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Case Study: Which Source of Web Traffic Converts the Best?

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m trying to tell you not to do something I did for years. Obsess over traffic. Or at least traffic volume.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, traffic isn’t important, targeted traffic is. In this post I’m going to give you some very specific results that show how much you would be missing if you focused solely on traffic volume and not at the type of traffic you are getting.

You see, the week before last as an experiment I spent 3 hours on 12 different traffic strategies. I measured the time spent, the volume of traffic that resulted, and the conversions (signups to my free business reporting app).

In this post I’m going to reveal all of the numbers in detail, convince you of the importance of getting serious about delving further into Google Analytics and hopefully even give you some traffic ideas.

The Experiment

My new startup is a web app that simplifies website stats called Web Control Room. Since I want people to sign up for it I dreamed up 12 different ways I could go about getting some traffic and I measured the strategies using the Advanced Segments in Analytics.

All of these strategies other than Google Adwords were free.

3 Important Notes:

  1. I also use other strategies for generating traffic that I didn’t spend time on during the period, but they haven’t been included in this post.
  2. Since the sample size is small, this isn’t really an end all, be all case study. Just an interesting and fun experiment.
  3. While the “conversion” in this experiment is to track email opt-ins for a pre-launch, the emails don’t necessarily mean that they will eventually become a user, paying customer, etc. In the end, you’ll need to determine what the most important stat to track conversion really is for your project (most likely paying customers or email subscribers).

The 12 Strategies

Here is a list of the 12 things I spent time on for the experiment with a brief description of each. I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments about these.

  1. Adwords – I wasted spent $380 and around 3 hours configuring and setting up 3 different Adwords campaigns. This was partly to test the traffic but also partly to test different messages to see what appealed to the customer.
  2. Guest Content – During the period, two of my guest posts were published (one on Problogger and one on Click Newz). I had actually written these a few weeks earlier but they took around 3 hours to write.
  3. Twitter auto follow – I set up Tweet Adder to auto follow anyone who followed my main competitors. I also set it to unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow me within 7 days and direct message everyone who follows me with a message letting them know about the app. I did this on my secondary twitter account so I didn’t clog up my main personal one. This took about 20 minutes (I already owned Tweet Adder).
  4. Blog ads – I made a deal with the new owner of my recently sold blog that I would provide some content to him and in return he would keep the links on the site to Web Control Room and put a big ad on the site for the app. I spent a few hours on the ad and on a ghost written guest post on the site (not yet published).
  5. Email newsletter – I have my own email list with about 2000 subscribers and also have the list of people who have already signed up for my app. During the week I sent out an email to my list (not about the app) and one to the app list about a new version. I wasn’t expecting many conversions from the app list since they are pretty much all current users.
  6. Podcast – I started a podcast where I didn’t specifically talk about my app, but it came up naturally in conversation.
  7. Social media – I generally spend 3 hours+ on social media sites in one way or another so I didn’t do too much extra in this regard. I’ve tracked the traffic that came through the major social platforms that I am active on (Facebook and Twitter mainly, Pinterest when I’m really distracted!).
  8. Free forums – I posted 5 posts in a forum that I’ve been a member in for a long time, posted 2 more in the Warrior forum, and signed up to 2 new forums and posted introductory threads. The posts in the older forums didn’t mention my app but I have signatures that do. The intro posts I mentioned it where I could (tried on sitepoint but got a warning).
  9. Onsite content / SEO – I wrote an article on metrics for podcasters and then spent some time analyzing keywords and doing some onsite optimization for the ‘podcast statistics’ keyword. I then did a little bit of link building including adding some internal links, a few blog comments on other blogs with a focus on commentLuv blogs, and a forum post on the Apple forums.
  10. Videos – I went slightly overboard with the videos. It took me a while to do my first and then after I’d done one I wanted to do all of the major topics I’d covered on my blog. So I spent 5 hours and 45 minutes and produced 5 videos in total (around 35 minutes). Here is an example.
  11. Blog commenting – I spent 3 hours finding and commenting on blogs (generally commentLuv blogs). I left 31 comments on 29 different blogs (this is in addition to the commenting for the SEO above).
  12. Quora – I spent 3 hours in total on Quora, first reading this Kiss Metrics article then signing into my old inactive account, configuring my profile and adding my links, following lots of people from my networks, following about 20 boards and 5-10 questions then submitting answers to about 16 questions. Some very detailed like this one and some slightly tongue in cheek like this one.

