You’ve mastered organic search visibility, and you’re confident your content is appearing prominently in SERPs. Now it’s time to examine how many people visit your site and where they’re coming from. 

    Now, you might be asking some of the following questions:

    • How do I measure web traffic?
    • How do I know if my efforts are translating into traffic?
    • How do I know if I’m connecting with the right audience? 
    • After I’ve identified what’s working, how do I capitalize on those opportunities?

    Don’t worry. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to access valuable insights into the volume of traffic coming to your website and what you can do to improve site performance based on your SEO goals.

    Guide: How to Measure SEO

    How to Measure SEO

    Download this guide to the concepts & tools to help you track your SEO success.

    How To Measure Traffic to a Website

    To see how many people are visiting your website and how they got there, you need to use an analytics platform like Google Analytics. Website traffic measurement is crucial to assess marketing efficiency and advertising success as it reveals how big of an audience you can reach. All you need is a tracking code!

    There are different ways to think about web traffic, so let’s talk about three metrics you’ll see in Google Analytics.

    How Does Google Analytics 4 Define Website Traffic?

    You can measure website traffic in Google Analytics 4 with the following three metrics:

    1. Users
    2. Sessions
    3. Engaged Sessions

    Let’s dive deeper into these traffic statistics to uncover which you should focus on.

    What Are Users?

    users in ga4

    Google Analytics calls unique visitors “users.” Every time new users visit your website, they’re assigned a unique ID that tracks their return visits. If the same user visits your website three times, Google Analytics will associate those three sessions with the same user. As such, the number of sessions your site receives will always be greater than or equal to the number of users. View your Traffic acquisition report to see how many users visit your site and how they’ve found you. 

    Google Analytics 4 also makes it easy to track new users to see how much of your site traffic is due to repeat traffic or new visitors. Just check the User acquisition report.

    What Are Sessions?

    Each time someone visits your website, Google Analytics records it as a “session.” A session begins on the first page a user sees (aka, the “Landing Page”) and ends on the last page they see before they leave or become inactive (aka, the “Exit Page”). A session ends after a user has been inactive for 30 minutes.

    What Are Engaged Sessions?

    An engaged session is one where a user has stayed on the site for at least 10 seconds, has completed at least one conversion event, or has viewed at least two pages.

    Which Traffic Metric Should You Measure?

    Each of the metrics defined above can yield valuable information about how many people are arriving on your site and what pages they visit most often. Users and sessions each measure slightly different things, but they tend to follow the same patterns. The one you should track will depend on your business objectives and SEO goals. And, of course, you can always monitor both.

    All three of the traffic metrics mentioned above can be tracked across different channels of traffic, so let’s dig into the different types of web traffic, how they’re unique from each other, and which ones most directly apply to SEO.

    What Are the Different Types of Web Traffic?

    Google Analytics breaks down website traffic into several different categories called “channel groups” or “sources.” 

    Segmenting website traffic by channel helps answer a fundamental question in digital marketing: “How are people finding my website?” Of the acquisition channels listed in the next section, organic search traffic is the only one that relates directly to SEO. But the others are important to understand for reasons I’ll dive into later.

    Traffic sources are specific platforms like Google, Bing, Facebook, etc. Tracking source traffic can help you see which platforms generate the most traffic and help you allocate your marketing budget accordingly.

    Traffic Channel Groups, Defined

    traffic channel in ga4

    Organic Search Traffic

    Organic search is the traffic from search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. Organic search traffic is considered one of the key performance metrics for SEO because it measures the volume of unpaid clicks your site receives from search engine result pages (SERPs).

    Direct Traffic

    Google Analytics defines direct traffic as web visitors who’ve arrived on your site by typing your URL directly into a browser or by clicking a bookmark they had saved. But be aware that GA also uses this category as a catch-all for traffic whose source it cannot define. (Learn more about direct traffic in Google Analytics here.)

    Referral Traffic

    In Google Analytics, referral traffic measures the visits to your site from links that appear on other websites. Because a “referral” is considered a recommendation from another site, strong referral traffic can be an indicator of how Google perceives the credibility of your website. Referral traffic can have a direct impact on your search rankings. The hyperlinks that refer this kind of traffic to your site are also known as backlinks and are an essential ingredient of any SEO campaign

    Organic Social Traffic

    Social traffic comes to your site through social networks or social media platforms. For example, if someone clicks through to your website from a tweet or Facebook post, Google Analytics will attribute that to social traffic. Technically this is referral traffic, but Google understands that social media plays a special role in marketing and advertising, so it separates it from the rest of the referrals.

