Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most popular online marketing strategies for a reason: it’s incredibly efficient. Not only is it capable of helping your business achieve better results in a wide variety of areas, it’s also relatively inexpensive, and it’s scalable—so you can use it no matter what stage of growth you’re in.
One of the most important concepts associated with SEO is organic traffic—the number of people visiting your site from search engines. But what exactly is organic traffic, and how does it work in the context of SEO?
Organic traffic, put simply, is traffic that comes from Google and other search engines’ search engine results pages (SERPs). Think of it this way; you search for a given topic, like “bike repair shops,” and you see a list of results. You click on one of those results to visit the brand’s website. You now count as an organic visitor, and will be included as part of the brand’s total organic traffic.
As much as 53.3 percent of all traffic on the web comes from organic search, so it’s one of the most valuable channels to capitalize on.
Organic traffic is contrasted with other traffic sources, such as:
Why all the fuss about organic traffic? Well, for starters, all traffic is good for your site, generally speaking. If your site has a 2 percent conversion rate and you make $150 on average per sale, the difference between 1,000 visitors and 10,000 visitors is the difference between $3,000 and $30,000 in revenue. Increasing your organic traffic will increase your total revenue (and help you achieve your other goals).
Organic traffic is especially relevant for two main reasons:
1. It’s relevant. By increasing your organic rankings for relevant keyword terms and avoiding optimization for irrelevant terms, you can control the types of people who visit you organically. In other words, you can make sure your visitors are within your target demographics and at the right phase of the buying cycle.
2. It’s within your control. Technically, it’s possible to increase your traffic numbers in any category, but organic traffic is especially accessible thanks to SEO.
Source: Google Analytics
Let’s take a closer look at how organic traffic functions as a byproduct of an SEO campaign. SEO, in case you aren’t familiar, is a combination of different strategies and tactics, all of which are intended to increase your rankings in search engines. These can be broadly categorized as followed:
There are literally more than 200 ranking signals that Google uses to formulate results, so consider these high-level assessments as just the tip of the iceberg.
As you follow these SEO strategies, you’ll increase your domain authority and page-level authority—trustworthiness scores that let Google and other search engines know you’re worth ranking. You’ll also increase your relevance for specific keywords and phrases. Over time, you’ll rank higher for those terms when people search for them.
The higher you rank, the better, with sharply diminishing returns the further you are from the top. Ranking lower thank rank 10 means you’ll rarely have an opportunity to generate organic traffic. At ranks 2-5, you’ll start picking up steam. But it’s not until you reach rank 1 that you’ll receive the lion’s share of traffic from that term.
This is where organic traffic begins to become such an important metric for SEO success.
Different keyword terms have different levels of search volume, so a rank 1 position for a keyword with 100,000 monthly searches is far better than a rank 1 position for a keyword with 5,000 monthly searches. In fact, a rank 8 position for a keyword with 100,000 monthly searches may be better than a rank 1 position for a keyword with 5,000 monthly searches.
Accordingly, if you spend too much time focused on rankings, you’ll end up with inferior results. Company A may have 10 rank-1 positions, and 150,000 monthly organic visitors, while Company B has only 1 rank-1 position and an assortment of other page-1 positions for long-tail keywords, with 180,000 monthly organic visitors. Though other variables must be considered before we can give Company B a definitive win here (including conversion rate and traffic relevance), organic traffic is a fantastic predictor of success.
In line with this, many search optimization professionals use organic traffic as both their primary key performance indicator (KPI), and as the guiding light for their strategy. All their decisions revolve around getting the biggest increases in organic traffic, and they use organic traffic to tell whether their tactics are working.
Source: Google Analytics
So how do you measure this all-important SEO metric?
There are a number of third-party marketing analytics and SEO tools you could use to measure your organic traffic (along with a host of other KPIs), but we recommend the simplest solution—Google Analytics. Google Analytics is both free and intuitive, and it offers an immediate way to track organic traffic for your site across a number of dimensions.
Log into Google Analytics, and head to your account under the main Reporting tab. Check out the panel on the left side, and under the Acquisition header, click Overview.
Here, you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic from different channels, including Organic Search, Direct, Referral, Social, Email, and Paid Search traffic. You can click the date range in the upper right to view data for a specific period of time as well.
As you get more familiar with Google Analytics, you can generate many different reports related to your organic traffic. For example, you can review the behavioral flow of typical users once they find your site organically, you can monitor conversion rates specifically as they apply to organic visitors, and you can see a (limited) breakdown of keyword terms that led people to click through to your site.
Source: Advanced Web Ranking
Organic traffic reliably increases as you increase in rankings, regardless of which terms you’re targeting or what your pages are. Slight variances may exist, but these are the exception, not the norm.
That said, your SERP positions aren’t the only way to increase your organic traffic. You can also increase organic traffic by optimizing your click-through rate (CTR) in other ways.
Appropriate audience targeting is a necessary prerequisite; you have to target keywords that are relevant to your target audience, and provide them with content they want to consume.
Beyond that, the best strategy for optimizing your CTR is optimizing your headlines and meta descriptions for clicks. Your title tag is the primary headline displayed in SERPs; you’ll have 72 characters to concisely describe what readers will find if they click through. Your meta description is the extended description; you’ll have 172 characters here, allowing you to further describe content and make a compelling call-to-action (CTA).
Here, your primary goal is accuracy; you don’t want to lure people to a page that surprises them with irrelevant or unexpected content. Your secondary goal is persuasion; motivate these users to take action by clicking.
We’ve spent most of this article talking up the merits of organic traffic as a measurement and as a strategic focus, but there are some important caveats and additional considerations you’ll need to bear in mind when using it in your own SEO campaign:
Even with these caveats, organic traffic remains one of your most important considerations when planning and executing an SEO campaign.
Are you interested in improving your website’s organic traffic? Are you in the middle of an SEO campaign, and in need of more resources to achieve your goals? Contact SEO.co today for a free consultation!