Good Traffic, Bad Traffic 26 August, 2006 — Stuart Brown

On relevance and persistence, and what makes a good visitor

Posted in Web Design, Interactivity and Usability
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For webmasters, traffic is the major barometer of a site's success - but of course, not all visitors are equal. How can we differentiate between 'good' traffic and 'bad' traffic, and where does each come from?

traffic persistence and relevance diagram

Visitor persistence

Persistence is one element of good traffic - it defines how deeply people browse through your site. It is largely to do with the source of the traffic - and thus the browsing behavior.

Good, persistent traffic comes from those who are actively searching for something - thus, organic traffic (traffic from search engines) is generally good, persistent traffic - resulting in a visitor who will stay at your site longer, read more of your content, and likely reach deeper parts of your site. It is this searching behaviour that drives the interactivity, and prevents the user from leaving prematurely.

Persistent traffic can also come from a variety of other non-organic sources as well - word-of-mouth traffic, or a recommendation from a peer can pique interest in a user, resulting in an interested browsing pattern. Although the user in question may not be searching for anything in particular, they are likely to stay on site for a large number of pageviews.

Mid-persistence traffic can come from referral traffic as well - users who are simply browsing for nothing specific may follow a link to your site, then stay for a few pageviews. This kind of browsing behavior makes up the majority of referral traffic.

Lower priorities of persistence come from more massive referral-type traffic - a link on the front page of a major site, for instance, will send a massive amount of referral traffic to your site, but due to the large audience of the referring site (and the usual direct to article nature of such links), most people will simply stay for only the linked page, with few other visitors exploring other areas of your site. This is especially true of socially-driven news sites, such as Digg, where the user is still navigationally 'bound' to the Digg site, and the linked articles essentially constitute the content available through the Digg site.

Low persistence is not always an indicator of bad traffic, however - one notable exception is traffic from RSS feeds, which tends to involve very few pageviews, but constitutes a loyal base of traffic - most of who will already have an idea of the content already present, and will come for only the new content. Although non-persistent, this sort of traffic is extremely relevant and therefore very effective.

Visitor relevance

Relevance is the other major factor in traffic effectiveness, and is strongly and positively correlated with persistent behavior - the more relevant the visitor, the more likely they are to be persistent.

Relevance is largely to do with the niche or topics from which the traffic originates - for instance, if your site had a Science and Technology theme, a visitor from a link on another Science-oriented website would most probably be far more relevant than a visitor from another generally-themed website.

Forcing traffic to your site through traffic exchange programmes or other (altogether more nefarious) means is likely to result in a very poor quality of traffic - the relevance is likely to be very low, and the nature of programmes such as these tends to mean persistence is very low as well. This constitutes very poor traffic, and any sort of scheme that offers a sudden spike in raw traffic figures usually means this sort of poor visitor.

The best relevance comes from organic traffic - i.e. traffic from Search engines. If a user is looking for information on a particular (and specific) term, and lands on your website, that visitor is likely to be relevant to the topics of your site. Of course, the relevance of organic traffic can vary. Specialist search engines that deal with only one particular niche or topic can offer incredibly targeted traffic - although usually at the cost of quantity of traffic.

Relevance is something which search engine optimisers and even the search engines themselves talk about at great length - and it really is one of the fundamental aspects of modeling the word wide web. Getting relevant visitors is key in establishing a successful website - and, unlike persistence, relevance is a lot harder to gauge.