The Ultimate List of 33 Traffic Sources

Cara Bowles    By under Digital Marketing.

lookAs digital marketers, it's easy for us to get wrapped up in a specific method of attracting visitors.

While this kind of tunnel vision can help us become experts at one particular tactic, it can also blind us to all of the other opportunities made available to us.

Realizing this, I decided to put together a comprehensive list of places to get traffic on the web. Needless to say it doesn't contain everything (since that would literally be the entire web), but this covers most of the kinds of places you can use to pick up visits.

I've divided the list into "free" and paid traffic sources, with an emphasis on the unpaid channels. Let's take a look.

"Free" Traffic Sources

The word "free" definitely deserves quotation marks here, because there's simply no such thing as truly free traffic. It's always earned in some way. Whether it's through outreach, optimization, or just putting together something epic that people naturally want to share, there's no free lunch. However, these traffic sources aren't "paid" in the sense that you exchange money specifically for traffic. Broadly speaking, these approaches also tend to have better ROI than paid sources, assuming they are used correctly.

Enough babbling, here's the list.

  1. Search engines: You didn't actually think I'd list something else first, did you? Search engines send more web traffic than anything else on the web. On site optimization as well as smart promotion through other traffic sources helps increase your visibility in the search engines.
  2. Email: Email is easily the second most important source of traffic on the web, and for some businesses, it easily takes first place. Email is the platform to use if you want to retain an audience, so it's almost always a good idea to get an email signup form somewhere prominent on your site. It's also smart to incentivise signups with some kind of giveaway in exchange for an email address. Remember, even social networks use email to keep their audience coming back.
  3. Facebook: While Facebook isn't a great place to retain an audience these days, it can still be amazing as a referral source. The most important thing to remember about Facebook? It's a place where captioned images get shared, not a place where blog posts get shared. Let your blog posts piggyback on captioned images.
  4. Twitter: When it comes to getting shared on Twitter, it's all about the headline. Also keep in mind that images do far better than text alone. Finally, remember that Twitter is also a good place to find and interact with influencers.
  5. Forums: Forums are likely the most underrated referral sources on the web. According to Nielsen, 17 percent of internet users visit a message board daily. This means more people visit message boards daily than blogs (11 percent) or Twitter (6 percent). More importantly, internet forums are topically focused, meaning they have very relevant audiences. Many message boards allow you to post a signature with a link to your site, so as long as you use the forum in a way that other members can appreciate, they can become a powerful source of traffic.
  6. Blogs: Of course, 11 percent of daily internet traffic is a big number, and that means blogs can be a massive source of traffic. The traffic is generally much more relevant and engaged than social media traffic. Guest posts, of course, are the most popular way to get traffic from blogs, but building relationships with bloggers or collaborating with them (even by having them guest post on your site) can be a powerful way to earn attention. Blog comments can also be a good source of traffic, although the comments themselves are best used as a lead up to connecting with the blogger more directly.
  7. YouTube: While referrals from your YouTube videos can be relatively rare, these referrals also often tend to be more heavily engaged. It's also important to remember that you can build up a fairly loyal audience on YouTube with their own native subscription button, which, while not as good as email, is more powerful than a Facebook "like" in terms of audience retention. It helps to mention the link in the video, and to offer an incentive to click it. YouTube also tends to send referral traffic for a much longer period of time than most referral sources.
  8. Quora: Quora and other Q&A sites are much like forums in that they are used more frequently than people realize, and the traffic is much more relevant than many other sources. Quora referrals are also much like YouTube referrals in that they keep sending traffic for quite some time.
  9. Pinterest: Pinterest can be a massive source of referral traffic, and it is in fact responsible for more referral traffic than any social network but Facebook. However, it's important to be aware of the demographic, primarily rural homemakers.
  10. Niche directories, classifieds, and resource lists: Yes, people still use directories. Alltop is one example of a heavily used directory. Many popular sites also maintain a list of resources. These resource lists can also be very powerful, in particular, because they continue to send traffic long after your link is added. Business directories can also be very useful.
  11. Reddit: Reddit is heavily used, with approximately 15 million unique visitors each month. The demographics skew male and urban or suburban, essentially the opposite of Pinterest. The site exists almost entirely for people to post links, vote on them, and leave comments. Reddit has strong stances against self-promotion and marketing, so use it for your own benefit sparingly. Several major sites have been banned from Reddit for using multiple accounts to upvote their links or downvote others, so... don't do that. When a link makes the front page, the results can resemble a small scale DDoS attack, due to the sheer amount of traffic, so keep that in mind.
  12. StumbleUpon: StumbleUpon sends more overall referral traffic than Reddit and has a similar demographic, but the traffic is typically less engaged since StumbleUpon is essentially a way to "channel surf" the internet. It's worth submitting your content to StumbleUpon, but your involvement should typically stop there. StumbleUpon does not reward you for networking or getting involved, on the site. You are rewarded strictly for the percentage of stumbled visitors that upvote your page. When a page does well on StumbleUpon, it tends to send referral traffic for quite some time.
  13. LinkedIn: If you're B2B, this is the social network you want to be a part of.
  14. Podcasts: Podcasts can be a very powerful way to connect with an audience due to their more intimate nature. Even Spencer Haws had to reevaluate his opinion on the impact of podcasts after looking at his own data. As with YouTube, the barrier to podcast subscriptions is also much lower than the barrier to email subscription. The impact of podcasts can be expanded upon even more by embedding the podcasts on your site, and by posting your podcasts to YouTube.
  15. Slideshare: This is another good referral source if you're B2B. Slideshare is a place to post PowerPoint presentations. If you use it, make sure your presentations are designed to make sense without somebody to present them. (This is a very common mistake.) Embed Slidehare on your site (and perhaps elsewhere) in order to boost the number of views, which can also help you get more exposure on SlideShare itself (similar to YouTube).
  16. Small search engines: Google isn't the only search engine out there. Several others exist, and many are actually used more frequently than you might expect. Some search engines are also designed around a specific niche. Many of these search engines won't find your site unless you submit it, so this can be a good way to pick up extra traffic.
  17. This site allows you to post your own content as well as share what you find on the site through social networks. The more active you are on the site, the more visible your own content becomes so that others can share it.
  18. HARO: HARO, stands for Help a Reporter Out. You can use it to get in touch with reporters, which can help expand your reach. On the flip side, if you can get accepted as a journalist, HARO can be a good way to connect with influencers by having them post on your site.
  19. News Sites: While most news sites won't allow you to write a guest post in isolation, it is possible in some cases to become a regular contributor to the site. If the site gets a great deal of traffic, these regular posts can be a consistent source of exposure.
  20. Technorati: This is the world's largest blog directory, and it doesn't take much time to get added, so it's well worth it.
  21. Triberr: Triberr is a site that publishes your blog posts and allows others to "reblog" them on their own sites. This kind of syndication can be a useful way to pick up some extra traffic.
  22. Video Sites: YouTube isn't the only video site out there, and it's worth submitting your videos to other sites for a bit of extra traffic. A list of 32 of them can be found here.
  23. Ebay: You can link to your site from the About Me page on Ebay.
  24. Real World Conferences and Meetups: Not all conferences are paid. Calling this a place to get referral traffic might seem a bit strange, but meeting people in person is one of the best ways to solidify a relationship that will result in a larger audience.
  25. Tumblr: This blogging platform can be a good way to pick up a bit of extra traffic.
  26. WeFollow: This site measures the influence of social media personalities based on not just their number of followers, but on how influential those followers are, based on their number of followers, etc., similar to Google's PageRank. This is a good site to use in order to find influencers to connect with and grow your traffic as a result. You can also submit your accounts to WeFollow, which in some cases may increase the visibility of your social accounts.
  27. Instagram: Using an introductory image to drive visits from Instagram can be helpful.

