A Small Business Introduction to Paid vs. Organic Traffic

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The Importance of Traffic

We all want folks to visit our website! Without “traffic”, our sites lead a lonely life, undiscovered and not helping your small business attract business. You can spend all the time in the world creating the most beautiful website, but if no-one knows about it…well, your efforts have been wasted!

If you can create a steady stream of traffic to your web site, you can capitalize on all that hard work to attract and retain customers. A solid and growing “traffic profile” is the life blood of any web site.

But how do you do that? What options exist to “grab eyeballs”, to build your brand and generate business?

How do you ensure you keep that traffic growing? How much does it cost ? And is there good traffic and bad traffic?

This article introduces you to two important types of traffic – paid and organic. It is not our intent here to provide a detailed description of all that is available for you to advertise your business. But with an understanding of the introductory concepts presented here, you will be better positioned to consider taking those first steps (of course, SiteBagel can help with this this if you would like a helping hand from experts!).

It’s Not That Complicated!

As with many aspects of life on the Internet, the answers can be complex and even overwhelming. But, under it all, it’s actually rather straightforward. Though sometimes obscured by the huge number of technical options (and buzzwords!) available, the principles associated with getting valuable traffic to your website are actually rather straightforward and grounded in age-old principles, many pre-dating the Internet.

They boil down to finding the right people at the right time and show the right message  to motivate them to do the right thing.

Think about this for a second….

  1. Find the right people. If you sell tents (and we’ll look at just that example below), then you probably don’t want to waste money showing your add to people who want to buy a cat!
  2. At the right time. If you are browsing Facebook to catch up with friends, you are far less likely to be in the mood to buy a tent, compared to someone who very specifically searched for the word “tents” on Google.
  3. Show the right message. Once you get someone’s attention, you want to make sure you keep it. The message you deliver – in the form of an ad or just a link to your site as part of a search – has a huge impact on likelihood the visitor will actually click the link and visit your website.
  4. Do the right thing. What that person does when s/he sees your link is also a factor. In many cases, you simply want them to click on the link, so your beautiful website can work its magic. But maybe you are hoping they will sign up for your newsletter – that is a different objective and will require different tactics.

This article is, at an introductory level, about the first two of these – finding the right people at the right time. There is nuance in all of this but our intent is to introduce you to some key principles of getting traffic – the right traffic – to your website.

Not Just for the Big Boys

The good news is that the democratizing effects of the Internet mean that even your small, cash-strapped business can carve out its own piece of the pie, helping you to establish your own steady flow of incoming visitors to your site.

As we will see, once you have an established website you may see traffic come to your site “automatically” i.e. from links that you have not paid for. That is a form of organic traffic and can be of great value to even the smallest of businesses.

By the same token, Google and other ad platforms will happily take your money for paid ads. But there is good news here too. Unlike traditional print media, where even the smallest ad can have something of a sticker shock, online ads allow you to pay in small increments.  Indeed, a common tactic for small businesses just putting a toe in the (ad) pond, it to start with just $5 per day, to test and assess ads.

In this article, we look at two very different, but highly complimentary, forms of traffic – organic vs. paid. Each has its benefits – and costs – and it’s a common error to assume an either/or choice.

Indeed, if you ever wonder whether organic or paid traffic is “best”, then you are asking the wrong question! Before you invest in one or the other (or both), consider where it fits into your sales funnel (if you are not familiar with the concept of the sales funnel, see here).

Anyway, enough of the intro – let’s look at organic and paid traffic.

An Example : Let’s Buy A Tent

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume it’s summer and you really want to plan a camping trip. It’s all good apart from the fact you are missing one important element – a tent! No problem, of course. Time to search for a great tent.

Head to Google, enter “tents”, press return and here’s what you see.

Google Search For Tents

 

As ever, Google delivers and you can start your research. But let’s take a closer look at this page. As a small business owner, understanding why these particular results show up is important, if you are to truly know how to promote your business effectively.

Note: We are using Google-based advertising here, purely as our example. There are many ways to generate traffic, across a huge range of platforms. These include Facebook. Twitter, Pinterest, links other web sites and much more. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to use the page above as an example to explain the important concepts you need to know.

What are SERPS?

We can’t really go too far without introducing an acronym! Fear not, this one is pretty easy!

Pages like the one above displayed when someone enters a search term into Google (or any search engine, for that matter) are called Search Engine Results Pages or SERPS for short. See – that’s intuitive!

If you happen to sell tents, you probably want your business to show up on the the SERPS for “tents”, right? So how do you ensure that happens?

Let’s look at some important areas of our example page, because there are some vital factors at play here.

Paid Traffic

Take a look at the first results on the page, in the left-hand column. Notice anything? There’s a small “Ad” moniker next to the first few websites listed. Those website are listed very specifically because someone, somewhere paid for an ad. That’s the only way they show up – money passed hands.

These ads are served (presented to users) through a massive ad network called “AdWords”, by Google. Understanding and using AdWords is a science (some would say an art!) all to itself and beyond the scope of this article. But keep in mind that these are paid ads and if you want to appear there you, too, will have to pay money. When you invest in ads on AdWords you are taking part in an auction. Every time a results page is displayed, an auction has taken place and the first, say, 5 links on the page (it will vary) will be the “winners” of that auction.

