).
  • Increased brand visibility: Referral links can help increase a website’s visibility and credibility by showing that other websites or social media platforms consider it to be a valuable source of information or products.
  • Cost-effective: Referral traffic is a cost-effective way to drive traffic to a website, as it does not require paid advertising or other forms of promotion.
  • Provides insights: Referral traffic can also be used to track the performance of a marketing campaign in Google Analytics or to see how a website change impacts the traffic. 

Disadvantages of Referral Traffic

While there are many benefits of building a strong collection of links for referral traffic, it can’t be relied on solely to build a customer base. Most traffic from a local directory won’t lead to a conversion or sale. Getting the right referrals for your target audience takes a lot of time and work communicating with other websites. If not done right, referral traffic can easily become spam traffic.

Here’s a look at some of the possible disadvantages: 

  • Lack of control: Referral traffic is generated by external sources, and website owners have little control over it. They cannot choose which websites or social media channels refer visitors or what type of visitors are referred.
  • Volatility: Referral traffic can be unpredictable and can fluctuate greatly depending on the linking website or social media channel. This makes it difficult to plan and budget.
  • Dependence on external sources: If a linking website or social media channel changes its policies or goes out of business, referral traffic can be greatly reduced or lost entirely, which can negatively impact the website’s performance.
  • Quality of referral traffic: Quality of referral traffic can be poor if the website or social media channel that is linking is not relevant to the website or is a low-authority website.

How Do You Build Referral Traffic?

referral traffic strategy

While it shouldn’t be your only traffic-generating strategy, the takeaway message here is that it’s worth spending some time developing your presence online so you can have a steady flow of referrals.

Here are some proven ways to get more referral traffic to your site or sites:

  • Publish guest blog posts: When you create guest blog posts for high-authority websites in your industry or niche, you’ll get additional referral traffic to your site. If the site won’t put an external link in the article itself, ask for a link to your site in your bio.
  • Create high-quality graphics and infographics: Infographics are a great way to condense information in an engaging, visual way that is also extremely shareable. Other sites and bloggers will use your infographics and link back to your site, increasing your referring traffic.
  • Post high-quality content: If your content isn’t link-worthy, you’re not going to see much referral traffic. However, if you post valuable content on your blog with actionable tips and in-depth information, other sites will want to link to you.
  • Get published on review sites: A great way to reach consumers who are ready to make a purchase is by getting your site on a review website or in roundup blog posts. Depending on the site, you may have to pay for this service.
  • Comment on blog posts: While this tactic can quickly fall into the gray hat SEO bucket, the key here is to add value. Leave comments that are insightful and truly add to the conversation — just make sure the site allows you to include your website’s link.

Final Thoughts

Referral traffic boosts engagement, views, rankings, and much more. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is referral traffic?” you can keep an eye on the sites that send you the highest-quality traffic.

Doing so can help you identify potential partnerships and guest blogging opportunities. Building referral traffic is a long-term process, and it may take time and consistent effort to see significant results but it can pay off in the form of higher rankings and authority and more web traffic.