“If You Build It…They Will Come” may work for historical baseball ghosts, but it’s not a strategy you can rely on when starting an internet company. Driving traffic to your website is a formula that can be reverse engineered. Other than paying for traffic with advertising, there are only so many ways to get people to show up at your door.
There are 7 Ways to Get (unpaid) Traffic on the Web, in no weighted order they are:
1.) Search Engines
2.) Referring Traffic / Press
3.) Social Media
4.) Online Partnerships / Distribution Deals
5.) Refreshing Content
6.) The Viral Loop / User Email
7.) Solve a Personal Compelling Need
Search Engines – Google, Yahoo, MSN, ASK redirect billions of searches everyday. Search engines have the potential to drive millions of visitors to a given site. Wikipedia
and About are two of the most popular sites on the web, but the
majority of their traffic comes from referrals from search engines, not
people going directly to their site. To make sure your site is optimized for search engine traffic:
1.) Each individual piece of content should have its own distinct URL(title tag), and a unique title (H1 tag) for the page that search engines can read and index.
2.) Increase the production of your content. It’s a simple formula, go to Google and type in this query site:“name of your site.com”. The more pages indexed, the more traffic you will get.
3.) Get more websites linking to your various content pages. Once you get your pages indexed by search engines, you want them to show up as high as possible in the results. The two most important variables to make sure an individual piece of content ranks high in search results are 1)how many inbound links that page has from other websites and 2)the amount of traffic that page gets.
Helpful Resources about Search Engine Traffic: 68 Helpful SEO Tools
“Referring Traffic / Press - The web is interconnected, and traffic flows among sites that interlink. The more sites that link to you, the more sustainable traffic you build overtime. The type of sites that might link into you are blogs, traditional press online, forums or bulleting boards, or content rich sites that are focused on a similar topic. To make sure you maximize the potential for referring traffic:
1.) Create a target list of blogs that could cover your product or content. You can search Technorati to find the most popular blogs on the web across various categories. Make sure to reach out to bloggers personally and build a relationship. Leave comments on their posts, link to them from your site… do that and when you approach them to write about you, you’ll find a welcomed reception.
2.) Make a list of 15 similar websites. Track
all their online press in major publications such as the WSJ, NYTs,
BusinessWeek Online, or more specific trade publications. Make a list of the journalists writing the articles, they’re easy to find on Linkedin and Facebook. Follow up with compliments on their writing and get some emails going back and forth, and then pitch your product or service.
Helpful Resources about for Getting Referral Traffic: Top Blogs List (with email contacts)
Social Media - Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us, Twitter. This is a separate segment of referring traffic that warrants its own category. These are sites that are set up to discover content on other sites across the web. These sites are typically geared towards more viral or humorous content, but they can be powerful sources for driving a significant amount of traffic.To make sure you maximize the potential for traffic from social media:
1.) Create content appropriate for these sites, each site has a slightly different slant on which type of content is most easily popularized.
2.) Engage in the community and make friends. Most of these sites are based on some type of voting or book-marking system. More community friends = more exposure = more traffic.
3.) Find a way to engage users in other content on your site. This
traffic is mostly transitory and has low pageviews/visits, so in order
to maximize its potential, make sure to serve up lots of related
content on each of the pages that receive traffic from social media.
Online Partnerships/Distribution Deals –These are harder to come by, but can pay off big dividends. The idea is to get other major sites to integrate some core functionality of your site into their own, as a value ad. One of the best examples was when social news aggregator Mixx.com landed its deal to have its links on all of CNN’s online articles, likely one of the main factors that helped their traffic skyrocket. To make sure you maximize the potential for traffic from partnership/distribution deals:
1.) Get the list of the Alexa or Compete most popular sites on the web, and scan through the list to find any and all web properties that have a crossover with your site.
2.) Widgets, Widgets, Widgets. Wherever possible build a simple, value adding, easy to use widget that others can include on their blog or website, a la the docstoc embed documents tool.