The 8 Worst Performers

8 of the traffic strategies got zero conversions. These are listed here in order of traffic volume.

  • Adwords visits: 268 (cost $380 – ouch!)
  • Email newsletter visits: 28
  • Blog commenting visits: 11
  • Blog advertising deal visits: 9
  • Podcast visits: 9
  • Content /SEO: 41 (visits to podcasting stats article)
  • Quora visits: 3
  • Video visits: 1 (from Youtube)

It’s worth mentioning a few things about the stats above:

First off, I’m no Adwords guru and I’m sure that my campaign could have been optimized much better. I think it nonetheless demonstrates how dangerous Adwords can be if you are just looking at traffic volume.

With my podcast I don’t have any specific call to action in the show to a specific trackable page so the only way I have of measuring this is the referral traffic from the podcast site. This really isn’t a very accurate measure so I will be adding a call to action to a trackable page to test this further.

In regards to the video traffic, I uploaded these videos to a brand new Youtube account and didn’t do anything to promote them other than Tweeted them out once. Building any kind of traffic strategy via YouTube would be a much more long term endeavour.

Having said all of that, I think these numbers certainly gave me enough information to make some changes and work out where I want to spend the majority of my time.

The 4 Best Performers

Fourth best on my list was guest blogging. The total traffic was 46 visits and there were 2 conversions giving me a conversion rate of 4.35%. This is lower than I expected. I thought in particular that the Problogger post would generate more traffic.

Third on my list was the forum participation. From the forums I only got 28 visits but I also got 2 conversions giving me a conversion rate of 7.14%. With only 28 visits it’s hard to know how accurate this is but that conversion rate is very high so I will pursue this more and see if this remains true.

Second on my list was social media. This is a bit of a tricky one to measure because the traffic from social media generally comes to the site because of my onsite content efforts (which I measure separately) so there is some overlap there. However, I do know that the traffic from social media in this particular case was not for my podcasting article so I’ve included it as a separate source. In total there were 40 visits from social media and 3 conversions at 7.5%. Interestingly while Twitter referred the most visitors, all of the signups came from Facebook.

Finally in first place to my amazement was the Twitter auto follower strategy which referred 104 visits and 6 conversions (at 5.77%). This was the one I spent by far the least amount of time on so I’m extremely interested to continue to test with this to see what else I can do here.

What I Learned

First of all I’m not going to pursue a few of the techniques anymore; particularly blog commenting, Adwords and Quora. While the sample size is small, I’m comfortable enough with it to decide that there are better ways to spend my time / money.

In terms of onsite content I will probably continue to produce content that can give me other benefits (engaging my audience, helping customers, etc.) and not see it so much as a short term traffic strategy. However, I am still a big fan of onsite content as a long term traffic strategy and if I look at all of the articles I have written on the site to date and the amount of traffic I am getting for those it shows that it is still a good way to generate traffic long term (albeit at a comparatively low conversion rate).

I’m going to monitor the blog advertising deal and if that doesn’t improve I’ll probably discontinue that. I’m also going to embed a specific offer into my podcast to see how well that converts. I have heard from friends who are podcasters that their show is their highest converting traffic source so I’m keen to test this properly.

I was very surprised that the Twitter auto follower strategy converted so well. The best part about that is it runs 24 / 7 without me doing anything but there is some risk associated with it and once you start following 2,000 people the Twitter rules kick in making it a much slower process. Nonetheless I’ve got some ideas on how I might go about scaling this strategy a bit.

I’m going to be experimenting more with different social media channels, perhaps do some individual tests with Pinterest, delve into Facebook more, and possibly look at LinkedIn groups. I may even look at paid Facebook ads if the Facebook conversions hold up with more traffic.

I’ll also be allocating specific time each week to forums and guest blogging given the results I got here.

Your Turn

I’d love to know what you think of this experiment and any of the traffic strategies mentioned.

Where is your best traffic coming from?



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