It's easy to let SEO turn into a kind of game (AKA "Page View Marketing") where traffic is your score. When all you care about is traffic, the ends justify the means " it doesn't really matter what the page says or how it says it, because the metrics sheet speaks for itself, right? If you get a lot of page views, you've won the game.

This is a nave view of SEO. The point of optimizing your site for search is not to get more traffic per se, but to meet your business goals. Traffic may be one of those goals, but unless your site exists solely to monetize one-time visitors (we call these sites MFAs or Made For AdSense), it really shouldn't be your main goal. Don't lose sight of what your real goals are, or should be:

  • Sales: If you're running a business, traffic is only valuable insofar as it converts. Ad revenue is rarely a sustainable business model.
  • Brand: Especially in this era of social media, the way people think and talk about your brand really, really matters. Traffic-getting measures that harm your brand are just not worth it.
  • Engagement: A page view ain't nothing but a page view unless the body behind it gets enough out of your content to engage with it " leaving a comment, sharing it, clicking around to see what else you have to offer, or taking a defined action.
  • Loyalty: Repeat traffic is obviously more valuable than drive-by traffic. You want to develop a core, consistent audience, and learn what they want, so you can deliver it.

Every time you brainstorm for content ideas, you should ask yourself how a given piece of content will contribute to these goals. If it promises traffic and no other value, why are you doing it?

To illustrate my point, let's look at a few high-traffic posts from the WordStream blog and how they've contributed to our overall business goals.

Post #1: Poll: Scott Brown to Win Massachusetts US Senate Race by a Landslide

Scott Brown linkbait

This post was pretty much classic link bait. Our founder Larry Kim decided to do a "social media poll" of an upcoming election and publish the results, since he thought they indicated an upset. Because he was betting against the Massachusetts favorite (a Democrat), it was a controversial post. So we pinged a bunch of political and news sites and even sent out a press release. The results were awesome " lots of page views and lots of new links in a very short time period. (Incidentally, Larry was right " Scott Brown won.)

However, what the post did not excel at was conversions. Only two visitors to the page, out of about 6,700, completed a goal, for a conversion rate of 0.03%.

Post #2: Link Bait Case Study: How We Got a Link from the New York Times

linkbait how to

This post was an attempt to make conversion lemonade out of traffic lemons (um, sort of?). Or, at least, it was an attempt to ride the link bait wave a little longer. We wrote about the above link bait " the plan, the process, the results. The great thing about this post is that it's much more relevant to our audience. Although the first post had a relevant angle (analyzing social media metrics), it was mostly a political post, and a lot of the visitors showed up because they were interested in the senate race, not because they were interested in Internet marketing. The case study on it, however, is directly relevant to our core audience. It got a lot of traffic " about 2/3 the amount the original link bait got " but a lot more conversions. At 34 goals completed, it was responsible for 17 times the number of conversions, but admittedly, this is still less than a 1% conversion rate.

Post #3: SEO Title Tag Formulas: How to Create High Performance Title Tags

title tag how to

This how-to post continues to bring in search engine traffic more than a year after it was written. This is potentially even more relevant to our core audience " small businesses doing search marketing " because the average SMB marketer is strapped for time and will probably focus on SEO and PPC basics before cooking up link bait schemes. So it focuses on a more attainable goal and lays out a very specific process for achieving it. This post has received over 11,000 page views since we launched it in August 2009, and nearly 200 goal completions, for a conversion rate of nearly 2%.

The lesson here: Link bait does work if you want to see a spike in traffic and inbound links quickly, but it requires lots of planning, and luck too " if no one picks up on your post, those resources are pretty much wasted. For most businesses, it makes more sense to focus on keyword-optimized, evergreen content of high relevance to your audience. Those are the posts that will continue to drive traffic and actual leads as time goes on.

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is the Senior Content Development Manager at WordStream, a provider of Internet marketing software, including AdWords management tools and a Keyword Research Suite.

WordStream Internet Marketing Blog

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6 Responses to “Traffic Isn't Everything: Using SEO and Content Marketing to Hit the Numbers that Matter”

  1. TomDemers says:

    Awesome post Elisa! Lots of times you seen non-CPM models get obsessed with traffic and page views or other KPIs that aren't tied closely to sales and developing actual business – using leading indicators that aren't hard sales is definitely useful but it's important to stick to things that are actual indicators into the back of the funnel that actually drives business.

    Great post thanks for this!


    • Elisa says:

      Thanks Tom! Yeah, viral-type content is great if you want an influx of links, but often it's not the best use of a marketer's time.

      • Ruud Hein says:

        We've found that viral-type content has some strategic purposes: conversion isn't one of them.

        As a tool it has its place but aiming for viral is a little bit like wanting to be the coolest kid at high school: it's fun if it happens to you but really rather useless in the larger scale of things :)

  2. Courtney says:

    I love the case study nature of this post! Thanks for sharing your experience as a real world example of the difference between traffic and the right kind of traffic.

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