310 Million Visits: Nearly Half of All Web Site Traffic Comes From Natural Search [Data]

310 Million Visits: Nearly Half of All Web Site Traffic Comes From Natural Search [Data]

Check out the updated version of this post: Organic Search Is Actually Responsible for 64% of Your Web Traffic.


As any online marketer of any length of time knows, there are many ways to slice up an inbound marketing budget pie.  One can focus on the hot new thing and invest heavily in social, spend a great deal on paid search, make a strong SEO play, or any combination in between.

Here at Conductor, we often get asked by our enterprise SEO clients where they should be when it comes to the percentage of traffic coming to their website from natural search.  We don’t necessarily think there is a one-size-fits-all answer, as many factors can influence channel spend, including type of vertical, product/service type, organizational culture and more.  However, we do think that it would be helpful for many site owners to understand where one’s distribution fits relative to others in their industry.

To get a sense of the distribution of inbound traffic across industries, we analyzed 30 websites across six industries.  We looked at inbound traffic over a one-year period, analyzing over 310 million visits in total.

Natural Search Drives Nearly Half of All Visits

Our analysis showed that natural search drives the most traffic of all channels, responsible for nearly half (47%) of all visits.  In breaking out social visits from overall referral visits, we can see that referrals drive 15% of visits, while social actually drives 2%.

Looking at the same distribution across specific industries, we can see that the consumer electronics, online retail and education industries all share similar channel distributions of traffic, with between 53-56% of traffic sourced from natural search.  The other channels also share similar ranges of traffic distribution.

Interestingly, the banking/finance industry sees a larger portion of their traffic coming from direct visits, likely due to a greater percentage of users logging-in to online banking or trading platforms through direct site access.

Although natural search ­– like the other industries analyzed – is the largest driver of traffic for the travel industry, paid search drove a significantly higher amount of traffic in travel compared to the others.  Given the hyper competitiveness of search in the travel industry due to the large average visitor value, paid search has historically commanded among the highest CPC values and the highest investment of all industries. Our analysis confirms this trend, with 18% of traffic coming from paid, the largest percentage of all industries analyzed.

Compare Yourself to Your Industry Baseline

Many factors—both offline and on—can affect the distribution of traffic to one’s website.  While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for how a web site’s distribution should look, knowing how inbound traffic flows for others in your industry can give you a baseline for comparison against your own traffic.  If, in performing the analysis, you decide to place a renewed focus on SEO as an inbound channel, check out this recorded webinar to get started on an SEO success plan: 10 Step to Achieve SEO Success.

Ed Note: As AJ Kohn pointed out on Google+, the analysis was not adjusted for the dropped search referrers from iOS6+ and Android 4+.  Had we done so, natural search traffic likely would have account for greater than 50% of overall traffic.

About Nathan Safran

Nathan is the Director of Research at Conductor and leads Conductor’s research and content team. Nathan is a monthly columnist at Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. Nathan’s research on digital marketing has been widely covered in both industry publications and mainstream media such as Techcrunch, Venture Beat and the Washington Post. Prior to joining Conductor, Nathan was an analyst at Forrester Research.

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  • http://www.bayleafdigital.com Abhi

    Thanks for sharing Nathan! How is email traffic accounted for in this data?

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      It is included in referral traffic.

  • http://www.rcs-uk.com/ David Boland

    Thank you for this post, Nathan! One quick question: do you think organic traffic will take up even more of the pie over the next months (or years), especially after Google’s latest updates (I know you are not a psychic, I just trust your judgement!)? Again, thank you for this post, it was really informative!

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Thanks David. I think Search in it’s current basic incarnation–searching a web index–is here to stay, even as it evolves forward. And, I think as people become more savvy they tend to click on ads less, so I’d say it continues to account for a lions share of inbound traffic.

    • http://www.webds.com Asher Elran

      Google updates do not affect the volume of organic traffic. They only affect which website get more of it.
      As less people use print publications to get information, it is likely to see a large increase in organic traffic over the years.