    You may also see traffic from Paid Search, Email, Paid Social, Organic Video, and “Unassigned.” 

    How To Measure Website Traffic on Google Analytics 4

    Follow these steps to check your website traffic on Google Analytics.

    1. Log into Google Analytics.

    2. Click ‘Reports.’

    how to check website traffic on ga4 - go to report menu

    3. Expand the ‘Acquisition’ menu and select ‘Acquisition overview.’

    select acquisition menu to find site traffic in ga4

    You can now see how many users have visited your site, which channels new users used to find you, and sessions by default channel group.

    measure website traffic with acquisition overview in ga4

    To learn more about how users are finding you, go to the ‘User acquisition’ report. To investigate how many sessions originate from each channel, navigate to the ‘Traffic acquisition’ report.

    What You Can Learn About SEO From Measuring Web Traffic

    Insights From Organic Traffic

    Since SEO campaigns focus on boosting organic traffic to your website, there’s a lot of value in traffic analysis specifically from search engines. Before diving into that, I want to quickly distinguish the different types of results searchers find on SERPs.

    What Makes Organic Search Different From Paid Search?

    Although organic search and paid search live in the same neighborhood of search results, they’re very different.

    Paid search ads generally appear at the top of the page, followed by organic search results. Depending on the search term, there may also be paid results at the bottom of the page. 

    While they both appear together on SERPs, there are a few important distinctions to make between the two:

    • Organic search rankings are earned and, therefore, carry more credibility than paid search results.
    • Appearing in organic search is free. The quality and credibility of your search-optimized content continuously drive organic clicks from search.
    • Paid search stops producing clicks as soon as you stop paying Google Ads.
    ppc vs organic results in serps example

    Plus, organic search traffic is more likely to drive qualified leads to your site since keyword research is designed to attract people who want what you have to offer.

    Why Measure Organic Traffic?

    The primary goal of SEO is to drive relevant organic traffic to your site. Growth in organic sessions over time is one of the strongest indicators of SEO performance. A high month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter uptick in visitors to your website from search engines shows that your SEO performance is improving.

    How To Use Google Analytics To Monitor Organic Traffic

    If you’re unfamiliar with where to find organic traffic metrics in GA, head to your dashboard, and we’ll walk through it together.

    Navigate to ‘Acquisition’ > ‘Overview,’ and you’ll see a general breakdown of all the different channels sending traffic to your site.

    measure website traffic with acquisition overview in ga4

    Click on the ‘Traffic acquisition’ report to see additional data for each default channel group.

    To see data at the page level, you can recreate the Universal Analytics Landing Page report as described here.

    recreate universal analytics landing page report to see top performing pages in google analytics 4

    This report allows you to see traffic data at the individual page level to identify which pages are performing well and which may need to be further optimized or pruned.

    By default, landing pages are listed by the number of views, from highest to lowest. This allows you to take a closer look at where visitors spend their time on your website, so you can evaluate what strategies are working well and which to re-evaluate so they can start to perform better.

    To see which pages might need extra optimization or need to be pruned altogether, click the arrow in the sessions column to reverse the order and float your lowest-performing pages to the top of the list.

    Understanding Referral Traffic

    Referral traffic is Google’s channel for reporting visits that come to your website from websites other than search engines, social networks, and emails. If someone finds your website by clicking a link on one of these websites, GA typically tracks that as a referral visit.

    Why Is Referral Traffic Valuable?

    Referral traffic is important because it sends potentially qualified visitors to your site from another trusted website. These backlinks represent the opportunity to get your content in front of more people than organic search alone. If the backlinks that create referral traffic are on a credible website, they lend further credibility to your content, just like a recommendation from a friend makes you feel more comfortable about trying a new restaurant.

    The SEO Benefits of Referral Traffic

    Google considers referral traffic from backlinks a sign of social proof that increases its perception of your site’s authority and trustworthiness and positively impacts your search rankings.

