Neil Patel

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How to Analyze Referring Traffic

How well is your referring traffic converting?

It’s easy to get excited about search engine traffic because it usually converts well. People search Google to find answers to questions, and if you’re doing a great job helping them, you’ll get a high conversion rate.

But what about referring traffic? When you get a link from somewhere, how does the traffic perform? Whether it’s a friend’s blog, an authoritative site in your niche, or a giant hub like Forbes or Huffington Post, there’s always room for improvement.

If you know how to analyze your referring traffic, you can adjust it for better conversions, more signups, and more sales.

Here are the key statistics you need to improve your referring traffic.

Pageviews per visitor

At the end of the day, pageviews per visitor is a great way to see how you’re engaging with the people who visit your site. If they click around and keep reading and viewing everything you have to offer, you’re keeping them interested.

If you’re running ads on your site, this is especially important since every pageview means more money in your pocket. But even if you’re not running ads, your goal should be to drive visitors who want to read more of your content.

To improve your pageviews per visitor, you can look at a few different metrics. First, study which sites are sending you visitors who are interacting.

Then, analyze why traffic from those sites is more engaged. Generally, this is because that traffic is more closely related to your topic. If you run a recipe blog, visitors from a cooking site will probably stick around longer than visitors from a marketing site.

Once you find sites that bring you highly engaged traffic, start to build relationships with them. You can cross-promote posts to each other’s audience on social media, link to each other more often, and help each other grow.

Finally, look for similar sites to build relationships. If you’re getting lots of traffic from a cooking blog, you can find similar blogs and reach out.

If you spend all your time optimizing for current traffic, you’ll eventually hit a ceiling. But if you’re constantly reaching out to new sites, there’s no limit to your growth.

Bounce rate

If a visitor bounces—that is, leaves your site from the page they landed on—it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll convert. There are a few services you can use to find out how people engage with your site.

The simplest include Google Analytics and Crazy Egg. You can figure out quickly how visitors are interacting with your site and how you can improve user behavior.

One way to do that is to show custom messages to different traffic sources.

Time on site

Sometimes people just don’t want to spend too much time on your website and trying to solve this is very difficult. If most of your referring traffic sources have very low time on site, there is probably a lot of room for improvement.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to survey your audience with an online survey tool like Qualaroo.

This way you can find out what they like about your website and what they dislike, and adjust your content to keep them interested.

Getting a better feel for what your visitors are looking for will help you increase the time on site and convert casual visitors to customers.


In most cases, the best referring traffic sources are the ones that bring visitors who have a high level of engagement with your site. Different types of sites will have different measures of this, but for a blog, a common engagement metric is the number of comments.

Years ago, I noticed that people coming to my site through Twitter were very likely to comment. This was a big surprise for me, because social media usually doesn’t bring in the most engaged audiences.

But since Twitter was doing well for me, I added Twitter badges and increased my engagement overall by maximizing traffic from Twitter.

Instead of just measuring vanity metrics like visitors, look for actionable analytics like engagement or conversions.

Percentage of new visitors

Don’t just analyze which traffic sources are sending you traffic, but look at which traffic sources are driving you new visitors.

A source might be driving mountains of traffic to your site. But it could be working very well because those people already know about you and visit your site.

If you want to grow your website you have to get new visitors coming to your website. So instead of just trying to convince related or somewhat competing sites to link to you, go after new sites whose visitors may have never heard of you.

High-traffic referrers

Instead of sorting referring traffic from high to low, I prefer sorting from low to high. This allows me to see what sites are linking to me, but aren’t driving much traffic.

Why is this important?

Because it’s easy to maximize traffic from those sites since you’ve already been featured once.

For example, Huffington Post linked to my site years ago but drove very little traffic. But of course, HuffPo is one of the biggest sites online. According to Alexa, it’s one of the top 100 sites in the US.

Since I’ve already been featured, I can get my site featured on there again, do a better job at promoting it this time around, and get lots of traffic.

Large sites that aren’t sending you much traffic are low-hanging fruit.

Geo-based traffic

If you have a local business, you need to target regional traffic. You’ll notice that certain sites drive more regional traffic than others, and this is where you should focus.

A local pet store might be featured in The New York Times and get tons of site visitors, but not a single buyer. But a mention in a local newspaper might only drive a few visitors, but those might be local residents eager to spend money.

The best way to get more referral traffic for your local business is to network, connect with other businesses in the area, and get involved in events. You can even pitch PR stories to local newspapers, which often feature local business spotlights on their websites.


Traffic isn’t always about quantity. If you want to grow your website, ignore your raw visitor count and measure conversion and engagement.

Go after quality referring traffic and continually analyze and improve it. By studying and testing you can boost your conversion rates and get more out of the traffic others are already referring to you.

To take things to the next step, work with the referring sites to strengthen the relationships and find even more ways to get traffic. The easiest link is from a site that’s already linked to you, so keep those partnerships strong.

What strategy will you use first to improve your referring traffic?

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