You manage the marketing of a news website, an e-commerce site or another type of online service. So you know that traffic is the fuel that keeps the machine running. But not all traffic sources are of the same quality. Some are downright adulterated, and should be avoided at all costs. Here's an overview of traffic sources, from the healthiest to the most toxic.
When we talk about traffic sources, we often think first and foremost of a referral site, where visitors come from. If you use Google Analytics, you can easily track all these sources. If traffic is not generated by referral sites (including social networks), advertising campaigns or organic searches, it will be considered "direct" by your analysis tool. Please note: the figure may be slightly misleading. Google also includes traffic resulting from the suggestion of your domain to visitors who enter the name of your service in their browser's address bar. And sometimes without knowing the exact URL of the destination.
But this figure is indicative of the notoriety of your service, and therefore reflects the impact of the best source of traffic of all: word-of-mouth. One day, you may fall victim to a Google penalty that will reduce your share of organic traffic. However, nothing can take away the traffic resulting from the intrinsic quality of your service.
Who wouldn't dream of a website with over 75% of its traffic coming from organic searches, for which no advertising investment has been made? It's possible: many sites enjoy such a high proportion of free traffic. That said, everything depends on the nature of the service and content (event-driven or perennial), the authority of the domain (which you can check via Moz), which depends in particular on the quality of backlinks and, for content sites, the volume of (quality) indexed pages.
The risk is in embarking on an over-aggressive SEO (search engine optimization) campaign. A "black hat" campaign, using dubious techniques. These include the notorious Private Blog Networks, which sell backlinks by the kilo without any added value. Today's search engines are far more sophisticated than they were a few years ago. They can quickly penalize players who are adept at keyword stuffing and low-quality backlinks.
We've lost count of the number of sites that have exploded in mid-air because they've overstretched their SEO potential. There's no magic formula. Your site needs to be fast, mobile-optimized and well-structured, and your content needs to match your target audience's searches. If other legitimate sites naturally echo it, you'll move up in the results. Then, one day, you'll be able to compete for a place at the top of Google's first page. The best advice we can give you is to be meticulous and patient.
Let's face it, Facebook's audience is massive. So it would be absurd not to go looking for traffic. That said, Zuck is no longer a free lunch. If you want a post to drive traffic to your site, you'll have to pull out the blue card and amplify your post, even if only moderately. The Menlo Park algorithm is constantly evolving. For obvious reasons, Facebook prefers you to tell your stories on its wall (native videos, instant articles, etc.) rather than taking the user to your website.
What's acquired today may not be tomorrow. So take care to avoid the excesses of habituation.
However, don't deprive yourself of establishing an organic presence on the major networks. Provided you have the resources to feed them content.
Instagram, Pinterest or Youtube can be valuable sources of recurring traffic if the content you publish there naturally generates a substantial audience. Returning to Facebook, be active in groups whose themes correspond to your target audience. And don't let the frequency of your posts be perceived as spam. The same goes for Linkedin groups, a network where you can develop a premium audience. Reddit can also bring you good traffic, but you'll need to earn some Karma there before publishing your messages - sparingly, to avoid trolls.
There's nothing wrong with doing yourself some good. If you're buying legitimate traffic via premium publishers, and that traffic is generating a positive ROI over time, there's no reason to deprive yourself of it. All the more so as visitors acquired in this way may return of their own free will and bring in new visitors. Just keep a close eye on your accounts to make sure your investments are worthwhile.
A first way to gauge traffic quality is to analyze the bounce rate AND the time spent on your site from a given referrer. This double condition is important. The bounce rate is the percentage of people who visit only one page on your site from the given source. You'd probably prefer it to be below 50%, which means you've lured the customer into the maze of your site. True, but there's nothing wrong with visitors finding their happiness exclusively on the landing page (even if they may return later). The question is whether they stay long enough on that page to actually consume the information. A bounce rate of 80% with an average duration of 3 minutes is rather good news. A bounce rate of 80% with a 5-second visit is a sign of poorly qualified traffic.
It's a safe bet that the traffic you'll buy in "search" mode on Google will be more qualified than the traffic you'll get from the myriad of referral services that abound on the web today. Limit yourself to those that are well established, and select the sites where your suggestions will be displayed. Promoting your services on a low-end "viral content" site will only bring you bad traffic.
This leads us slowly to the dark side of the force...
BuzzFeed recently devoted a well-documented article to magical traffic, which often turns out to be fraudulent. If you're being sold tens of thousands of so-called real visits at a knock-down price. This inevitably means that the source is adulterated. However tempting it may be to improve your numbers at the end of the quarter, avoid this traffic like the plague. When you're caught red-handed, you'll lose the trust of your advertisers and may even suffer the wrath of Google.
Just to give you an idea of the latest technique, here's how the crooks do it.
They create a bunch of websites on a legitimate theme (sports, games, fashion, etc.). They buy traffic by the kilo from illegal streaming sites. When an Internet user visits one of these sites, a window opens beneath the page they're visiting, called a "pop under". The scammer doesn't necessarily expect the viewer to look away from the video. The pop under is considered a legitimate outgrowth of the site visit. It's a human visit, not an automatic bot, since the surfer has actually consulted the site that provokes the opening.
The pop-under first opens a page from the scammer's bouquet of buffer sites, to confuse the issue. Then a script opens the customer's site (the one with the bad idea of buying bulk traffic). The referrer will therefore be an a priori legitimate site in the same sector as the final target. The script will remain on the destination page long enough for the visit to appear normal. Then it loads another of the customer's pages, to reduce the bounce rate. A clever ploy...
All this from a hidden window on an X-rated site. The only catch is that no human will have actually visited the destination, even though the site in question may have sold premium space to an advertiser. The big scam.
On Google Analytics, you'll sometimes notice dubious-looking sources. They can also hide behind legitimate names. If a major media outlet is "sending" you traffic and no article has been published by that source, you need to ask yourself some questions. This is phantom traffic, generated by spammers. They're hoping that the curiosity of certain webmasters will generate traffic to their junk sites (which they can then monetize with advertising).
It's not traffic in the strict sense of the word, because no visitors actually end up on your site. Spammers attack Google Analytics servers directly, creating logs of bogus traffic. It is possible to exclude this phantom traffic from your statistics, by creating a filter as explained in this article.
The value is in the base, your #1 source of legitimate traffic.
Let's end this article on a positive note. Whatever the legitimate source of your traffic, it's imperative that you capitalize on these visits and prime the pump for recurrence. The best way to do this is to set up tools as soon as possible that enable you to collect your visitors' email addresses (and other info), so you can periodically offer them a newsletter.
Our most active publisher customers generate over 50% of their website traffic simply through their newsletter. For them, this is the #1 source of traffic, completely independent of the GAFAs. And, to top it all off, we can help you monetize these newsletters by inserting targeted advertising. For you, this communication channel will be both a source of traffic (which will generate revenue) and a source of additional income.
Contact us to discuss.