3.) Be creative and persistent. This is the hardest category to give specific “how to” advice. These are typically custom deals that take some creativity on your part, relationship building, and a whole lot of patience. But fortune favors those who persist.
Helpful Resources for Getting Traffic from Partnerships::Web 2.0 Distribution Deals
Refreshing Content –I go back daily to sites like TechCrunch, GigaOm, Drudge Report, Huffington Post, WSJ, Neatorama, because they have topical, informative, biting, controversial content that is always refreshed. On the web, Content is King. Find ways to integrate refreshing content into the pages people visit most on your site, and you’ve given them a reason to come back for more. To make sure you maximize the potential for traffic from refreshing content:
1.) Don’t use your home page just as a static business card. Put new topical content that updates as often as possible on the home page so there is always something new and interesting to bring people back.
2.) Find ways to automatically generate refreshing content without having to manually edit and input it. For example, how can you show related content or automatically surface the content that is most topical and popular.
3.) If your site isn’t optimized for refreshing content, add that as a component. It might seem overly simple or it may seem to difficult to implement, but just do it, and over time returning traffic benefits will accrue.
The Viral Loop - The viral loop is the process of turning users into marketers and thus exponentially increasing your traffic via your user base. For example, in 2003 I became the “chief marketer” for LinkedIN and proudly exported 1500+ Outlook contacts to LinkedIN and sent them ALL a message asking them to “join my network” to satiate my ego - I wanted to show off that I had “500+” connections. They turned 1 Registered User = 100 Registered Users, 100 Users = 1000 users. Turn your users into your marketers, it’s the more legit cousin of multi level marketing.
To make sure you maximize the potential for traffic from the Viral Loop
1.) Make sure you have a sign up process on your site. Give your users a compelling reason to share a link with friends or import their contacts and send a message.
2.) Awards, Points, Leader boards, Recognition, Self-Promotion. Adults still like party games, there typically has to be some notoriety or self benefit involved to get others to promote your site for you.
3.) Have an easy call to action. Don’t put the onus on your users to do all the work. Sure, anyone can copy and paste a URL and send it out to dozens of folks, but how many ever will? Import your users’ contacts, and have easy tools for them to post and share links with friends and across the web.
4.) BONUS: set up auto-emails that go out based on all the users’ actions. Think of all the emails you get from Facebook whenever one of your friends does something on the site. Those users aren’t intentionally sending you email, but the items they post, friends they add, and events they host all generate an email that shows up in your inbox and potentially drives you back to the site.
Helpful Resources for Getting Traffic from the Viral Loop:The Viral Coefficient
Solve a Compelling Personal Need – So this is kind of the general catch-all category for “just build a good site that people want to use”, but even this is more nuanced.People come back to sites that solve a personal compelling need. Most of the time, we’re either thinking about Money, Health, or Love (or some derivative). So gear your site around one of these compelling needs and make sure you solve a BIG problem. For example, Pricegrabber lets you find all the stuff you want at the lowest price. Dating sites are the modern day Yentas selling love. WebMD tells you what every possible symptom you’re suffering from could really be. To make sure you maximize the potential for traffic by solving a compelling personal need, you should ask yourself:
1.) If you were the most popular site in your category, would it give someone a reason to come back to the site everyday?
2.) Am I directly dealing with making/saving money, related to health/fitness/symptom reduction, helping people find love/have sex/meet people, am I in the vanity business/do people come to my site for fame?
I don’t claim to have unearthed any amazing secrets to traffic generation. And for anyone in the business of building Internet companies or marketing online, this list of 7 should be very familiar. However, I know from personal experience, many entrepreneurs neglect to take a comprehensive approach to building traffic.Each of these seven is a piece to the puzzle that makes up your entire user engagement. The goal is to analyze which of these seven areas you may be lacking in, apply attention and effort in these areas to help them grow, and keep working on improving the areas that already work for you.