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When ecommerce store owners ask, “Where do customers come from?” the real question they are asking is this:

How do successful ecommerce stores acquire qualified website traffic? 

Fortunately, we have the research, statistics, and tools to find the answer to that question. Not necessarily for other ecommerce store owners, but specifically for your ecommerce store. In this post, we’re going to answer the question of where do customers come from for ecommerce store owners. 

  • First, we’re going to discuss where most websites get their traffic (visitors) from. 
  • Next, we’re going to look at some public data that shed some light into how the most successful ecommerce stores drive traffic to their websites. 
  • Finally, we’ll dive into how you can analyze where your customers come from using (free) website analytics.
Selz analytics include in-platform analysis of sales, conversions, traffic and more with direct integrations

Why It Matters

Before we discuss where website visitors come from, and more specifically, where your ecommerce store’s customers come from, let’s start with the basics.

Why does this matter? 

It matters because you should base your marketing and advertising strategy on data. If you are investing in search and social media marketing, you should know which specific campaigns are driving the most traffic to your website.

More importantly, you should be able to distinguish which campaigns just drive traffic, and which campaigns drive traffic that converts into sales. 

That’s what we’re going to look at – where website visitors come from, where customers come from, and how it applies to your ecommerce store’s website marketing and advertising in the end.

Where Do Website Visitors Come From?

According to a study in 2019, 68% of all website traffic comes from search engines. Specifically, 15% have clicked on a paid search ad. 53% of website visitors have clicked on an organic search result. 

In the image below, you can see an example of an ecommerce search engine results page (SERP) on Google. The yellow highlighted area contains the paid search ads. Everything below is an organic search result. 

Google search results for an article about website analytics for more targeted advertising

Prior to 2019, search and social media have been in close competition as the top traffic sources, based on findings from Shareaholic. Facebook, from 2012 to 2017, was the leading social network sending traffic to external websites. 

Shareholic graph of visits by social network for  website analytics from Selz headless commerce

Beyond search and social media networks, websites receive traffic from referrals (other websites), email, display advertising, and direct traffic sources. While most of these are self-explanatory, you may need some explanation for direct traffic. 

Direct traffic encompasses anything that you can’t trace back to a specific traffic source like a search engine, social network, referring website, email link, or advertising banner link. Examples of direct traffic sources include:

  • Someone typing in your website address into their browser’s address bar. 
  • Someone using a saved browser bookmark to visit your ecommerce store.
  • Someone using a browser that is blocking third-party cookies, which disrupts analytics tracking.
  • Someone using a browser within a mobile app.
  • Someone who clicked on a link to your ecommerce store from the dark web. 

Now that you know the types of traffic sources that commonly drive visitors to websites, let’s learn more about specific traffic sources for ecommerce stores.

Where Do Top Ecommerce Stores Get Their Customers From? 

So where do customers come from? The top ecommerce stores are getting their traffic from the following sources, using public data from SimilarWeb

Note that the number one traffic source for most sites, according to SimilarWeb, is direct traffic. The Top 3 traffic sources listed for the following ecommerce brands are the ones beyond direct traffic. 

Amazon’s Top 3: 28.62% Search, 6.51% Referrals, and 4.59% Social

breakdown of amazon website analytics for business growth

After direct traffic, search engines drive 28.62% of Amazon’s estimated 2 billion estimated monthly visitors. When you look at the breakdown of their search traffic, most are from organic search. 

From there, you have referral traffic. In Amazon’s case, some big referrers come from the properties they own (primevideo.com), have acquired (audible.com), or offer deals. 

More amazon website analytics for the small business owner

For social media traffic, most of their visitors come from YouTube. Amazon’s YouTube channel has 439K subscribers and 1,125,799,186 views, so it’s not surprising that YouTube generates more traffic to Amazon’s website than Facebook. 

Amazon social website analytics are useful as a point of comparison

Smaller percentages of their visitors are from email (2.41%) and display advertising (0.91%). You can see some of their most recent ad examples for free on Moat.com

Ebay’s Top 3: 27.31% Search, 3.27% Mail, and 2.88% Social

Ebay’s public analytics data paints a similar picture. Although email marketing drives more of their 746 million estimated monthly visitors than social networks in Ebay’s case, YouTube similarly performs better than Facebook in the social media category. 

Looking for ideas on what keywords to target with your paid search advertising budget? You can look at ecommerce stores similar to yours to see the top keywords they are targeting. 

Aliexpress’s Top 3: 19.71% Search, 7.77% Referrals, and 5.19% Social 

For Aliexpress, referral traffic isn’t from external sites, but rather subdomains. The fourth most popular traffic source for the marketplace that receives 385 million estimated monthly visitors? Email, just like Ebay. 

Skullcandy’s Top 3: Search (63.12%), Referrals (6.89%), and Social (4.26%)

How about smaller ecommerce websites? Unlike the top ecommerce stores that receive millions of visitors whose primary traffic source was Direct,  Skullcandy’s 706K estimated monthly visitors primarily come from search. 

Skullcandy website analytics as a point of comparison for this article on wwebsite analytics for business growth

If your business was similar to Skullcandy’s, you would definitely want to dive into their search marketing strategy. Learning how they get traffic from organic and paid search could help you drive more search traffic to your ecommerce store. 

Specifically, you would want to analyze the keywords they target and the way they optimize their landing pages for those keywords. While you can’t copy the same thing for your business, you can use their successful pages as inspiration for yours. 

