Survey Finds Search Engine Referrals Low

New statistics from WebSideStory's StatMarket service show that search engines generate only 7 percent of traffic to web sites, far below the leading methods of direct navigation or following links. The low figure is very surprising, because other surveys have consistently found that people report search engines as one of the top ways they find web sites.

The StatMarket survey found that either direct navigation or using bookmarks was the most popular way of reaching web sites, generating 47 percent of traffic. Following links was the second most popular, generating 46 percent of traffic. Included in the links total were clicks on banner ads.

The statistics are gathered by measuring traffic to 200,000 sites that use WebSideStory's HitBox tracking service. These sites include everything from large businesses, to hobbyists, to porn sites. The statistics are as measured on Dec. 17, 2000.

Only pages actually tagged with the HitBox tracker get counted, which could have a big impact on the search engine representation. For example, if many people only tag their home pages, then search engine referrals to inside pages (which are common) would be missed entirely.

My suspicion is that the true average of visits generated by search engines is higher, perhaps considerably so, especially when you consider how popular search services are as rated by user measurement companies such as Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings.

How much should you expect to receive? There's no easy answer, because expected traffic from search engines can vary for many reasons. For example, if you offer a very specialized service, it may well be that few people are searching for your services on the web.

In general, I suggest that you should expect to get anywhere from 15 to 50 percent of your traffic from search engines. That's not a scientific number -- it's just based on having worked with different sites and talked with many people in the industry. Nevertheless, I do think it's useful.

If you get more than 50 percent of your traffic from search engines, you are probably too dependent on them. Consider diversifying how you drive traffic to your site. If you are under 15 percent of your traffic, you could probably do better. Consider making some basic changes to please the search engines.

Of course, given the latest StatMarket figure, you might consider 7 percent to be the new low end.

Search Engines Refer Only A Small Percentage Of Traffic To Web Sites Worldwide
StatMarket, Dec. 19, 2000

Release with details of the survey from StatMarket.

Ratings, Reviews and Tests

You'll find more information about StatMarket on the StatMarket Ratings page, as well as statistics from other ratings firms. Please note I'm working to update these this month. Also see the Search Engine Index page, which provides an at-a-glance look at key statistics about search engines.