This idea may sound oversimplified, but there are two ways to drive web site traffic. You can earn the traffic, or you can buy the traffic. That’s basically the difference between SEO and SEM. Recently, I had the opportunity to work through those two methods with a prospective client who was not familiar with how either one worked. All they want is to drive web site traffic, so that traffic will become leads, and leads become sales. I started with, “You can earn it, or you can buy it.”
Earning Traffic through SEO
The green field or blue sky analogy works best as a starting point here. What I mean by that is, consider starting a brand new website that will have exactly zero visitors on day one of launch. In order to draw visitors to that website, the website must have some compelling content that rings true with its intended audience and that intended audience must somehow find out about that content.
At this point, you could say, “Just start with $5 or $10 day in Google Adwords” as a test. I generally would be in favor of that; however, I still think it’s too early. You don’t know yet which key words to buy and you don’t yet know if the content you have on your website is going to “work”, meaning draw visitors through to becoming leads, then customers.
Instead, create lots of content – starting with a regular blog, vlog, or simple talking-head explainer video – and share it everywhere. Then see what marketing channels work best, what content performs well, and if your backend is ready to capture and process leads. I don’t mean that you have a total marketing stack and Salesforce fully implemented on the backend, but rather that you have at least an idea how how you’ll respond to an inquiry.
This kind of activity is one example of how you can earn web site traffic. At a high level: create content that your target audience can relate to and tell as many people as you can in as many ways as you can. Measure everything, repeat what works.
Buying Traffic through SEM & PPC
Same situation, but instead of creating lots of content, you do some keyword analysis, and pay for some Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, and sponsor an email or two. If you do them right, these methods can drive a ton of web site traffic very quickly. However, “do them right” means you know what you’re doing in things like Adwords and Facebook ads. As easy as they try to make it seem, there’s a reason people get paid a lot of money to run Adwords campaigns. Do them yourself, and you might get it right. You might not. Either way, you’re spending cash on every click, right or wrong.
I’ve heard many stories of startups spending $20,000+in a month on Adwords early on in their process because they thought they had it right at the time. Almost every time, they look back and say, “We had no idea what we were doing.” Not only did they not know what they were doing on the front end of those ads, but they didn’t know what they were doing on the back end to handle the inquiries either.
The Restaurant Analogy for Web Site Traffic
Imagine opening a brand new restaurant. Of course, everyone dreams about a packed house that first day, but is everything ready for a full house? The worst thing that can happen to a new restaurant is a flop first night due not to bad food but glitches in all the service surrounding the food. From parking to the pen used to sign the check, everything needs to work.
The same basic concept applies to a website; however, a website is much easier to fix than a brick and mortar restaurant. Things can move and change much faster in the online world, but they still have to work in the eyes of the (future) customer.
Earn It First, Then Buy It
The concept of a soft opening is very popular among new restaurants. The soft launch gives everyone on the team a chance to work through potential issues while doing everything LIVE, just like they will on grand opening night. Creating organic traffic through content and sharing will help everyone on your team (even if it’s just you) understand what works and what doesn’t, and what happens when a genuine qualified lead hits your site.
Then you can start spending money to get new visitors to the website. Or not! It may be that your content is so good and your knowledge of your audience so tight that you don’t need to pay for Google or Facebook to bring them to your website. But you won’t know until you’ve created that content, shared it everywhere, and measured everything.