Taylor Stitch’s Top 3: Search (15.79%), Social (13.29%), and Referrals (10.63%)

Taylor Stitch’s ecommerce site gets close to an even amount of traffic from search and social to drive its 190K estimated monthly visitors. In social referrals, Facebook and Reddit lead YouTube. 

Taylor stitch website analytics and social analytics for this article from Selz ecommerce solutions

Solo Stove’s Top 3: Search (36.72%), Social (17.63%), and Mail (7.31%)

Solo Stove is another ecommerce store that drives a good percentage of their 133K estimated monthly visitors from search. Hence, if your business was similar, you could learn from their search marketing strategy as well.

Where Are You Getting Your Customers From? 

So now we know how to find out where everyone else is getting their visitors from (use the tool above). But where are you getting your customers from? The answer is in your web analytics.

Google Analytics is the most powerful – and free – analytics tool used by millions of website owners. Once you have it installed on your ecommerce website and have set up ecommerce reporting, you are ready to begin your data analysis. 

To find out where your customers come from, sign in to your Google Analytics account and navigate to your ecommerce store’s analytics data. Google Analytics provides traffic source data for your website visitors under the Acquisition section. 

Google Analytics screencap for this article on small business analytics

In this area, there are many reports to choose from that will give you detailed information about where your customers come from before they arrive on your website. The following are the key reports that will give you the most insights in the least amount of time.

The Overview Report

When you click on the Overview report, you can see a quick breakdown of your website traffic by channel. You will see:

  • The number of visitors
  • Behavioral data
  • Conversion data by channel based on the selected date range 

The default is one week.  

Acquisition channel in Google analytics is helpful in determining your referral traffic in this article from Selz advertising services

Immediately, you can see that paid search traffic converts the highest (percentage wise), but only generated 133 out of 68K sessions. The reason might be the behavior of the paid search visitors compared to other visitors. 

Paid search visitors had a much lower bounce rate, meaning their first landing page experience was much more engaging than the ones organic search visitors encountered. Hence, their likelihood for conversion was much higher because the focus of the page was one thing: the visitor making a purchase.

How could this data help with an ecommerce store’s marketing and advertising strategy? They could look at their top landing pages to see if there is a way to make them as engaging as their paid search landing pages. 

Your top landing pages report is under the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. But right now, we want to get back to where your customers come from. 

The Channels Report

Do you want additional details about how each traffic source performed in terms of your website visitor behavior? What about the actual number of conversions per channel, per conversion type? Review the Channels report under All Traffic.

Organic search is one of the top ways to get traffic and you can use your website analytics to see what's working

Now, you can see that although paid search resulted in a larger conversion rate percentage, it really only resulted in one goal completion. Organic search resulted in 45. 

The Source/Medium Report

Want to get even more detailed information about where your website visitors come from? The Source/Medium report will give you the specifics. It will include your search engine, social media, email, advertising, and referral traffic. 

Get into the source/medium sections of your website analytics to get conversion rates

Anything that Google Analytics can trace back to a source will be labeled with a specific source (usually the website) and medium (organic/paid, social, referral, etc.). Anything Google Analytics can’t trace back will be labeled as direct / (none). This is also the traffic that gets lumped under the direct channel. 

The Social Conversions Report

Do you use social media marketing and advertising to drive customers to your store? Find out which social networks are generating the most revenue using the social conversions report. It’s a fast view of the best social networks for your brand.

social channel analytics can help you get a better sense of your website analytics

The All Campaigns Report

Google Analytics allows you to create custom campaigns by utilizing UTM parameters. These are custom parameters that you add to the end of URLs that you are using for specific marketing or advertising campaigns. 

Google created an easy to use tool that helps you build URLs with UTM parameters to track your custom campaigns. It even offers tips on how to create your UTM parameters.

UTM parameters can help you track specific campaigns inn nGoogle analytics

For example, a shoe store with a spring sale on running shoes may use the following UTM parameters to create a custom campaign for their sale.

  • https://shoestore.com/category/running-shoes/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=spring_sale
  • https://shoestore.com/category/running-shoes/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=paid&utm_campaign=spring_sale
  • https://shoestore.com/category/running-shoes/?utm_source=runnersworld.com&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=spring_sale

Ultimately, all of the data for your campaign would appear in the all campaigns report under spring_sale. You could click on the spring_sale campaign and see the actual traffic sources and mediums that drove traffic to your website during your campaign. 

Google analytics view of campaign-specific website analytics

This can help you ultimately keep track of which campaigns are the most successful for your ecommerce store. In addition, you can go through your most successful campaign data to see what traffic sources actually made the campaign so successful and replicate your strategy for your next campaign. 

How to Use Your Website Analytics

The goal of finding out where your customers come from is to see which marketing and advertising campaigns drive the most traffic that converts to your website. This is why, if you haven’t already, you need to have Google Analytics with ecommerce reporting set up correctly today. Selz can help!

Start by checking your reports. As you run new marketing and advertising campaigns, review your acquisition reports to see which traffic sources are driving the most sales. Then you can adjust your marketing and advertising strategies accordingly to increase your sales and maximize your return on investment. 

Then look for ways to maximize your website traffic. As mentioned earlier, review your top landing pages and find ways to optimize them for conversions. 

Focus website visitors on one main goal for each page – directing the visitor to make a purchase, signing up for your email list, or grabbing a discount coupon before they leave. The better you can optimize, the higher your rate of conversions. 

About the author

Kristi Hines

Kristi Hines is a freelance writer from Phoenix, AZ whose work has been featured in Content Marketing Institute, HubSpot, Search Engine Journal, and Social Media Examiner, Follow her on Twitter @kristileilani