What Is Organic Search Traffic? A Breakdown of Traffic Types

Website Traffic Sources - SpoonfedSEO

What exactly is organic search traffic? You’ve heard them talking about it, you’ve read it in the monthly SEO and analytics reports.

Apparently there’s loads of different “traffic types” coming to your site. Well, that’s great! But what does it mean?

In this Spoonfed SEO piece, we’re going to be looking at the different traffic types coming to your website, what they mean and why we want them!

What Is Site Traffic?

We’ll start from the top. This may seem a little too basic but you’d be surprised.

Just this week I’ve sent my monthly SEO report off to a client, telling him how great his traffic is doing, only to get a response asking what exactly it means.

So this one’s for you, Mr. Confused Client.

Essentially, anyone that visits your site is counted as “traffic”. Each and every site visit is a different session; and there are many ways in which these sessions found your page.

Look around you. Hopefully for this metaphor, you’re in an office. Imagine each of your colleagues as one website visitor and your office is the website.

Not everyone got to the office the same way. You have walkers, car drivers, bus takers, train commuters etc. Each of these different commute styles would be considered a different traffic source to your office.

Am I making sense?


When you’re talking about a website (an actual website this time..) you have a variety of different traffic sources. They are as follows:

Website Traffic Sources:

  1. Organic Traffic
  2. Direct Traffic
  3. Paid Traffic
  4. Social Traffic
  5. Email Traffic
  6. Referral Traffic

So let’s look at each one individually.

Organic Traffic:

Organic traffic is the bread and butter of your SEO campaign. This accounts for the people who found you on Google Search.

So they put in their keywords in the little search bar, hit enter, and your site came up!

Anyone clicking through to your site from the search engine results page (SERP) is counted as organic traffic.

So if you’re looking at the monthly report just sent across from the SEO guys, and they’re telling you that Organic Search is up 10% compared to last year or last month, that’s a good thing!

That means that your site is getting found on Google for the right keywords and people are clicking through to your site.

You go, Mr. SEO man!

Direct Traffic:

Direct traffic occurs when a user goes directly to your website by typing your URL straight into the address bar at the top of the browser.

This is different to performing a search as it leads directly to the website and not to a search results page.

Direct traffic can also be a result of going to a website from a Bookmark that you’ve saved in the past.

Usually direct traffic is made up of returning users; meaning people who have visited your site in the past and are returning.

If you’re familiar with a website, you will most likely remember their URL and type it straight into the address bar rather than performing a search.

Paid Traffic:

Paid traffic coming to your site is exactly as it sounds; traffic that you have paid for through advertising. In Google Analytics, this will be mainly from Google Ads traffic, otherwise known as PPC (Pay Per Click).

So you’re not going to see this show up in your reports unless you are actively running Google Ads PPC campaigns.


Another form of traffic that may show up in your report is Display Traffic. While this will also come from Display campaigns running in Google Ads, it has its own category of traffic in Analytics.

Google Ads & paid traffic can be a great way of pushing a bit of brand awareness while you are working on your SEO efforts. As long as you set it up correctly and bid high enough, your ad will be at the top of the first page.

Ensuring you will always be seen while you’re working on your organic positioning.

There is an argument about running PPC ads while you have effective SEO and this is something a client has asked me directly about.

We had a very successful SEO campaign running for them, whereby they were taking up at least 3 spots on the first page, usually two results in the top 3. They were also running AdWords and asked if we should stop paying for ads now that they were ranking so well.

You could go either way with this. My response at the time was to keep the ads. These ads were based solely on their own branded terms and you are always going to pay less than your competition for your brand terms.

So we could occupy the top ad placement for a relatively cheap cost, while also having a large presence in the organic results.

Whereas, if we stopped the ads we were leaving ourselves wide open for the competition to bid on our keywords and be placed above us after all our hard work developing the SEO campaign.

It’s really a matter of personal preference. But if it’s not costing you that much to keep the ads for the sole purpose of SERP ownership, then I say keep them going!

Social Traffic:

You’ve probably guessed it, but Social Traffic is the traffic coming to your site from social media websites. These include the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest & LinkedIn.

If you have a good social presence or actively run social campaigns, then social traffic can take up a large proportion of your overall site traffic.

Social traffic has a lot of benefits because it’s one of the most measurable forms of traffic.

Facebook login screen

Having a strong social media presence is vital for growing your website. You’re reaching a whole new audience simply by sharing and promoting your content on your social platforms.

Put a bit of money behind your posts for advertising and you can decide exactly who you want to see your posts with custom audience targeting.

Email Traffic:

No prizes for guessing this one. Email traffic is based on sessions coming to your website from email referrals.

So if you’re actively running newsletters, email receipts, appointment confirmation emails etc. then you can expect to see some email traffic coming through in your analytics reports.

Referral Traffic:

Finally, looking at referral traffic.

This type of traffic is essentially traffic that is ‘referred’ to your site from other websites. This may be mentions in blogs, product reviews, affiliate links and so on.

So any time a website links to your site and someone clicks that link, they are referred to your website.

So that’s a wrap folks! Yet another Spoonfed guide for you. I hope I’ve answered some queries or shed a little light on this particular topic for you.

Remember, we’re SpoonfedSEO, the beginner friendly digital marketing blog.

As always, if there’s a particular topic you’d like me to cover, have a question or would even like a little bit of advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch through the contact form.

‘Till next time!

Author: Brian C

Brian is an SEO Manager for a leading Irish digital agency. With years of experience across Social Media Management, Content Development and Strategy and SEO for clients across a diverse portfolio, Brian shares his insights to make digital digestible for everyone.