    The Darkside of Backlinks

    Just as links from reputable sources boost your credibility, low-quality links can negatively impact your search ranking. All the more reason to keep an eye on your referral traffic. Learn more about what makes a quality backlink.

    Why Monitor Referral Traffic?

    There’s a lot to be learned from examining your referral traffic. First, understanding where your referral traffic is coming from helps you identify the tangential interests and habits of users clicking through to your site.

    For example, if you sell sneaker insoles and you’re getting a lot of referral traffic from a skate shoe brand, you might deduce that skateboarders are interested in what you sell.

    A revelation like this might inform your SEO strategy, prompting you to create content that targets that demographic so they can find you through organic search.

    Likewise, using the context of referring sites to understand visitors to your pages can help you optimize conversion pages for specific demographics that will move them through your marketing funnel. Consider measuring it as part of your website traffic data. 

    How To Use Google Analytics To Monitor Referral Traffic

    From your GA dashboard, go to Acquisition > Traffic acquisition. Search ‘referrals’ in the box below the line graph. 

    search for referral traffic in traffic acquisition report

    Click the down triangle next to ‘Session default channel grouping’ and select ‘Session source/medium’ to see a list of sites that have referred traffic to your pages, sorted by session volume. 

    session source to identify organic traffic

    measure website traffic with traffic acquisition report in google analytics

    To evaluate the quality of your referral traffic, you’ll want to look not only at the total number of users or sessions but how those visitors are engaging on your site. For example, which sites have the highest engaged sessions or events? Are visitors from certain sites converting at a higher rate than others?

    Use what you learn here to see where your most engaged (and profitable) referral traffic is coming from, strategize ways to boost those referrals, and find similar sites to build backlinks. Then, tweak your SEO strategy to capitalize on your knowledge.

    FAQs About Measuring Web Traffic

    How long does it take for data to appear in Google Analytics?

    It can take as long as 24 hours for data to appear in Google Analytics. However, GA starts tracking data from the moment you implement the tracking id on your website. Unfortunately, there’s no way to recover historical traffic data from before implementing Google Analytics.

    If you set up your tracking ID and don’t see any traffic stats after waiting a couple of days, double-check the implementation to make sure there aren’t any errors.

    A simple way to check your code implementation is to install the Google Tag Assistant extension for Chrome. It’ll show the tracking ID and status for your site.

    How do I find the most popular pages on my website?

    uses Pages and Screens report to see most-viewed pages

    To find the most viewed pages on your website, go to your Google Analytics account, and click on Reports > Engagement > Pages and screens. The list defaults to show the most viewed pages at the top.

    How often should I be measuring site traffic?

    I recommend you track your traffic metrics weekly because they’re prone to fluctuation. Website traffic stats are a good initial indicator of campaign success or, on the flip side, offer an early warning for technical issues that could impact your search visibility. Look for inexplicable peaks or valleys every week, and keep an eye on MoM or YoY comparisons to spot cycles (seasonality) or trends in either direction.

    How does website traffic impact my business?

    In general, the more traffic you drive to your website, the more opportunities you have to generate qualified leads, nurture prospective customers, and sell your product or service. While the number of sessions alone doesn’t absolutely correlate with business success, getting people to come to your site is the first step to building a thriving online business.

    How do I increase my referral traffic?

    There are some basic things you can do to boost your referral traffic, including:

    • List your business in industry directories.
    • Get listed on review sites.
    • Guest post on other websites.
    • Make the best use of social media.

    But the most effective way to grow your referral traffic is to include SEO link building services in your overall marketing strategy.

    What if my traffic is going up, but my conversions are going down?

    In this case, you’re attracting searchers to your website, but they aren’t your best prospective customers. You’ll want to employ keyword research services to get help targeting queries that are relevant to your prospective customers.

    The Power of SEO Partnership

    Learning how to measure website traffic is the first step to understanding how services from your SEO agency impact your business. Because your SEO goals are unique to your business, the way you analyze your website traffic will also be unique and may evolve over time.

    Learning more about SEO doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourself. At Victorious, our most successful partnerships are with customers who relish transparency and frank conversations about what’s working, what’s not working, and where to leverage campaign resources for the greatest impact on the metric that matters most — a return on your investment. So, if you’re ready to take the next step in SEO, let’s have a conversation about how we can help your website get the attention it deserves.


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