If your website could talk, would it confess: "Hi, I'm ABC.com and I'm an addict?" While there may not be a 12-step program for websites, there are addicts who need some guidance. In this case, we're talking paid (SEM) and organic (SEO) traffic from the major search engines. Sites hooked on these "rented" sources of traffic live in perpetual fear that the lifeblood of their business model -- namely, visitors -- will be abruptly severed by decisions made well beyond their control.
Never before has this fear been as pronounced as it is today, due to Google's Panda and Penguin, Microsoft's fluid BingAds policies, and the looming opt-out date of the Yahoo-Bing search alliance. These algorithms are evolving the search engine landscape at an ever frenetic pace. Consequently, sites reliant on search engines to fuel their visits, usage and monetization have experienced a maddening series of unpredictable stops and starts. When you place ads on search engines or temporarily use a channel or ad space to get your message out, you're renting your audience. Essentially, you're borrowing your audience from the search engine or another traffic source.
The answer to this addiction, which is far easier said than done, is an intervention: a fundamental shift from renting an audience to owning one. Controlling your site's destiny, as determined by the source mix of your traffic, is an almost binary arbiter between failure and success. Owning an audience can mean different things, from building a loyal base of users who patronize your site through bookmarks or direct type in the address bar, to an email database of registered users who have opted-in to receive correspondence from your site. Regardless, the principal concept is a shift in the reliance on search engine traffic (organic or paid) to traffic that comes from other efforts focused on driving traffic directly to your site.
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As a starting point, it's critical to understand where your site traffic is coming from (i.e. your traffic source mix), and the relative percentages of each vis-à-vis total traffic. If you don't have visibility into your site's traffic mix, Google Analytics is a free and easy reporting tool to implement. Other solutions exist, but most come with a price tag. As a loose rule of thumb, a healthy percentage of traffic coming directly to your site (from direct URL entry, bookmarks and email marking to your registered list) is 30%+, with 20% representing an acceptable floor. In addition to traffic, it's critical that you measure the efficacy of the traffic sources, as measured by engagement stats such bounce rate, time on site, page views and revenue per visit.
The work required to execute against this crucial initiative requires blood, sweat and, in many cases, money. This is the foundational post upon which we'll delve into the execution of building, nurturing and monetizing owned audiences, as well as measuring the ROI on those efforts. Please stay tuned...
(Image: scottchan via freedigitalphotos.net)