3 Issues To Consider Before Focusing On More Traffic

In our collective day-to-day, it seems the conversations we hear tend to skew heavily toward one thing: the need for more traffic. The logic here is that more traffic leads to more sales, more revenue, bigger, better. But this is broken logic. You don’t want more traffic. You want more Benjamins.

(Think you’re better off if you’re talking about ROI, instead? See the bottom of this post.)

Issue #1 – Your next customer probably isn’t the same as your current customers

First, traffic-focused thinking makes the pretty wild assumption that your next wave of traffic from the paid search or SEO fairy will have the same qualities as the traffic you already have (or some diminished marginal return). That you’ll have similar bounce rates, pages per visit, time on site, conversion rate, loyalty, etc. Or in some cases with desperate or naive marketers, they think the next wave of visitors will somehow be magically even better than your current visitors. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

Yes, there are times that you can feel comfortable that an untapped, quality market is out there, but when you’ve covered all of the obvious bases and are looking to sweep in the corners or find a whole new world of customers, these expectations break down very quickly (and they should).

Issue #2 – Real upside comes from a new approach, not more traffic

The second issue is that we treat the website as a fixed object. That the “funnel” can’t be changed, and we need to dump more in the top to get more out of the bottom. I would argue that the best way to get more out of the bottom is to plug the holes in the funnel, not keep dumping more in the top.

While I have to acknowledge that most websites are startlingly difficult to change, let’s be clear: the reason our websites are difficult to change is because we have acted like they are difficult to change. Believe me, if we were forcing the organization to make meaningful changes and optimizations to our websites every day or week (in an organized way), the developers would find ways to make that work a heck of a lot easier, until publishing changes is a cakewalk.

By changing our sites, we can change the potential value of every single visit to the site, learn from our changes, and continue iterating until we satisfy peoples’ needs so well, they can’t help but fall in love with us. Change the funnel. Frequently.

Issue #3 – You may be missing (or ticking off) your biggest marketing asset

The third issue requires a bit more introspection about your brand and company culture. That this traffic-centric mode of thinking doesn’t even remotely tap into the huge advantages of modern consumer behavior.

We live in an era where our customers are the ultimate marketers, if we do a good job with them.

Brands like Apple, Starbucks, Zappos, Amazon, Williams-Sonoma (before they got rid of their awesome lifetime return policy), Whole Foods, Vitamix, Titleist, TOMS shoes, Chick-fil-A, [fill in the brands you're crazy about] know that the majority of the people that do business with them will tell 50 of their friends how awesome their interaction with that brand is. They’ll do it in person. They’ll do it on Facebook and Twitter. They’ll make songs and videos.

But you can’t fake this by starting some lame social media campaign or changing your TV ads, artificially dosing up on pop culture. You need to live with your customers, assume the risk it takes to do something truly better, and then watch profits do things you never thought possible when the market rewards you for actually caring.

Some brands really do care, but the world would never know it. Figure out a way to show them you care, genuinely. Show your customers how their feedback molds the products and services you offer on a 1:1 basis. When they feel like you’re listening, they’ll talk more constructively and more positively. The opposite is true when they feel like you’re just broadcasting.

What Web Analytics Teaches Us: Caring Is Cash

Businesses want to increase cash flow. That is the sole source of life for any business. So, if your company is asking you for traffic, they are asking for you to look at the world through your keyhole while they take care of the rest, and that should at least sort of piss you off. Especially in search, where we get so much insight into what our “traffic” (What are living, breathing customers, Alex?) wants, more than almost anywhere else in the entire business.

It amazes me how many people clock in and out of work each day just manning their one station, not thinking about the real output. “I just do my job and don’t ask questions,” they say, as they chase goals for unique visitors, pageviews, or newsletter signups, never questioning that they don’t deposit uniques or pageviews in their bank account twice a month.

How does your business make money? How could it be more successful? What are some simple ways, and what are some radical ways to amaze our customers and tap into their behavior? Don’t you have mountains of information that could make your business smarter about its customers, alter its experience and offering, satisfy more people, and reap the financial rewards?

Create buckets. Which keywords map well to conversion? Which keywords don’t? Quit putting conversion rate or ROI as a metric next to every keyword. When someone types “Best Buy locations Atlanta” into Google, why in the hell are we trying to measure website ROI against that?

Find the micro-conversions for each relevant topic or bucket of terms and intents, and map each bucket to your success in those micro-conversions. Systematically go through each type of intent and figure out what you could be doing better. I promise it’ll be a lot easier than trying to figure out how to get the conversion rate of your “store hours” keywords up.

This type of analysis is about caring what your customers want in all scenarios (intents), not what you want in all scenarios (their money).

When you find yourself identifying the gaps between what customers want and what you provide, you can take simple and obvious steps to close those gaps and even find small ways to delight customers when they do simple things.

