• December 07, 2019
  • Advice
  • HandBuiltBrands

Different Traffic Channels

Visitors can arrive at your site via several different paths. These include:


A user arrives on your site from a search engine such as Google or Bing. A user could be searching directly for your company name, one of your specific brands or products, or a general product or service that you offer. Organic traffic does not include users who arrive at your site through paid ads on search results. You can see a typical desktop search results page below:

Paid, maps, and organic listings in search results

Traffic from both the maps (also called local, more on that below) section and organic section is classified as organic traffic.



This is traffic you pay for. In Google, it’s run through a platform called Google Ads. In Bing, it’s set up in Bing Ads. Users can click paid ads that show in search results (called search ads – as in the image above) or ads that appear on other sites or apps in the form of banners, images, or videos. These are called display ads.



A user follows a link from another website to arrive at your site. There are three exceptions: 1) Links from search engines (paid or unpaid) are not classed as referrals; 2) Links in a paid ad on another website or app are not classified as referrals; 2) Links from a social media sites are categorized separately as a specific type of referral.



A user follows a link to your site from a social networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. This is a more specialized type of referral traffic.



A user directly types your website into the browser’s address bar or has bookmarked your site in the browser. However, the direct channel is also a catch-all for any traffic that can’t or hasn’t been attributed to the correct channel. There are many instances where traffic may be classified as direct even though that isn’t the true source. These include:

  • Arriving at the site from a link in a Word document or a PDF file.
  • Following a shortened URL link.
  • Following a link from mobile social media apps (not the website version).
  • Following a link from a secure https site to an unsecure http site.
  • Browser issues can also mean regular organic traffic wrongly gets categorized as direct traffic.



Breaking Down Organic Traffic – the Different Search Engines

Organic traffic is traffic that arrives from the unpaid sections of search results. We typically track results and keyword rankings from three different search engines.


Traffic that comes from google.com and isn’t part of the paid or maps/local sections. At one time, these organic links used to dominate search results but have been pushed further down the page in recent years to accommodate ads, map/local results, images, answer boxes, knowledge panels, and other rich features.



Bing is the second most popular search engine in the US but its user share has been decreasing for years. Bing’s search engine display is similar to Google’s yet not so feature-rich. Organic results are those that don’t include paid or maps/local results.


Google Local/Maps

Local or maps traffic is also organic (it’s not paid) but the search results work and display differently. Many search queries have obvious local intent – e.g. a search for “orthopedic surgeon near downtown houston”. Google will also interpret many other queries as having local intent even without a specific geo-modifier – e.g. “orthopedic surgeon”.

When Google detects local intent it will show a maps/local pack in search results. This maps/local search engine is different to the regular organic engine. That means a different set of factors determines ranking.

Google will often display 3 local results in a typical search results page (hence it’s often referred to as the 3-pack). Users can click through to a specific local search engine – called the Local Finder – where more local results are listed. Here, users can see results beyond the top 3. Local and map results are often used interchangeably because the same local search engine powers results in Google Maps.

Bing also has its own local search engine and results but, as Bing’s search volumes are much lower, we don’t track performance there.



Analytics Metrics


A session is a website visit that encompasses a set of website interactions (pageviews, submitting a form, downloading a file, watching a video). The same person can run up multiple sessions, either in the same day or over the course of weeks or months.

A session ends when a user exists the website. A session also ends (and a new one starts) under the following conditions: 1) After browsing for 30 minutes, a new session is started; 2) Browsing across two days (so, through midnight) starts a new session; 3) Arriving at the same site from a different source initiates a new session (e.g. landing on a site through a search engine, opening up a new tab, but keeping the old tab open, and visiting the same site by typing in the URL).



The average number of pages a user visits per session.


Average Session Duration

The average length of a session or visit on your site. It’s important to note that duration is triggered by interactions or engagement with your site. Sessions that result in a “bounce” (see bounce rate, below), where a user lands on a page and exits immediately without viewing another page, would not record a duration because there was no further engagement after the initial arrival.

Similarly, a user could arrive on Page A, read it for 1 minute, navigate to Page B, spend 5 minutes reading Page B, and then exit the site. This session would have a duration of 1 minute and not 6 minutes. Any time between the last engagement and leaving the site is lost time. So the average session duration is the absolute minimum it could be. In reality, users will spend longer on your site than what this metric records.


% New Sessions

How many sessions are from users visiting the site for the first time, regardless of the reporting period. So, a user who visits in October and again in November won’t be seen as a new visitor in November, even if the report only covers the November period. This measurement isn’t without problems. Previous sessions are stored in a text file called a cookie which are unique to a browser and device. If a user visits the same site from a different browser or device then it will be defined as a new session, and not a session from a returning user.


Bounce Rate

The percentage of one-page visits where a user arrives at the site on a particular page, and exits the site without browsing any other page. A high bounce rate is often considered negative but it depends on the purpose of the page. A page that satisfies a user’s question fully may need no other interactions.



These are important actions users take  on your site. They can be customized to be whatever you want them to be. For some sites, a transaction is the key action, for others it’s a form submission, a video view, an email signup, or even just a view of an important page.