Now take another look at our page again, this time at the right-hand column. These are also ads, but this time they feature eye-catching images. Again, thoough, they are paid ads.

So, our example search results page has two areas where paid ads are featured. Every time someone clicks on one of these ads, the relevant website is visited.

That is paid traffic – you paid for an ad, someone saw the ad, they clicked the ad and visited your website.

Organic Traffic

Now browse a little further down the page, in the left-hand column. Remember that little “Ad” moniker? Once you reach a certain point in the page you will note that this doesn’t exist next to links.

Why? Well, they are not ads! So why are they displayed? Why does a website show up without paying for an ad? This is the power of “organic traffic”.

At a simplistic level, organic traffic come from the visitors arriving at your website clicking a link for which you did NOT pay. The traditional and most common form of organic traffic is a simple Internet search, as in our example page. When someone goes to Google (or Bing or others), enters a search term, sees a link to your site (which is NOT an ad) and clicks on that link….your organic traffic just increased by one!

The key question here is precisely why that link appeared in front of the visitor in the first place. You will no doubt have noticed that when you “google it”, the top of the page will usually include a number of ads. That is prime real estate and Google is as good as any company on the planet at monetizing web sites (such as their own)! So why would Google use any space on the paid for non-ads (“free” links)?

The answer lay in the value Google offers to folks who search. If all Google did was present ads, then it would soon lose real value to visitors, since the links listed would merely be for “he who pays the most”. Google addresses this by showing links it consider the most authoritative. Using a massively complex (and very well protected) algorithm, Google decides which web site may be valuable to the searcher. Those links generate organic traffic.

Which Is Best?

At a fundamental level, organic traffic is awesome! Through organic traffic, you receive visitors without paying a penny! What could be better?

Well, it’s not QUITE that simple.

Think about that example above, where someone searches online for “tents. That’s great when you show up – but of course you have competition.

When the user sees the results of the search he or she has a number of web sites from which to choose. If your website happens to be listed first then you are golden! A considerable number of people searching will click the first link . Rejoice in organic traffic!

If your site is second in the list you are still well set, but you won’t get as many clicks as the site in first place. Third receives even less and once you start showing up in fourth position or lower, the number of clicks falls off dramatically.

So, it’s obvious you need to be somewhere near the top of the list. And therein lies the problem!

Google doesn’t simply show your web site in the free links because it thinks you are a good guy! As we mentioned above, it does so because it thinks your site could be of value to the visitor.

Read that again – the link isn’t there because Google thinks that will help you, but because Google thinks it will be helpful to the person who entered the search term!

That is an ESSENTIAL aspect to understand. It’s not about you! It’s about the searcher.

There are techniques and principles you can use to improve the chances that your site will show up organically. This is a complex area (yes, SiteBagel can help you with that too!) but the term used to describe this is Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

SEO is complex and ever-changing. We’ll be looking at SEO in other articles but, for now, just remembers these important points.

  • Google decides when your site shows up in results pages, not you
  • For organic (non-paid) traffic, there are over 200 “ranking factors” that go into the complex decision Google makes about whether your website
  • Google looks at the “authority” of a site and tries to match search terms to good, useful and relevant authoritative sites.
  • Building that authority takes time. It’s essential to consider organic traffic as a key part of an overall “traffic strategy”, but don’t expect overnight results. Because it doesn’t work that way!

Summary

So where does all this leave the small business? When is organic traffic appropriate as the focus? And when is spending cold, hard-earned money justified for paid traffic.

If you have followed the core factors we have described, you should realize that a well-considered, balanced plan is a wise approach. Organic traffic is “free” in the sense that – once your site is established and has gained authority – you are not spending direct, immediate dollars to attract visitors through that channel. They find you, thanks to the authority that search engines have granted to your site.

And so organic traffic has many advantages, eventually. It takes time to establish that authority and ongoing effort to retain it.  The results of your efforts to establish authority are less direct, too. You don’t have immediate and unambiguous control over the keywords for which you rank and the dynamics of those keywords can also be highly variable, due to many the many ranking factors.

Organic traffic is therefore always a “work in progress”, subject to the nuances of how people search, what terms they use to search, your competitive landscape and many, many other factors. As such, organic traffic can be a considered the foundation of your traffic profile – after you have established your site authority you tend to it and maintain it and it will deliver a steady and hopefully growing stream of traffic to your site.

By comparison, paid traffic allow you a little more control. This is a gross oversimplification, but the more you spend the higher visibility. If you are willing to spend enough, you have a chance of appearing on pages for important search terms above much larger companies. However, a common tactic for small businesses is to target less-popular search terms – where the big boys may not play – and take your piece of the Internet pie.

In other articles, we’ll drill down more on how to increase organic traffic (think SEO) and when it might be justified t0 invest in paid ads.

In the meanwhile, if you have questions or would like to speak to SiteBagel about building a tailored strategy to grow traffic to your own website, just get in touch!

 

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