Once you stop trying to map everything to dollars and start mapping intents to outcomes, you’ll first find that your existing traffic’s needs are woefully under-served, but you’ll have a much easier time identifying how to better meet those needs.

You’ll quickly understand that investing in incremental customers you’re horribly unprepared to serve is not the best use of your company’s funds; it’s like opening a store before you’ve organized the shelves and trained the salespeople how to use the register.

If you think that it’s a leap of faith that closing gaps in service and pleasing your customers will have significant financial rewards, consider how big a leap of faith it is to use the same metric of success (ROI) against your whole customer base and their varied intent.

How can you figure out how to move the needle when you’re numb to what people were trying to accomplish? Believing you can build a better, more profitable business through tunnel vision requires more faith than I’m capable of.

One Last Thing

We also talk about “increasing the ROI” of our search marketing campaigns, and we think that’s more sophisticated than the simple “increase traffic” conversation.

If you’re looking to modify ROI by only looking at your keywords, bids, landing pages, your creative, or your SEO, you’re missing at least 50% and as much as 90% of the opportunity.

The site is the engine of ROI. Work with your clients or your company on fixing the site to improve conversion for every single visit. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your site can’t be changed. It can be, and it must be. And your customers are telling you exactly what to change, if you care.

Do you?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Analytics


About The Author: is the Director of Client Performance at Search Discovery, an Atlanta-based search marketing and web analytics agency. Evan is a fierce believer in the power of web analytics and the impact it can have on the performance (and lovability) of web sites. Evan also writes a web analytics blog called Atlanta Analytics and can be found as @evanlapointe on twitter.

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  • http://www.verticalacuity.com Gregg Freishtat

    Outstanding commentary. Getting more one hit wonders from SEO is not nearly as valuable as focusing in on real LTV. More engaged consumers, better content, and better brand equity are the keys to growth. I agree that the best growth strategy is to delight your visitors and have them do the heavy lifting by sharing and evangelizing how you great you site is.

  • http://lauriewallin.com Laurie Wallin

    Love what you shared. One of the things I’ve found is that increasing numbers actually waters down effectiveness. I like ProBloggers concept of having a smaller, super-loyal following. It makes it easier to care, like you said.

  • Randy Zwitch

    Great article Evan, thanks! This especially called out to me:

    “…the reason our websites are difficult to change is because we have acted like they are difficult to change. Believe me, if we were forcing the organization to make meaningful changes and optimizations to our websites every day or week (in an organized way), the developers would find ways to make that work a heck of a lot easier, until publishing changes is a cakewalk.”

    One of the reasons I think the ‘increase traffic’ to get more conversions is so prevalent is that it’s blameless; it doesn’t matter who did what before, what decisions were made, how hard the website is to change, or anything else…

    So companies end up keeping the same un-optimized path, because few want to accept (or even test to find out) that they were ‘wrong’ in the first place. “We spent $X dollars, of COURSE we got in right the first time!” If you avoid testing, you avoid egos being crushed, or asking for more money to test alternates to problems you already ‘solved’ the first time.

    Me, as a budding analyst in the field (but not to testing, came from direct mail acquisitions), I’m very much for the kaizen approach to things…it doesn’t matter where you are now, try to improve until the cost of incremental improvement is just too high. It’s a blameless method, but it does require checking your ego at the door and just wanting to always be better…

  • http://www.raleighmortgagegals.com Kathy

    I keep repeating this mistake: Everybody is my potential customer.

    I must learn again to focus what I do. Thanks.

  • http://www.epiphanysolutions.co.uk SteveBaker

    Hi Evan,

    From a PPC perspective, ROI is a completely pointless metric for optimisation purposes.

    Except for the relatively rare occasions where higher positions yield higher conversion rates or conversion values, ROI is always going to be higher, the further down the search results you appear. After all, if a click is worth the same in every position, but the lower you appear, the cheaper the clicks are, so the better the ROI is. Attempt to optimise your ROI, and you’ll just end up with almost no clicks (but if you ever get a sale, it’ll be profitable!).

    Using ROI to determine your budget is sensible – indeed, if you are utilising a number of different advertising media, it’s probably the only way to maximise the return on your marketing budget.

    Regarding the idea of ‘chasing clicks’, with PPC, any click that doesn’t convert is just a waste of money.

    These are just two examples of misleading metrics – whilst it’s important to watch click through rate and conversion rate, you should never look to optimise to these either.

    Perhaps the problem is that some advertisers confuse performance indicators and their objective (typically, to make as much money as possible). Whilst it’s important to understand clicks, click through rate, conversion rate, ROI, etc, none of these can be a meaningful objective, with very few exceptions…

    Steve Baker
    Chief Analyst
    Epiphany Solutions


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