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Maximize Your Results: A Guide to Marketing Channel Optimizations

Reviewed by Marketing Expert and Coach
Juan Alberto Reyes
April 16, 2024

What exactly are marketing channels?

Marketing "channels" are another term for how users are accessing the platform or site. The popular term for the number of users on the site is "traffic," and it's common to hear channels referred to this way. “Traffic” is loosely defined as the number of people– often made up of “users” or “visitors." There are 7 unique types of traffic, and each is tied to a specific job in marketing.

Here we’ll walk you through the quick and dirty of marketing traffic so you can sound informed when interviewing for a marketing role.

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What are the different marketing channels?

Direct Traffic

First and foremost, Direct Traffic is users who go straight to the website or product by typing the URL into the link bar at the top of their browser. Think of your grandpa who still types “” This traffic type has steadily been decreasing over time, as less and less users feel inclined to type out .coms of their sites.

The rise of alternate domains like “.io” and “.co” also make direct traffic more difficult. A Director of Marketing or CMO would usually work on a strategy that would engage with multiple channels (ex: media, direct mail, etc) to encourage more direct website/product traffic– which is a content post for another time.

Organic Traffic

Second traffic type involves an action you’re probably more familiar with called Organic Traffic. These users come in from a search engine like Google or Bing, often from searching for terms directly related to your website or product. For example, I could google “American Eagle” and find AE right away. That would be organic traffic.

A job directly responsible for increasing the amount of organic traffic is the SEO analyst/specialist. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization,” which means making sure your website or product is up to standards of search engines to show up as close to result #1 as possible.

Paid Search Traffic

Riffing on the search engine optimization, the third traffic type is organic traffic on steroids. Paid Search Traffic. When you see ads show up in your google search, that is paid search traffic. There are many strategies to control when your website/product shows in a search, including both Branded and Unbranded search. Branded would be if a user googled a distinct term related to your brand, and made sure you showed up above a competitor. Unbranded would be if a user searched for an aspect of your brand, such as “formal dresses,” and making sure they come up. There are lots of great strategies for this, but that’s content for another time.

A job that aligns to this traffic type is the Paid Search Analyst, who spends their days researching trends and keywords to make their website/product more searchable for their target user base.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic, otherwise known as affiliate traffic, can be more polarizing. Affiliate traffic is often disguised as third-party sites, like Buzzfeed or Variety, writing “reviews” or “tell alls.” Referral traffic comes from third party sources to rate, review, or create general buzz about your website or product. If a user lands on one of these sites and clicks through to your website/product, you will owe a cut of their purchase BACK to the affiliate, sometimes as high as 10-15%. This is almost like a profit share environment– some of the most successful businesses on the internet are affiliate businesses, like Credit Karma or NerdWallet (if you’re a writer, this may be a fun way to score some extra $$!).

A job responsible for managing referral traffic would be an Affiliate Marketing Manager or Specialist, who communicates with the third party sites to make sure the content is presented in a way that the brand is happy with.

Display Traffic

Display traffic is from ads on other websites. Think banner ads, or even image ads on news sites on the sidebar or top of the screen. These are managed by a team using Google Ad Manager to make sure that they are targeting users who would be likely to consume their products. This is often why you see ads for items you’ve looked at once (often called “retargeting.”

The role most associated with display traffic is a Paid Media Analyst, who controls the strategy around what ads show on what websites.

Social Traffic

Social traffic is the most fun traffic type in our opinion, though we love all traffic equally (eh). Social traffic is exactly how it sounds, encouraging more users to click through to your website/product from Instagram or TikTok (or Facebook, Reddit, etc), whether that be from ads or followers. Recently this has gotten a bit hairier with Apple’s privacy laws around third party applications.

There are lots of job titles involved in social media marketing, but the one we’d recommend you check out is the Social Media Specialist. These roles observe trends and control posted content and timing for brands to feel authentic and supportive to users.  

What are the different ways to break down website traffic?

"Hits make the visit, visits make the visitor."

There are lots of ways to break down and optimize a marketing channel, but it's important to note the different ways a marketing team could be accounting for the traffic. A popular saying is "hits make the visit, visits make the visitor." Let's unpack that.

Hits Make the Visit

Hits are any engagement action that a user can take on the site or platform. This could be as simple as viewing a page, or clicking a CTA (get acclimated with product and marketing terms here). Hits are the best way to break down user funnels to determine what specific actions users are taking when engaging with your website or platform.

Visits are a sequence of hits, rolled up into a single time a user engages with the site, therefore hits make up visits. Another term for "visit" is "session," and you'll commonly hear these interchanged.

Visits Make the Visitor

A sequence of visits make up a visitor's profile. A visitor is a specific user on your platform-- don't worry-- they don't know any personal information. Just the actions, including the number of hits and visits, the user has taken on the site. User and visitor in this case are interchangeable.

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