Digital Marketing Step 1: Drive Website Traffic

November 11, 2016
Peter McEllhenney

The first step to building your business on the internet is to drive visitors to your site. There are three main digital marketing methods for getting relevant website traffic:

1. Search engine optimization (frequently concentrated on local search)

2. Pay-per-click internet advertising such as Google AdWords

3. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Each of these sources require different techniques, and not all are right for every business. Read on for basic how-to tips as well as my thoughts on how to decide if SEO, paid search advertising, and social media are right for you.

1. Search engine optimization and local search

Getting your site on the first page of the organic or “free” search results for keywords relevant to your business is an excellent way to earn traffic for your website.

The first page of free search results gets the most attention from web users, and many businesses have found organic web traffic a better source of sales or leads than paid traffic.

Further, once you rank well for a keyword, you may continue to rank well on that keyword for some time. And of course, all the clicks to your website are “free” at least when it comes to spending money out of your pocket.

A downside of search engine optimization is that it can easily take six months or more to get a good position on the search terms that you want. Another downside of SEO is that the “free” results aren’t really free, since getting on the first page often requires a substantial investment of your time. A third downside is that recent changes to the Google algorithm have advantaged many larger, older, and well established websites over newcomers.

Many factors affect how well your website ranks in the organic search results, including…

a. The quality and freshness of your content

b. Your HTML page titles, descriptions, and headers

c. How easy your site is to crawl and how quickly it loads

d. The number and quality of links to your site

e. Shares, likes, and social media engagement with your site

f. The age of your site

g. Country and location

How much work you do depends on your goals. If you simply want to be found for the name of your business (for example, “Brickell & Sons Flowers” with stores in Philadelphia, PA), then having good content, with keywords in your HTML tags, and a few links may be enough.

If you want to be found for “Philadelphia florists,” however, you will likely need to work much harder because all the flower shops in Philadelphia want to be found from those keywords. All the big online flower businesses are also competing on those keywords, and they have enterprise level search engine optimization professionals working for them.

Keep in mind that which keywords you target for search engine optimization are as important as how well you target them. So research which search terms are most valuable in your industry at the beginning of the process.

For local businesses, appearing in local search directories such as Google Places is as essential as ranking well on the right keywords. Be sure to claim and complete your profile in Google Places.

Add your business to other local web directories as well, and be careful to present your business name, location, and contact information in exactly the same format in each one. Consistent information in multiple sources will help you rank well in local search results.

2. Pay-per-click advertising like Google AdWords

Paying for relevant traffic through advertising is another way to get visitors to your website.

The great advantage of web advertising programs such as Google AdWords is that you can get your site on the first page of search results for terms important to your business in less than a day – rather than the six months to a year search engine optimization often requires.

Pay-per-click advertising platforms allow you to target your ads accurately. They also let you test messages and potential keywords for search engine optimization before you commit yourself to them.

The problem with pay-per-click advertising is, as the name says, you pay for every click.

Further, the sophistication of the platforms makes it easy for business owners new to pay-per-click advertising to spend a lot of money, very quickly, and get nothing to show for it.

If you don’t want to spend hours studying pay-per-click advertising, or you don’t want to hire a professional, I recommend following these guidelines:

a. Focus on customers who are ready to buy

Ideally, you want to target customers who have decided they need a product or service you sell, and who are looking for a business like yours on the web.

For example, if you own Brickell & Sons Flowers, you might want to target phrases like “Philadelphia florists” and “Philadelphia flower shops” and perhaps “buy flowers in Philadelphia” because people searching on these keywords are likely to make a purchase.

You might test phrases such as “Valentine’s Day flowers” because the person searching on those keywords might want to buy flowers or might simply be looking for ideas. Avoid targeting single words such as “flowers”.

In general, I think web advertising programs like AdWords are best for B2C companies or B2B companies with short sales cycles.

An accounting firm with many small business clients could advertise effectively on the web. An accounting firm with large corporate clients might find it less effective as a source of leads.

b. Target just the area in which you do business

Many times, the default setting for pay-per-click advertising is the entire United States. If you are a national company, advertise nationally. If you are a regional or local company, advertise in just your region or town.

All advertising programs should allow you to geo-target your ads. Make sure you do.

c. Turn off the “content” network

The content network shows your ads on the web pages of newspapers, magazines, and other sources of information that might be relevant to your business. (A flower shop ad might appear next to an article on roses, for example.)

Unless you are interested in name awareness or brand advertising, I would turn off the content network. Ads on content networks generally get lots of browsers but few buyers.

d. Start with a low daily budget

Most pay-per-click internet advertising programs allow you to define a maximum daily spend. Set this low and review the account each day.

You may get very few clicks in the beginning, but I think that’s better than spending thousands of dollars before realizing your advertising campaign needs to be adjusted.

3. Earning web traffic through social media

Social media has many of the advantages and disadvantages of search engine optimization.

Like SEO, social media is often a better source of relevant visitors to your website than paid advertising. Like SEO, it doesn’t need to cost you money although it will cost you time. And like SEO, a social media campaign can take many months to begin to show results.

The most important thing to understand about social media is that it is not a traditional advertising medium, by which I mean you can’t make sales pitches and expect to succeed.

For example, a blog – like this one – is a good way to drive traffic to your website, particularly if you add it to discussions groups on LinkedIn (which I’ve also done).

But if you clicked on my link, it’s not because you thought you were going to find a sales pitch. And if you are still reading this post now, it’s not because you found one.

You’re still reading because you’ve found what I have to say useful or interesting. And because you have, you might remember my name and one day, call me.

Similar rules apply to Facebook and Twitter. For example, if you are a restaurant that bombards people with sales messages (“It’s Monday, eat at The Grille!” … “It’s Tuesday, eat at The Grille!”) those people are likely to stop following you.

On the other hand, if The Grille uses Facebook to post daily specials, announce new beers on tap, ask if customers like additions to the menu, and especially respond to questions or comments, then people will probably keep following you.

Even better, friends of your followers will see your posts too, which not only helps drive traffic to your website, but also acts as an implicit word-of-mouth recommendation.

Which sources of website visits do you choose?

In my opinion, there is no reason to build a website for your business if you don’t do basic search engine optimization on it.

Make sure you have important keywords in your HTML page titles, descriptions, and headers; provide useful information on your website; and make sure you have at least a few good incoming links. Otherwise, people are not going to find the website even when they are searching on your business’ name.

I would also do some social media. For B2B businesses, I’d recommend having a complete LinkedIn profile and use it to connect to your professional network. For B2C businesses, I think Facebook is better.

How much more you do after these steps depends on how much more business you need. If you have a website to complete your professional image and answer typical customer questions, you probably need to do less.

If your business needs many more new customers or clients, you’ll need to do more work to drive more people to your website.

Don’t forget all the traditional advertising mediums

Traditional advertising mediums are all sources of web traffic too: referrals, word of mouth, direct mail, print advertising, radio spots, television commercials, and lots more. This post is about digital marketing. For many businesses, the older techniques can be just as important!