Anyone who has played around in the paid search realm for any length of time quickly learns that paying for traffic is a great way to go broke. It's a far better idea to focus on paying for targeted traffic by getting in front of the folks who not only have an interest in what you have to offer, but have actually gone looking for it. That's the point John Marshall makes today in a post called "Never, Ever Pay for Traffic" at Market Motive.

John writes:

When you buy keywords or hire SEO gurus, you are getting your message in front of the consumer at the exact moment where they are making a buying decision. Perhaps it's one of many decisions they will make before the final purchase choice, but the inescapable fact is the visitor has some kind of intent. And that is the magic word. SEM professionals take this for granted because it's worked so well over the past 6 years, since Google reinvented search results and PPC advertising. Google effectively taught the consumer that if they type their problem into the box, solutions appear.

Now, we also know that buying the same keyword in syndication (ie showing up in AdSense results) has a far lower rate of conversion, and therefore you should pay less for it. Around 1/10th the value is the consensus here at the office. This is because the visitor clicking the ads very rarely has intent. They are not so deeply interested in your product that they started out by typing some keywords into Google. They are in fact browsing. Just noodling around and clicky-clicky on stuff that seems interesting or at least diverting.

While these types of phone calls and emails are becoming less common, there are still plenty of companies out there looking to sell you "traffic."

For a new site owner struggling to make a dent with their web site it can be a tempting offer, especially when the quoted prices fall way below the average cost per click of a paid search campaign.

Remind yourself that traffic doesn't mean diddly. Traffic can come from people who have been tricked into visiting your site, from people who have been paid to visit your site and even from computer programs that simply make it look like someone visited your site. A registered visit doesn't mean a visit from someone who is looking to become a customer. That's an important thing to remember since may companies selling these types of services will point out that even if the traffic isn't targeted, more traffic means more chances to convert. It doesn't always work that way though, especially not when the company's motivation is to send you bodies and not buyers.

If you absolutely cannot resist the draw of cheap traffic, John suggests you at least track it carefully.

If you really must buy traffic then look very carefully for click fraud. Look very carefully for signs of zero intent (short average time on site) and ruthlessly kill all campaigns that don't deliver within a couple of weeks. Don't wait for ROI analysis to tell you the campaign isn't working. ROI is often zero even for good campaigns, due to cookie deletion and latent conversions. You need to examine metrics like time on site and use that as a predictor for whether the visitors have intent or are behaving like traffic

Remember, building a better business is about bringing in customers. No matter how you decide to market your site, you should always keep track of the quality and not simply the number of visitors and adjust your campaign choices accordingly.

October 9, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Spend Your Money on Intent, Not Traffic