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Is Your Website Traffic at Risk?

February 23, 2019

Facebook has made continual changes over the years that decrease traffic going from Facebook to a website (at least for organic shares). On Google, there is a rise in no-click search results, predominately on mobile but on desktop too because of rich results—and that means there could be less traffic coming from a Google search result to your website. Of course, this is hardly unique to Google and Facebook. Gmail and other email providers have created features that bury marketing emails behind “Update” tabs or de-prioritize these emails in the inbox, which makes it harder to get people to see the email, let alone open that email or click to a website.

That isn’t to say you can’t get traffic from Facebook, Google, or email—of course you can, and many websites are still able to do so. These are great sources of traffic. The point is to say that something could change that might cause your traffic from Google, Facebook, email, an ad network you rely on, or somewhere else to suddenly vanish. What that change will be isn’t terribly important—there are many possibilities. Equally, it isn’t terribly important when the change might occur—the future is uncertain.

Instead, what is important is recognizing that historically these types of changes can and do occur. Your job is determining how at risk you are if something were to change and doing work before a change occurs to mitigate future risk. Can you handle Facebook making a change that suddenly decreases your traffic (or Pinterest, Twitter, etc.)? Can you handle Google making a change to rich results, reducing the traffic arriving on your website? If the answer to those (and similar) questions is no, then you have to work to do.

Measure Your Traffic Risk

The first step is determining how much traffic arrives on your website from different sources. In Google Analytics, you can view this under Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels. Or, you can get more granular under Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Source Medium. Learn more about finding traffic sources in Google Analytics.

From here, if you see that the majority of your traffic arrives from one source, you have a big risk. Should you panic and freak out, bailing on that traffic source and stopping all the work you’ve done to get that traffic? Absolutely not.

It’s great you are getting this traffic! Keep it up. But, know that you have a lot riding on this one source and that you should put some effort into getting traffic from other sources. In the example below, this company has a ton of traffic from Google organic search. That’s terrific!

However, this company is in an industry that has a lot of rich results like featured snippets returned in search results and that means Google might make changes that take some traffic away from this company’s website. This company would be wise to work on finding other sources of traffic.

Source Medium report in Google Analytics
Source/Medium report in Google Analytics showing a sizable amount of traffic from Google organic searches.
Source Medium report in Google Analytics
Source/Medium report in Google Analytics showing a better balance of traffic across different traffic sources.

Evaluating Risk the Source of Conversions by Source

Along with looking at overall traffic, it is also important to understand what sources lead to conversions. Do most of the people who convert on your website come from Google organic, Google paid, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, or somewhere else? Don’t forget to look at different attribution models as part of this. If most conversions come from one source, you are heavily dependent on that source and would be in for a shock if that traffic source suddenly vanished or decreased.

Direct Traffic

As you review your traffic and conversion sources, it is important to ensure your analytics tracking is properly configured. The biggest problem with traffic reporting is “Direct” traffic. Direct traffic is sometimes referred to as people who come directly to your website. And that is a part of it. But direct traffic also includes, at least by default, traffic that Google Analytics doesn’t understand how to attribute. Often, email campaigns, print campaigns, and even some forms of online advertising can end up in direct traffic.

To get a better understanding of your traffic’s risk, you want to remove these other traffic sources from direct traffic. That way, direct traffic only includes people who come directly to your website. As well, this means all other sources would be attributed correctly, which would help you understand how well those traffic sources perform. One way to break apart direct traffic in Google Analytics is with UTM tracking:

Work To Own Your Traffic

After you dig into your data and understand how at risk you are, the next tasks is to diversify your traffic so that you aren’t heavily dependent on a specific traffic source. As well, you want to find ways to own more of your own traffic—where people are seeking you out directly.

Look at Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, or [insert big name company here]. All of those companies have focused on finding ways to own their traffic directly. They are the company you think of first–no middle man required. Yes, they still pay money to drive people into their websites, like investing heavily in earning rankings in organic search or paying for advertisements. But, they have worked hard to increase the number of people who voluntarily, with no prompting, engage with their website.

Summary

There are more questions to ask—what’s the likelihood one traffic source will change, how sustainable is it for you to continue investing in that big traffic source, how do your competitors’ factor in, and more. But, hopefully, this post gives you a good start in understanding your current risk. If you would like help digging into this data and evaluating the other questions related to your website’s risks and opportunities, let’s talk.

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