Organic vs Paid vs Direct Traffic: What’s the Difference?

When looking at your overall website traffic, how can you know where exactly it’s coming from? Your website traffic will mainly come from three different places: orgain, paid, or direct.

We will walk you through what each kind of traffic means and show you how you can find this in Google Analytics so you can keep a close eye on this kind of data.

Organic Traffic

Organic traffic is the kind of traffic that naturally comes to your site through sources that are not paid. For example, if a user is looking for a dentist, they will search something like “family dentist near me” and can see a list of dentists on Google (likely because these dentists are doing good SEO!) When a user clicks on a specific website (on a link that is not a sponsored ad) this would be included in the dentist’s organic traffic in their analytics profile.

This free traffic can also come from other search engines including Yahoo or Bing. It’s the most important form of traffic because it can be a guide on how well your SEO efforts are doing. If your organic traffic is high, that means your SEO efforts are working well, which can include which keywords you’re tracking, the type of content you’re creating, backlinks, and more.

If organic traffic is low, you can use the information to pivot your SEO efforts and see what else you can do to get this number back up.

Paid Traffic

Paid traffic is any kind of traffic that is from an ad that you pay for. To see this kind of traffic, you need to be running a PPC campaign. This specific kind of marketing campaign allows ads to show above organic results, and businesses only pay for it if it’s clicked by a searcher.

Paid ads can be run on different platforms such as:

  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • X (Twitter)
  • Instagram
  • And more

By looking at paid traffic in Google Analytics, it can help you determine how effective your PPC campaign is. The higher the paid traffic, the better your ads are performing.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is generally known as when someone directly types in a business’ URL to visit the website, but other factors can impact your direct traffic, which can include:

  • Employees visiting your site
  • Customer portals
  • Mobile apps
  • Secured sites to non-secure sites
  • Links without UTM parameters

With these factors affecting direct traffic, it’s a good idea to try and move some of these sources of traffic into a separate field in Google Analytics that’s not direct traffic. Direct traffic shouldn’t be more than 20%, which is helpful to keep in mind the next time you’re trying to determine how accurate your direct traffic numbers are.

How to See These Separate Traffic Sources in Google Analytics

To find where you can see these numbers in Google Analytics, simply go to reports, click acquisition, then click traffic acquisition. You’ll be able to see these traffic source comparisons on a day-to-day basis, as well as other traffic sources depending what you’ve chosen to track.

traffic sources

Within each type of source of traffic, you’ll also get details on the numbers of:

  • Users
  • Sessions
  • Engaged sessions
  • Average engagement time per session
  • Engaged sessions per user
  • Events per session
  • Engagement rate
  • Event counts
  • Conversions
  • Total revenue

Google Analytics tracks these separate sources of traffic so you can see how users are finding your site, specific days when traffic is doing well, and so you can use this information to make business decisions.

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Caroline Vahue

About the Author

Caroline Vahue

Caroline is an Online Marketing Specialist at Sixth City Marketing and is originally from upstate New York. Her role is to execute online marketing strategies with our content marketing team and staying on top of the latest industry trends.

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