Paid Traffic Sources

I won't list as many services here because, frankly, it's not as useful to use a wide variety of paid sources as it is to use a wide variety of free sources. Most paid sources use similar rules and you will only want to buy a few at most from each category. The only thing I can say is that, if you're just starting out, it may actually be better to use a smaller ad network, since there will be less competition and prices will generally be lower. Once you've reached profitability with one of these smaller networks, you can start using the larger networks.

  1. Search Engine Pay-Per-Click Ads (Such as Google Ads): Search engine advertising is widely used for a good reason. The traffic is highly relevant and, if you're willing to dig, you can still find fairly inexpensive queries to target that are relevant to your target audience. The biggest mistake people make with Google Ads and similar services? They either send all traffic to the same place, instead of the most relevant page, or they make no effort to filter out "negative keywords" that will result in clicks without payment. Remember that there are many search engines besides Google, where the competition for ads is much lower.
  2. Retargeting Ads (Such as Adroll): These kinds of ads help give you the "stereo effect" by showing your ads to people who have already visited your website. (Google Ads does this too nowadays.) This keeps you top of mind and familiar in the eyes of your visitors but be warned. If used excessively, it can creep out consumers.
  3. Pay-Per-View Ads (Such as Media Traffic): Pay-per-view ads are most useful if you have gotten very good at optimizing click-through rates, since the price you pay isn't impacted by the number of clicks, just the number of times the ad is seen.
  4. Direct Navigation Traffic (Like Trellian): Direct navigation occurs when a user types a domain name directly into their browser, clicks on a link, etc., and the domain does not exist. Direct navigation ads analyze the URL for keywords and redirect the user to your domain if it is deemed relevant. Direct navigation traffic is much lower in relevance than most other forms of paid traffic, but the costs are also very low, so if your goal is to reach as many people as possible, this may be the most effective option.
  5. Mobile Ads: Recent research by Medialets confirms that mobile users do in fact convert based on mobile ads, especially those that are shown in apps as opposed to the mobile web. Mobile ads placed directly by publishers tend to do better than those placed by networks, at least so far.
  6. Social Media Ads: Social ads have proven to be fairly effective as a source of revenue but they should be used with caution. They are often most effective when paired with a smart social media strategy, by focusing on ads that stand a chance of getting shared.

Image credit: Nick Page