My phone just rang and I took the call. A very effective sales guy offered me traffic. Every functioning neuron in my under-caffeinated brain fired with the instinctive response ‘no no no!’. I resisted the urge to just hang up, because Dear Reader, part of my job is to listen to such pitches and sift through them on your behalf. Should I stumble upon a diamond, or anything else made of carbon, I’ll be sure to let you know.
I may well be packed-to-the-gills with hubris, but why am I so sure that paying for traffic is always wrong?
Well, let’s start with why SEM is so effective. 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.
Nevertheless, for some advertisers it’s worth buying the adsense stuff for 1/10th the price and hoping some browsers come back sometime later with intent
So imagine seeing a business plan for a new internet advertising company. It might have these salient points:
PPC model where advertisers pay for traffic to their site
More clicks = more revenue
Search is hot, therefore we will be a ‘search engine’
Direct sales force that calls on SMBs
This has cashectomy written all over it. These advertising companies are not search engines because no consumers go there to perform searches. Most of them masquerade as search engines by having a box on the front page, but does anyone go there with intent? Nevertheless, by calling themselves a search engine they can get the advertisers attention, and it helps the sales force pitch. You trust Google to deliver advertising results, so you’re going to trust other ‘search engines’.
The more clicks = more revenue of course has many problems. It leads to click fraud, but worse than that, it leads to dubious methods of inserting the advertisers sites into the visitors clicking. Because of the desperate need to generate revenue via clicks that lead to your site, they will get in the visitors face so much that the visitor clicks by accident. This is not intent nor even browsing but is instead merely traffic.
So my advice is to never pay for traffic but to pay handsomely for intent and to consider paying for browsing
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
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