Google Analytics 101: 3 Sources of Website Traffic


Knowing your customer is an important part of successful marketing. To this end, Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool for business owners. This free tool from Google provides business owners with information on the people who visit their websites. However, if you don’t know where to look or understand what you’re looking at, then what good is Google Analytics as a tool?

Let’s look at the 3 basic sources of web traffic that will be tracked in Google Analytics.

The 3 Sources of Web Traffic

One of the first things a you need to understand is how a customer reaches your website and how Google Analytics will report that.

There are three ways:

  1. Direct
  2. Referral
  3. Search

To further explain these sources, let’s use an example for each traffic source: someone searching for Harry Potter books who ends up on


Direct traffic means that the person already knew the website address and entered it directly in their browser’s address bar. This is the person who types in “” and then searches for “Harry Potter” once they are on Amazon’s website. They didn’t come through a Google search of a Facebook link, they went straight to

This is an excerpt from our newest free guide on Google Analytics. Click here to download it.


A second possible scenario is the visitor who comes via referral. I’m sure you’ve heard this term before, and it’s meaning is the same when we talk about Google Analytics. A referred visitor is one who came from a website or email that links to your website — this website or email “referred” them to your website.

So to use our example, our visitor was reading something on the internet about the Harry Potter books, and saw a link saying, “Click here to get your wizard on.” Upon clicking the link, they are referred to to purchase the Harry Potter book(s).


Visitors who come via search use a search engine like Google to find what they are looking for. Searches rely on keywords or key terms. Visitors enter what they’re looking for in their search bar, which then lets the search engine know what information it should display. Once someone enters a keyword, the search engine will find results that it deems most relevant to that keyword.

So, to go back to our example, someone goes to Google and searches for “buy Harry Potter book.” The keywords in this case are “buy,” “Harry Potter,” and “book.” The keyword “buy” indicates that this person is interested in purchasing something. The keyword “Harry Potter” tells Google that they want to see something related to Harry Potter. And the keyword “book” says they are looking for a book. Put the whole phrase together and Google predicts that the user is looking to purchase a book from the Harry Potter series. So the first result would likely be a page on to purchase the book.

Having a great road map is not very useful if you can’t understand what you’re looking at. These are just some of the basics of what you’ll see in your Google Analytics dashboard. To learn more about Analytics and it’s use, please download our free guide Analyizing Google Analytics.

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Ed Fox

Ed Fox

Ed Fox works closely with partnership stakeholders and product leaders on business strategic planning, as Director of Technology. Ed leads the product and technology teams, directing operations while working with clients to ensure a successful development process and, when appropriate, integration with existing platforms. Ed’s specialty is aligning technology vision and strategy with product and business direction, and converting strategic plans into platforms that can grow in the market.