To many of you, this post will seem so unnecessary (probably like a lot of my posts). Unfortunately, way too many people still don't go deep enough in understanding traffic. You've probably seen the vague traffic charts floating around the web, followed by the obligatory hand claps and fire emoji. So, before your agency folks start the circle back-patting, remember that most traffic has little to no meaning for your business.
Spam in analytics data is probably a much bigger problem than you or your agency recognizes. While there are a variety of techniques for reducing spam, I'm not going to go too deep here. The reason, as I'll explain below, is that from a performance standpoint, we actually want to work backward from clients/customers and qualified leads to analyze traffic. Just know that your top-level traffic reports are complete trash.
The next traffic issue that still comes up is failing to analyze traffic by channel, source, medium, etc. Even if the traffic is real, its likelihood of having value, and more importantly, its profitability varies greatly from one channel to another. From a performance marketing standpoint, an obvious example is organic search traffic versus Facebook referral traffic. A click from a targeted local pack listing typically will have a much higher conversion rate than a click from Facebook generated by pics from your office holiday party. Intent matters a lot. At a minimum, if you pay someone to help you drive business from organic search, they should be reporting on organic search traffic (and really organic search tied to business metrics like clients, qualified leads, consultations, etc).
If your business is a law firm that serves local clients, how likely is it that all that traffic from Russia will convert into a new client? Sure, I'm sure you can come up with plenty of exceptions. But go look at your historical client list. What percent is coming from outside the United States? Your region? Your state? Your county? Even your city? My guess is that for most of you, the answer is, not that much. If it is, then be intentional about adding those locations to your reports. But much more likely, your marketing teams are high-fiving for all that international traffic that will never become business.
Another issue that regularly comes up is the brand versus non-brand fight. I'm going to focus on it in the context of organic search traffic, but it also applies to paid search and really other channels too. The issue is that there's no segmentation between brand and non-brand. Let's say you are a well-established attorney with a strong reputation. People regularly refer other people to you. Regardless of how those referrals are made, most of those people are likely to search for information about you by name. We call those searches "organic brand traffic." Of course, your agency wants to take credit for that too. So, they bucket "organic traffic" without segmenting brand versus non-brand. So, as you toil away building that great reputation, your agency says, "see we're growing your organic traffic," we rock! But they didn't do anything to get folks to search your name. In the very least, you should understand directionally how brand and non-brand traffic are trending. Ideally, you're doing some modeling to connect clients and consultations back to brand searches versus non-brand searches.
Most traffic is only as valuable as the business it generates. From a performance marketing standpoint, we're in the world of direct response and conversions. Sure, there are other valid marketing objectives, but let's face it, you're probably focused on qualified leads, potential clients, consultations, and clients tied directly back to marketing/advertising time and money. That means that the most valuable traffic is that which converts.
This takes us back to those vague traffic charts and fire emoji. It is exceptionally rare that anyone shares the "converted organic search traffic versus target converted organic search traffic chart." Why? Because they're not as exciting. They don't tend to skyrocket up and to the right. Most folks don't even have a target and those that do aren't regularly hitting it.
Don't fall victim to the "traffic is up" trap! Hold marketing agencies and internal marketing teams accountable for delivering meaningful dashboards and insights that connect traffic to business metrics.
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