Why More Website Traffic Isn’t Always a Good Thing

It’s typical to get hung up on the number of “hits” your website is getting. But more traffic may not be what your site needs.

When starting a new search marketing campaign, it’s typical to get hung up on the number of “hits” your website is getting. But more traffic may not be what your site needs.

To demonstrate my point, I’m going to start with a short story about a fictitious new business owner named Larry. It may not seem like it at first, but this little anecdote has everything to do with search marketing and traffic.

So, on to Larry...

Imagine Larry is opening an organic pet food store in his hometown. The food is expensive, but it’s really high-quality and is 100% organic.

He's done his research and knows there’s a market for premium pet food in his area. And, so far, nobody’s filled that need. Larry's got a golden idea on his hands.

To market his new business, he has blanketed the entire town with flyers advertising his grand opening.

Larry’s basic message is this:


Come one, come all! Brand new pet food store opening in downtown Fakeville this weekend. Bring the whole family for free hot dogs, and pick up a bag of your pet’s favorite food while you’re here.

Larry knows the downtown is bustling on the weekend, so he's sure to get a lot of foot traffic too.

Finally, the big day arrives, and it looks like all his hard work has paid off. His store is overflowing with potential customers who are sure to take advantage of his exceptional pet food.

Only, nobody’s buying anything.

“Do you have any dog food that’s cheaper?” a customer asks.

“All our dog food is of the highest quality and is 100% organic!,” Larry says proudly. "It’s a little more expensive than the brands you'll find in most stores. But it’s definitely worth it!”

The customer shrugs his shoulders. “Too expensive for me,” he says and walks out the door with his free hot dog.

Larry’s a little taken aback by the conversation, but he figures that’s just one guys opinion. Until he starts talking to some of the other customers who all say pretty much the same thing.

By the end of the day, Larry has given away 200 free hot dogs and sold five bags of pet food. Not the “GRAND OPENING!!!” he had in mind.

Where did Larry go wrong?

Larry made two key mistakes while getting the word out about his business:

  1. His marketing message was vague. Larry passed out flyers for the grand opening of a pet food store. But he doesn’t sell typical pet food — he only sells expensive, organic food. The people that showed up to his grand opening didn’t know what they were getting into.
  2. He created an incentive for the wrong crowd. To entice people to show up to his grand opening, Larry offered free hot dogs. This kind of stunt is guaranteed to attract a crowd. But, when you only sell an expensive product, the “free food crowd” is probably not your best audience.

Larry got so caught up with the idea of attracting a horde of people to his new business that he neglected his target prospects — upper middle-class pet owners who are into the whole organic thing.

If he had made his marketing message more specific and had dropped the free hot dog offer, less people would have shown up. But he probably would have sold more pet food.

What does this have to do with search marketing?

Larry’s little misadventure illustrates how many newbies approach search marketing. They get so obsessed with bringing more traffic to their site that they neglect the traffic that really matters.

To drive this point home, let’s take Larry’s pet food business and put it online. Now Larry wants to attract traffic to his website, which is the primary goal in search marketing. To do that, he researches the keywords people are using to find pet food online and he uses that data to write a new page title and meta description for his homepage.

He makes the same mistake again with this message:

Buy Pet Food Online | Larry’s Shoppe

Buy pet food online from our brand new store. We’ll ship your pet’s favorite food anywhere in the US. Fast delivery guaranteed!

In the above example, Larry is targeting the keyword “buy pet food online.” Depending on how competitive the keyword is, and several other factors, Larry may rank well for this phrase and bring lots of traffic to his site. But, again, he’s not being specific about what he sells.

A vague page title and meta description like this may increase visits to his website. But how many of those visitors are hitting the back button as soon as they find out what he really sells? And how many of the right prospects are not clicking on his search result because they are looking for someone who specializes in organic pet food?

It’s safe to say that a site like this may get a lot of “hits” but will not sell a lot of pet food.

Larry would do better writing a page title and meta description like this:

Buy High-Quality, Organic Pet Food Online | Larry’s Shoppe

Shop our online store for high-quality, organic pet food. All our products are 100% certified organic and can be delivered anywhere is the US.

In this example, Larry is targeting a couple keywords: “organic pet food online” and “high quality organic pet food.” Search marketers have found that these longer, more specific keywords (i.e. long tail keywords) have a higher conversion rate because they catch people later in the buying cycle.

Larry might not get as much traffic with this search listing. But there’s a much higher probability that the people who click on his link are looking to buy.

So, should I just ignore my traffic?

Let’s not get crazy. The amount of traffic your website receives is still an important metric to track. I’m just suggesting you don’t make it the be-all and end-all of your campaign.

If you’re trying to get a general idea of how your website is performing, look at the amount of time visitors are spending on your site, how many pages they’re viewing, what content they like the most. And, most importantly, see how many visitors are converting.

The ultimate goal of your website is not to get more traffic. It’s to get more people to convert, whether that means filling out a form, submitting their email, or buying a product.

Don’t spend your time on everybody. Just the people that matter for your business.

Written by Jackson Armstrong on April 10th, 2014

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