  • http://www.rcs-uk.com/ David Boland

    Thank you for your imminent answer! :-)

  • http://disruptive.nu Christian R

    But, probably a lot from brandtraffic. How does it look if u exclude that?

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Hey Christian,

      Agree, there will be an impact from brand traffic. We have not filtered it out to measure exactly what it would be. That would be a lot of Exceling :-)

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  • http://www.ciceron.com Andrew Eklund

    Is “social” defined as only social networks (FB, Twitter, etc.) ? How about review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp? Do they fall under natural?

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Andrew: social is defined by the way Google Analytics groups it, so don’t think it includes things like Trip Advisor or Yelp.

  • http://www.megrisoft.com Mohnesh Kohli

    Nathan Thanks for giving good information. 50% traffic from natural search make it essential to have SEO if website done.

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  • http://paulguzmanblog.com Paul

    Nathan really good info. I am surprised that social media has only 2% search traffic. From all the email and research I’ve done it seems to be over-rated in terms of search engine traffic. I would like to know where your data came from?

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Thanks Paul. Agree that while social is an important tool in the Markter’s toolbox and all indicators are that it is important as a signal to search engines, it does not match up to the hype that the tech media seems to give it as far as a % of traffic. This data seems to support that. (see also http://www.conductor.com/blog/2013/04/search-and-social-as-marketing-messiah/ for a measure of the hype disparity)

      The data came from inbound analytics from 30+ major sites.

  • http://www.brandignity.com Maciej

    It is amazing to see the raw power of search and how it has transformed almost every industry in a very short span of time.

  • http://www.searchdecoder.com Matthew Capala

    Really great analysis. Thanks for sharing.

    Are other sources of traffic excluded from this study (ex. banner or affiliate)? Also, what does 360 million mean in this context?

    • http://www.searchdecoder.com Matthew Capala

      310million I meant – from the title – thanks again

      • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

        Thanks Matthew. The 310 million visits is the total bucket of visits we analyzed. It represents traffic from a one year period from the 30 sites we looked at.

        In terms of the traffic–nothing was excluded. The buckets we used (organic search, referral etc) is based on how Google Analytics categorizes the traffic. The only thing we did was parse out social from the referral bucket.

        • http://www.searchdecoder.com Matthew Capala

          Big thanks Nathan. Makes sense.

  • http://www.portent.com Aviva Jorstad

    Hey Nathan – great article on a great study. Is the data from unique visitors only? Since we know organic (and other) visitors often become direct visitors on repeat visits (and often return more than once), this would skew the data in favor of direct.

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Hey Aviva,

      Thanks. We did not specifically look at unique visits. Agree that there can be a bit of a skew toward direct visitors because of repeat visits (as the post points out, this was particularly true of the banking/finance industry due to return visitors logging in to online banking/brokerage accounts) but whats interesting is even with that skew organic search accounted for nearly half of all visits.

      • http://www.portent.com Aviva Jorstad

        Totally. I just love the idea that organic is even more influential than 50% :)

  • Chow Wei

    Thanks Nathan for the invaluable data. What percentage of the natural search is a result of domain name and brand name search? From an user intent perspective, we may want to shift these users to the direct visit category.

    • Larry Bassani

      Chow Wei makes a very good point. In my experience with the clients I work with, a huge chunk of that 47% is going to be branded traffic.

  • http://truyenyy.com/ Steve Chan

    Very helpful for me! Thanks SeoMoz take me here! xD

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  • http://www.instantatlas.com David E Carey

    Great piece of research Nathan. I’ve just ran a 5 year analysis to check this on my site and if I use ‘enterprise technology’ as a suggested benchmark I’m just below it by 1% for organic at 43%!

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Great, glad it was helpful!

  • http://victortravelblog.com Victor Tribunsky

    It is very interesting article for me, but can you answer one question: how do you think, how many images will be too many for a travel blog post from the SEO view point? Thank you.

