Traffic: Is it Time for a Rethink?

Since I started my online business, I have always worked on the basis that visitors (traffic) would find my site via the search engines through the natural (organic) search results. At one stage, I did try PPC (pay per click) for a while, but for me the conversions simply did not make it an economically viable method of generating traffic.

So I learned all about internet marketing. How to target keyword phrases that people type into our friend (Ms G) and learned that it was very possible for me to achieve what I considered to be very good rankings for all kinds of terms. Received wisdom, at least within internet marketing circles, is that you should target keyword terms with sufficient traffic and low enough competition in order to rank well (the essence of what was called Bum Marketing).

However, recently, I have begun to wonder whether deliberately targeting keywords is the right strategy for increasing traffic to my site and, in this article, I would like to present my rationale for deciding to move in a different direction. Firstly, let’s take a look at what percentage of traffic you might expect to receive from a page #1 Google ranking. People are not entirely agreed about the subject, but we can look at data from a number of sources.

For the purposes of this article, I have aggregated data from by a number of sources (Optify, Chikita, AOL and MWStats) to arrive at my graph below:

It looks like an exponential decay curve so, although the data has been collected through the research of the above organisations, intuitively, the shape of the graph looks right to me though there is clearly a slight anomaly in the figures arrived at using the aggregation method since the actual figures add up to just over 100% for all of the traffic on the first two pages.

However, what we can clearly see from even a cursory look at the data is that on page #2, you can expect around 1% of traffic at very best and below page #2, you will get hardly any traffic from the keyword you are targeting. This is obviously why people want their sites to rank on page #1 for their targeted terms and why so many marketers are still stuck with the old Bum Marketing mindset.

Let me see if I can illustrate why I think the whole Bum Marketing approach may now be the wrong strategy for the present state of the web. Let’s use an article I wrote recently as an example. Today, if I type 360 degree assessments into Google, I find my article ranked #22 in the Google US results and #8 in the Google UK results. Notice that my rank is better in the UK because I have a .co.uk domain. That can be a very useful little tip right there i.e. you will stand a better chance of ranking within the country for which your domain is targeted.

If you go to the Google Keyword Tool, you can easily check how much traffic that search term received per month. By the way, if you use this tool, make sure you check the ‘exact match’ option or you will get inaccurate results for the keyword you are researching. I remember once getting very excited about ranking on page #1 for a keyword phrase that apparently had about 12 million searches per month. Of course, when I checked ‘exact match’ I discovered that it really only received about 2000 searches per month, so don’t make that mistake.

We can see from the Google tool that the term ‘360 degree assessments’ receives 1900 searches per month globally and 390 searches locally (UK) – figures are accurate at the time of writing. So, if my article is in position #8 in the UK SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages), what traffic and revenue can I expect from that article? It’s simple arithmetic. Position #8 gets 5% according to our aggregated stats, so 5% of 390 local searches is an extra 20 visitors per month. Interestingly if you work on the global figures, the arithmetic also yields the same figure.

Now something I have not done until comparatively recently was to work out the value of a visitor to my site. It is a very easy calculation. You just divide your total monthly revenue by the number of visitors you get in a month. As it turns out my visitor value figure is 1 penny (UK currency). Just as a quick aside, you really should do this calculation for yourself before you ever start thinking about paying for traffic. So the value of those additional 20 visitors per month is £0.20 per month in additional income, provided, of course, that the article remains at position #8 in the SERPS.

If the article were in position #1 in the Google UK SERPS, I should get (40% of 390) x 0.01 = £1.56 per month additional incremental income. If the article were in position #1 for Google worldwide (i.e. all engines) the article would be worth an additional £7.57 in monthly incremental income. This example illustrates the importance of ranking in position #1 for your keywords. You can easily see there is a big difference between being on page #1 (as I often am) and in position #1.

So much for conventional thinking. Now for a bit of unconventional thinking. When I was researching for this article, I typed the following phrase into Google ‘traffic page 1’ and in the UK engine, I was surprised to find one of my own pages ranking right there on page #1 in position #4 for that term; a term for which I have never deliberately attempted to rank. There is no data in the Google keyword tool for the amount of searches that term receives so that means it receives very little. But being in position #4, I would get one in ten of people who do type the term into Google.

Now stay with me here – I said this would be a bit unconventional. Here are two interesting quotes that I would like you to think about:

In a 2004 presentation on Challenges in Running a Commercial Web Search Engine [PDF] Google’s Amit Singhal mentioned that out of over 200 million unique daily search queries seen by Google over 100 million are unique.

On May 16, 2007, at the Searchology event, Google’s Udi Manber stated that 20 to 25% of the queries that Google sees in any given day are queries that they have never seen before. Matt Cutts later clarified this data point, saying that it is accurate if you look back through the most recent month’s queries.

Source: Google Ranking Value

Of course, those two quotes are a little old, but I find it astonishing that, in 2007, around 20% of monthly queries had never been seen before. The point is that Google has to rank some pages for those terms and, although neither you nor anyone else tried to get that rank, nevertheless someone has to be there and that is part of the reason that my site turns up on page #1 for the term ‘traffic page 1’.

The fact is that most people find my site by searching for information using a myriad terms for which I never deliberately optimised. That undoubtedly means that I will have position #1 rankings for all kinds of low traffic terms that I just don’t know about and that traffic all adds up. For these reasons, I shall no longer be paying attention to how much traffic a particular keyword gets. I’ll leave other people to do the Bum Marketing thing and target keywords that keep them out of my way.

Meanwhile, I will be writing and choosing my titles for human beings. I will be doing my thing and I will be content with the fact that Google values my site enough to continually pop me into page #1 for all kinds of terms that I don’t know about, especially when she is short of quality information.

2 thoughts on “Traffic: Is it Time for a Rethink?

  1. Melissa from Quotes for a friend

    I agree with you on most things. I have noticed too that certain pages of mine will rank for keywords that I had no idea about. Unfortunately for me those keywords come with very little traffic but I do know what you mean. Over time it all adds up. Adding quality content is king 🙂

  2. Martin Capodici

    I agree! I find I get a lot of traffic from search terms I would never have imagined. These are real long tail keywords and happen by fluke where they have searched for something and I have matched different parts of the search. I guess the trick is often to just write something unique and helpful (and reasonably long) and you will hit a lot of long tail keywords. The keywords don’t exist until someone types them in, after all!

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