Landing Page

The first page a user lands on when coming to a website.


Google My Business

Google My Business (or GMB) is a platform for businesses to manage their presence across Google’s ecosystem. In a GMB profile, companies can input their basic information (name, address, phone number, opening hours etc.), upload images, and list products and/or services. Depending on industry, some companies can also manage bookings, reservations, appointments, and messaging through GMB.

Customers can leave reviews and ask questions on a business’ GMB page, as well as upload their own photos.

Data from a GMB listing appears in 3 places within Google:


1. Knowledge Panel

A company’s knowledge panel often triggers for a branded search for a company’s name. On desktop it appears besides organic results. In mobile, it often appears above organic results. This panel provides an important first impression for customers. It also answers many questions customers may have about a business directly, without the need to visit the website, such as address, phone number, opening hours, or busy times. Other questions could be answered in the Q&A feature while reviews may answer reputation questions.


2. Local Results

A GMB listing is an important ingredient in the local search ranking recipe. A company’s GMB details such as address, category, name, and description can all influence local ranking’s directly. It is the information from GMB that also displays in local results. In regular Google searches, local pack results (typically a 3-pack) appear above organic results.

Local 3-pack in Google search results


By clicking through to “More places”, a user can search more local results in the Local Finder. Here’s what it looks like on mobile:


3. Map Results

Information from a GMB listing also displays in search results within Google Maps:


Google My Business data in Google Maps



A citation is an online mention of your company and can include any mix of a company’s name, address, phone number (collectively known as NAP), and website address. In local search, citations traditionally mean structured citations and these refer almost exclusively to business directory sites. Examples include Yellowpages, Superpages, MapQuest, and CityGrid.

Structured citation on Superpages


Citations, both the quality and quantity, used to be an important ranking factor in local search. Previously, Google would regularly scrape the web to determine a business’ physical location. Small changes in a business’ NAP details would throw a spanner in the works, so NAP consistency was key.

Now, Google no longer scans and rebuilds a digital map each time. Since business owners need to verify their address in GMB, Google’s knowledge of a business’ address is much more secure and takes strong signals to overturn. Having consistent citations on the top citation sites, sites that actually have a real user-base, or that feed into an application with a real user-base, is all that is necessary today.



Google Ads

Google’s online advertising platform allows advertisers to show ads within Google search results or on other websites or mobile apps that are part of Google’s Display Network. For ads that run in search results, accounts are structured into campaigns, ad groups, keywords, and ads. Advertisers bid on keywords and when that bid is sufficient, an ad shows up in search results for the relevant keyword. We expand on some of the key components and metrics in Google Ads.


Keyword Match Types

Advertising in Google’s search results is done by bidding on relevant keywords you want to show up for. Keywords come in 4 different match types:

  • Exact match means bidding on an exact keyword such as [orthopedic surgeon houston]. This will only trigger when that exact search query is typed in (although Google has been stretching the boundaries of exact match and has started to show close variants, too).
  • Then, there are phrase match keywords that trigger when a certain phrase is searched for, such as “mens running shoes”. This would trigger for “nike mens running shoes” or “cheap mens running shoes” but wouldn’t be triggered for “running shoes with cushioning” or “cheap mens shoes”.
  • Broad match keywords allow Google to show an ad for variations of your keywords such as synonyms, misspellings, stemmings, and other related words. For example, bidding on the keyword smart lights could trigger ads for searches as varied as kitchen lights and what are the best table lamps. Unless being used for discovery, broad match keywords are often too broad to generate useful results.
  • A happy medium between broad match and phrase match is broad match modifier (BMM). Placing a plus sign in front of a word forces Google to include that word, or a close variant of, within the keyword, without being restricted by order as with phrase match. For instance, +white +bathroom +tiles would be triggered by searches for “light color tiles for bathroom floor” or “toilet floor white tiles” but wouldn’t trigger for “red kitchen tiles” or “white bathroom flooring options”.



Each time a user clicks on any part of an ad.



How many times an ad is shown in search results, regardless of whether or not a user clicks on it.


Average Cost Per Click (CPC)

The average price you pay for a click on an ad.



Any action a user takes that is deemed important and can be measured. Conversions can be phone calls, submitting a contact form, downloading software, an email signup, or even just visiting an important page.


Average Cost Per Conversion/Action (CPA)

How much, on average, you pay for a conversion. Paying more for each click (a high CPC) and needing more clicks to earn a conversion (the conversion rate), will increase the CPA.


Conversion Rate

The average percentage of clicks on an ad that lead to a conversion. A 100% conversion means every click on an ad leads to a conversion. If half of clicks lead to conversions then the conversion rate is 50%. If 2 out of every 100 clicks leads to a conversion rate then the conversion rate is 2%.


View-Through Conversions

These are recorded each time a user sees, but doesn’t click, on an ad, and then later returns via a different channel (organic, direct, or referral) and completes a conversion. In this instance, the ad gets some credit for the user’s decision to later return to the site. In reality, of course, the original ad may or may not have been noticed and its true influence is unknown.