Referral Traffic for Publishers – Its Importance, Strategies and Top Sources

Updated on: February 23, 2024
As a publisher, you constantly need to find new channels to grow your traffic. Here's a quick list of top referral sources to help you get started.

There is no limit on how much referral traffic you can get. It takes effort in building referral traffic sources but if done properly, it can help you attract the relevant audience considerably. Being a publisher-focused company, we tend to see a lot of publishers with successful traffic acquisition strategies. After analyzing the traffic sources, there was a clear conclusion — It’s not just about Google. So, we decided to share a few interesting referral sources to make your traffic more stable and growth consistent.  

Quick Fact: Until 2013, the social traffic in Google Analytics used to be a part of referral traffic.

What Does a Successful Referral Strategy Look Like?

The Feb 2020 data for Buzzfeed on Similarweb shows that the site received 131M visits on the site. If we look at the breakdown of its traffic sources, we can see that Buzzfeed received 43% (including social) of the traffic from referrals. Whereas the traffic from search is only 21%.

BuzzFeed Traffic Sources

The example of Buzzfeed doesn’t mean that the referral traffic should always be more than organic traffic, but a healthy share of referral is advisable. If you have multiple sources, you wouldn’t be affected by unexpected algorithmic changes. 

Why is Referral Traffic Important for Publishers?

One, when we focus on organic traffic, we are giving importance to search engines only. More than 90% of the current search engine market is dominated by Google. It means you are trying to get traffic only from a search engine.

Though the queries and the usage of search engines keep increasing, it isn’t directly converting to traffic. Google tends to show featured snippets, knowledge panels, and people also ask, which, in turn, results in zero-click searches. Then there’s AMP that pushes down the traffic of non-AMP pages. 

Last but not least, algorithmic changes. Google’s well-known updates can drastically change the traffic of your pages and in most cases, you wouldn’t be able to do anything to get back to the previous level. 

Apart from the fact that sites other than the search engines (think, aggregators) have a huge potential of sending traffic to your site, referrals from them will help you with the SEO as well. When a lot of sites are linking to your site, then your rankings on SERPs improve automatically. 

One can argue that organic traffic is more reliable and stable as compared to referral traffic, but it is not the case when you do things the right way. The traffic from social media sites can be short-lived when it is coming due to the latest trends but when a webpage (from social media or any other kind of site) receives constant traffic, then a link from such a page can become a source of constant referral traffic for your site. (Read the example of Quora later in the article). 

We aren’t saying that referral traffic sources are better than the search engines, the idea is to have a strategy that goes beyond Google. You don’t want to put all your eggs in the same basket. 

How to Increase Your Referral Traffic?

It is natural for publishers to expect a sudden boost in referral traffic but just like SEO, a sustainable stream of referral traffic is built over time. There are thousands of sites out there that can bring traffic to your site, you should put your efforts on the ones that are relevant to you. But that’s not all. You need to ensure the scalability of the sources. For instance, Google search is still the major source for most of the sites as it is scalable. Once Google indexes and crawls your sitemap, it will start ranking your pages for the right keywords. 

Without any further ado, let’s look at the sources for you to try. 

Google News:

Google News is one of the top aggregators and apparently, it is best suited for publishers that create news content. You’ll get to show news content on the Google News website and app. The website clocks 500M users per month, sending millions of readers to the source sites. You can submit your site to the Publisher Center but Google also says that publishers automatically get selected for Google News if they follow Google’s content policies.

From our experience, we know that Google News requires you to post new articles at a high frequency, the exact frequency, however, has not been disclosed by Google. Apart from this, we suggest you make your site mobile friendly, use Schema Markup, have a clean XML sitemap, and add inbound links to new articles. Follow other SEO best practices as well. 


TikTok’s sister company is another source of referral traffic for news publishers. Similarweb shows that the site gets the traffic close to 6M. Big names like Bloomberg, CNN, The Verge have already become the ‘TopBuzzers’. In a recent article by MediaPost, it was reported that The Inquisitr, a mid-sized publisher, had TopBuzz as its largest referral source. TopBuzz also has its community guidelines that you should read before posting your content on the site.


It provides Android and iOS apps that are used by more than 20M active users, growing at a rate of 500% a year. The numbers are rising rapidly. It is reported that the app is capable of sending more referral traffic than Apple News. The company claims that it doesn’t force the publishers to share their ad revenue. Recently the company even said that it will be paying license fees to the publishers on the platform. You can visit the Publisher Inquiry page to register.


It is good for publishers that create viral content. It recommends your content on other sites so that you can bring a relevant audience to your site. However, it is not a free source, you have to pay for it. We have already covered all the necessary details in our in-depth Taboola review for publishers.


It can be useful for all kinds of content. According to the January 2018 figures, the app has 145 million monthly active users and 11,000 publishers. The aesthetic appeal of the app is its biggest USP. The magazine-like feel given by this app is unique. It helps people to read content from various sources at a single place. The integration is simple; you need to create your profile and submit the RSS feed.


The front page of the internet has a tightly knit community of 430M active users. The website has sub-communities for almost all the topics under the sky. If you can manage to create content that goes popular on the website, then you can get traffic beyond your imagination. Every publisher can find a perfect place to share content here. The only problem is that traffic will be short-lived. Sharing the content on the platform is also a bit difficult due to strict moderation. Make sure you are following all the rules and regulations of the subreddits to avoid yourself from getting banned from the site


It can be a constant source of referral traffic for your website. It has over 300M monthly active users. Quora also ranks very well on Google SERP pages. Due to the search friendliness of Quora, many pages get evergreen traffic from Google search. If you can add your links to such pages then you can bring traffic to your website’s pages that are not ranking. Apart from this, Quora also has the element of virality. Just like Reddit, some posts can go viral and reach thousands of people within a short span. All you need to do is, strategically find the right questions and answer them in the right way.

While it may not be suitable for news sites, it will work for mid-sized or long-tail niche publishers.

What’s Next?

Again, there’s no limit to the amount of traffic you can bring through referrals. You should give it the same importance as organic traffic. You should keep an eye on emerging websites like TopBuzz, Smart News, etc so that you are not missing any opportunities. You can also try paid services like Taboola and social platforms like Quora and Reddit. Try them all and choose what works best for you. 


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