The overarching reason why companies and individuals create an online presence is to drive traffic to their little piece of the World Wide Web. The end goal — whether to sell something, share information, connect, etc. – might be different, but everyone is after the same thing: people coming to their website. Of course, driving the kind of traffic you are looking for to your website is no easy task and there is no simple solution. Even if you have a nice budget to spend on display ads, PPC, etc., that is not a sustainable model for web success.
Generating traffic, through paid and organic means, is obviously the key to any online strategies success; however, it is only one piece of the puzzle and should be looked at from a higher-level, holistic perspective. So the question becomes: where does one start in regards to a traffic generation strategy? It starts with having a comprehensive and cohesive strategy that takes into account the underlining goals of why you built the website in the first place. Once you have established your goals you can start to look at the big picture, which can be broken into 3 parts: Traffic, Conversion and Retention. As I have said, driving traffic is only one piece of the puzzle; a website also needs to look at how to increase conversions (however they are defined) and, most importantly, how to keep visitors coming back. This “big picture” traffic generation strategy should be the focus of every website and is what I call the Traffic, Conversion, Retention (TCR) Lifecycle.
Before getting into the actual details of what the TCR Lifecycle entails there is one core component of the strategy that is almost always overlooked – web analytics. Throughout my 10 years within the digital marketing landscape I have seen one common mistake repeated over and over by online properties when it comes to analyzing their web traffic – if they even do that much. Without fail, companies tend to look at their web analytics data narrowly, focusing on a singular or limited data set — usually involving visits and / or page views — instead of looking at and understanding the complete visitor profile. The brilliance of web analytics, when installed, set-up and analyzed correctly, is that a company can get insight into every aspect of a visitor’s engagement with a website. Companies tend to miss out on some key data points that can and should inform all aspects of a business in regards to their digital strategy.
The ideal way to look at web analytics when it comes to traffic is from beginning to end – the complete traffic cycle. Quite simply this means looking at how a visitor arrives at your website (referral), what they do and where they go once they arrive (pathing analysis), and, of course, where they go once they leave (loss report). I can’t emphasize enough how crucial this information is when it comes to any successful digital strategy. How can a website owner make any changes, additions, redesigns or anything else without first understanding what their visitor is actually looking for / doing? Get your data in order and then base any and all digital strategy decisions on that information. In my experience any company that starts to look at their web data correctly always finds some enlightening insight into their online business and is always better off because of it. Web analytics should be at the top of the list for companies when it comes to building a successful web property.
Of course, web analytics are only useful if you actually have traffic to analyze and this is where the TCR Lifecycle comes in. Let me break down each area of the strategy individually:
Generating website traffic is obviously the main goal when building a web property – how much traffic is needed can vary, but at the end of the day you need and want people coming to your website. Web traffic can come from numerous sources: email marketing, referrals, paid search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Optimization, widgets / gadgets, RSS / mRSS, display advertisements, affiliate marketing, word of mouth marketing, content syndication / partnerships, press releases, standard advertisements, brand recognition, etc. Obviously the list of ways you can drive traffic, both free and paid, is endless. This means that a web property should not, and doesn’t need to, rely on one singular method for generating traffic. Generating web traffic, via paid and organic means, is a topic all by itself and one that I will cover in a later post. What online marketers should focus on is the type of traffic that is coming to their website. Of course any visitor is a good visitor, right? Maybe, but wouldn’t you want a visitor that is ready and willing to consume whatever it is your website offers? Take a content website that monetizes through display ads (and therefore is focusing on ad impressions). Let’s do some quick math. What is more valuable to a content website: 100,000 drive-by visitors who consume 1.25 pages per visit or 50,000 engaged visitors who consume 5 pages per visit? The answer should be obvious. Unless you are using a 1-page website you want visitors engaged with your website and spending serious time within your domain walls.
Conversions can mean different things to different people. The standard way of defining a conversion is through an e-commerce model where there is a specific action – like buying something. However, a conversion – in regards to the TCR Lifecycle – can mean a website visitor taking whatever action that is tied to the overall strategy of your website. Is the goal to gain x amount of page views in order sell display advertising? Sign up for an email newsletter? Watch videos? Whatever the reason why you want people to visit your website should be looked at as a conversion. By defining the main goal of your website as a conversion, this enables you to clearly focus on the website strategies. So, of course, the question becomes: how do you increase conversions? Putting aside product websites, because that requires a whole different line of thinking, there are various basic elements on which you can focus. First and foremost comes the user-interface: can visitors find what they are looking for? This might seem like a very basic question but how many times have you gone to a website that doesn’t make it easy for you to find what you are looking for? A website needs to focus on the core elements of its UI, like: navigation, design, site search and, of course, the content itself. Every visitor will navigate differently and a website needs to take each and every method into consideration.
Another core element of conversions is of course tied to web analytics. In order to increase conversions you need to understand what your visitors are doing, where they are going, what they are looking for and where they leave your site. Looking at the pathing analysis will tell you where your website needs improvement, where there might be gaps / issues and what the visitor didn’t find. The visitor is the only person that matters when it comes to building and designing a website – some of the most popular and effective websites aren’t the fanciest or prettiest but they get the job done and that is all that matters. Again, it all starts with the data.
Retention is the end goal of the TCR Lifecycle strategy. Retention goes hand in hand with both traffic and conversions and is easily defined in its simplest form as getting visitors to come back to a website. More specifically, giving visitors a reason to come back to your website. Each and every one of the top online destinations has one thing in common: they offer content / information / products that keep people coming back. These repeat visitors are your most valuable asset as they are engaged in your brand / website and their loyalty is worth more than 10 times the same amount of drive-by traffic. Easier said than done, right? Actually, reaching your retention goals comes down to a few basic points and the time / effort you are willing to put into them. First and foremost, you have to give your visitors what they want. Is the topic of your website clearly defined? Does a visitor understand what you do the minute they land on your website? If you are a website that covers news, have comprehensive current news. If your website sells a product, have all of the related products and information readily available. Online users are looking for the quickest and easiest way to access their information; they aren’t trying to visit as many websites as possible looking for one thing. Give them what they want and they will keep coming back.
The next piece of a retention strategy is how you communicate with your visitors after they leave your website. Do you get them to sign up for an email newsletter or RSS feed? Do you have social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook so that they can engage with your brand? Do you blog? Do you provide content available for mobile devices? There are endless ways for a website to communicate with their visitors once they leave your website. It is not only important to continue those lines of communications but to also have a strategy behind it. Do not start a blog if you aren’t going to invest the time and effort to keep it updated. Do not send out emails unless you have something of interest to say or offer. As easy as it is for someone to come back to your website, it is just as easy for them not to come back to your website.
I feel like a broken record, but it is that important that it needs to be repeated: the foundation of the TCR Lifecycle, and any other digital marketing strategy, should revolve around web analytics. Without correct data you are just spinning your wheels and hoping for the best. In today’s online landscape, where anyone can create a blog or product website about any topic, selling any product, in minutes, it is critical to understand the entire picture, from start to finish and learn how to maximize every aspect of your web property.
The TCR Lifecycle that was developed can be translated in many different ways and varies depending on the digital strategy being used. But, at its foundation, it speaks to the entire visitor experience…from arrival, to visitation and return. Drive smarter traffic, build a better website, focus on the visitor and give them the reason to keep coming back.