  • Deboti Chowdhury

    Thanks Nathan, very interesting data & helpful as well. I just wished that the traffic from social visits were a bit more.

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  • Edward

    Hi Nathan,

    Great article! Did you use Google Analytics to gather data on inbound traffic across different industries?

    • http://www.conductor.com Nathan Safran

      Yes.

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  • http://transbatik.com Batik

    Great Post! It was helpful.

  • http://ignitevisibility.com John Lincoln

    Nathan, I heard at Interactive Day San Diego that mobile search traffic is due to surpass desktop search traffic by the end of 2013. How are you responding to this for clients? Also, regarding your data here… Of course it is different for every industry. But I like the report.

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  • http://pullmkt.com Josh

    This post speaks every SEO’s mine and backs it up with data! Now if I could get everyone of my prospective clients to understand this…

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  • http://mhlnk.com/2EE2F107 larry lakes

    Just getting started please help

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  • http://www.valuesite.org www.mywebsiteworth.com

    Wow, that’s what I was seeking for, what a data!
    existing here at this weblog, thanks admin of this site.

  • http://www.searchable.co.uk Adam

    Interesting data, however this doesn’t take into account what % of those searches are navigational type-ins.

    I think for many large brand websites, if 40% of their traffic comes from SEO then perhaps half of that could be navigational searches to get to the homepage.

  • Best of Mallorca

    Thanks, I found your article very interesting. what is the most reliable source to gather data on traffic?

    http://www.best-of-mallorca.com

  • andreaswpv

    Interesting numbers.

    Do you have more info on the data – I did not see that. How is the distribution in each vertical? One big and 5 small companies or pretty evenly distributed? Are they operating globally? 5 companies each vertical or more uneven distribution? How strong are the brands (driving direct traffic or navigational searches like Adam mentions.

    If all companies receive the same traffic, that’s ~ 860,000 visits / month, including the repeat visits people are checking their online bank account. Is that the correct overall picture?

    • Nathan Safran

      Hi,
      The companies are pretty evenly distributed, 5 per vertical, and I would consider them to be ‘large’ companies.

      Brand strength varies a bit more, with some of them strong, recognizable brands and others, less so.

      I’d have to go back and check all the numbers to see if the representation you give is accurate but it’s in the rough ballpark.

  • http://www.musicianscove.com/ Tapiwa Mapani

    Very interesting read!

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  • Laura St. Marie

    What about paid media placements (e.g. banner ads)? Is this included in one of the existing categories or not accounted for at all?

    • Nathan Safran

      Hi Laurie,

      It depends on the individual Google Analytics deployment and how the site owner set up allocation of those elements. So I’d expect that some banner ad traffic is reflected in the numbers and some is not.

  • Spook SEO

    I think not this time as Google had released and update wayback to 2013 which is the Penguin. Might most of the sites belong to your thoughts where they have half visits coming from organic search was dropping a little bit down.

  • Nancy Lynn Bach

    Great article, Nathan, thanks. One question… I don’t see any mention in the data regarding traffic from email. Would this be included in one of the existing buckets? Or would this traffic exist outside this data set (looking to level set, and need to know if I should exclude email traffic from my totals). Thanks!

    • Nathan Safran

      Hi Nancy,

      In our analysis email would fall in the referral bucket.

      Nathan

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  • ubyroja

    Where all the sites used for this study clients and if so what level of SEO work has been done for them by your agency?

    • Nathan Safran

      The majority are US-based. And, since we are not an agency (we make an enterprise SEO platform called Searchlight) I can’t comment on work done on the sites.

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  • Charity

    Hi all — there’s now an update to this study. Check it out: http://www.conductor.com/blog/2014/07/update-organic-search-actually-responsible-64-web-traffic/

  • alaanile
    • Charity

      Email would fall into the referral bucket for this study. Hope that helps!

  • HANH TRINH VIET

    Thank you so much for your article Ad. It helps me so much to understand about online marketing.
    Good luck !
    http://www.vietoverlandtravel.com

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