I’ve never given much thought to website traffic generation. I make websites, I’m not responsible for sending people to them. However, this website is useless unless someone sees it. The lifeblood of any website is its traffic. I’m not responsible for generating traffic to my clients’ websites, but for their sake and my own, it’s a problem I think about often. How do we drive traffic to our websites?
It’s obvious that a church (or business, or school) won’t get any new visitors from the website if no one is visiting the website in the first place.
There are millions upon millions of websites in the world, and so many of them exist only to provide basic information should someone stumble upon them from a wayward Yelp search or Google Business listing. You know the drill: dusty website, outdated contact information, and a layout that looks fresh out of GeoCities in 1999. We’ve talked about this before: a website is so much more than just a billboard. Ideally, your website does more than provide information in case someone stumbles upon it.
So our websites do more: they’re carefully crafted, with a cohesive vision and message that matches your organization. We build targeted pages for specific audiences, with clear calls-to-actions and funnels to get people interested in learning more. We build beautiful, shiny top-of-the-line websites that check all the boxes.
And then no one shows up.
Here’s an honest-to-goodness screenshot from my own website. 22 visitors in the last week — only 19% clicked through to a second page. Most people spent less than thirty seconds on the page at all.
“Doing it right,” with no visitors, is doing it wrong.
My job as a web designer can’t end with just content, design, and development. There’s a fourth step that I’ve never acknowledged: cultivating an audience. And this goes deeper than just SEO optimization. SEO is a skin-deep answer to a deeper problem: How do we find new customers via the web?
The central promise of the web is that it expands your reach, allowing you to find new customers who wouldn’t otherwise find your storefront on Main Street. But that argument doesn’t hold any water if we’re not finding those people and engaging with them. If your website traffic is 0, no one is getting through.
(My full-time work is possible because of my many good relationships with previous clients. Word-of-mouth and organic growth, as well as repeat customers, are where I’ve had the most success since going full-time a year ago. I’ve attracted 0 cold leads through my website: I’m defining a cold lead as someone brand-new who hits the website, is convinced, and sends an inquiry about working with me).
There’s a fairly solid way to assess the success of a page when there is traffic on it. Figure out how many people are visiting, compared to how many people send an inquiry. This is your conversion rate, and on most websites it’s 3-5%. So for every 100 visitors, let’s say 5 are sending a real inquiry. Then, a fraction of those will convert to paying customers: a signup rate. This signup rate varies depending on the product, but can be anything from 10-15% of your previous inquiries. Congratulations! From 100 visitors you’ve generated…half of a paying customer.
Visitors turn into Customers
The rates are tough, but that makes sense, because someone who’s brand-new to your products is more likely than not to disengage and not become a paying customer. The fact remains that without that baseline website traffic, the inquiries won’t come in, and without the inquiries, the signups won’t come in. This isn’t necessarily a death knell for a business (I’m doing OK with only a handful of inquiries, none of whom have converted to paying customers. I’m finding my work through other means), but it is a death knell for a website particularly. And if a website’s ineffective, well, I end up with unhappy customers.
Website traffic generation then necessarily becomes the mark of success for the website. I can do everything that I know to create good conversion rates, and a good business will turn some of those into signups, but without any traffic, I don’t even have data to show my customers that their brand-new website is working as it’s supposed to.
No input, no output. It’s not my fault, but it is my problem.
All I’ve described is the central problem of marketing, and none of what I raise here are new. Plenty of people before me have dedicated plenty of time to solving these problems. The questions are new to me — new because I have launched into this full-time, and new because I’ve never offered these services to clients before. But I’m beginning to think this is an area where I need to become an expert.
Customers are the reason websites exist.
The entire justification for spending money on my services is the rate at which the website generates new customers. No new customers, and my client has essentially spent thousands of dollars on a very nice, very expensive billboard that’s no better than the 1999 Geocities site we’ve already talked about. Without any traffic, how do I show that the work I’ve done is any good?
Website traffic generation is unfamiliar waters for me. It’s not always a web solution, see. Some audiences aren’t on the web: blanket Facebook marketing won’t work for every business. In order to connect with a community, we need to learn who they are, where they are, and what they do.
We need to learn about our audience: what names have clout in their community? What magazines do they read? Do they go to trade shows or conferences? Where do they spend their free time? Taken from this view, marketing becomes multi-faceted: we go where the people are.
I realize how one-sided my business has been. Am I really being helpful to my clients if I just provide them with an expensive doorstop? Where’s the other half? How can I help my clients learn about their audiences, and reach out to those audiences in unique ways that will resonate with potential customers?
How do we go forward?
How do we drive high-quality traffic to the brand-new website, so that people will see the work we’ve already done on content strategy, targeted design, and calls to action? I believe that healthy website traffic generation is more than just a Google ad: it’s got to be a holistic solution that matches your business and goes where your customers are. It’s an ongoing question I’ll be trying to answer in the coming months — for my own sake, and my clients’.