The case for traffic
Good retailers and restaurants spend a huge amount of time staking out the perfect spot for their new openings. According the experts ‘location, location, location’ is the single most important decision a new proprietor can make for their business.
Because footfall matters to retail businesses. A lot.
If nobody passes by the shop, let alone enters it, how will they ever hope to sell something to them?
Why am I talking about footfall and retail in a post on content marketing?
Because I too often read or hear about traffic being a vanity metric for businesses that invest in content marketing.
And it’s just plain wrong, just like it would be incorrect to say footfall is a vanity metric for retail.
Of course, getting the right people is as important as getting a certain number of bodies, and sales are the ultimate arbiter for marketing success, but traffic does matter. It’s not a vanity metric in the same way Facebook likes are.
If you grow your footfall/traffic in the right way, you should see it cause an increase in sales over time too.
Engagement isn’t time-on-site
Everyone seems in agreement that engagement is the key thing we should be measuring, as a way to indicate we’re doing the right things prior to a sale being made, which could have a long cycle that is harder to tie back directly to our content marketing efforts (though not impossible).
While engagement may be a key metric for media companies, if you’re content marketing with a commercial intent i.e. with a product or service to sell, then using dwell time as a key metric seems wrong to me.
As a store owner you wouldn’t pat yourself on the back for finding people who visit the store but just stay and browse for hours without buying anything. Surely you’d prefer a high volume of people who come in, find what they’re looking for, buy it and leave again.
Ideally they’ll be so pleased they tell their friends about the no-fuss, easy experience of purchase and will revisit themselves in the future.
Compare that to how we often see commentators talking about content marketing and you’d think our main aim is to find those browsers and high-five when we’ve gotten them to hang around for longer.
In reality, a company that has long dwell times on their site – blog or otherwise – might actually find it’s an indicator your visitors are not able to find what they’re looking for. In other words it’s actually a negative indicator and something you should look to fix.
If you want to assess engagement, it’s much better to look at actions your visitor has taken such as social shares, rather than things like bounce rate and time-on-site.
What we should be measuring
In reality we should care about growing targeted traffic because it’s the best metric for giving us a high level, early indicator we’re successfully building awareness with our target audience. It’s giving us more people to sell to.
If you want to be really careful with this, then you could choose to focus only on growing traffic from organic and social referrals, to avoid counting spam traffic and random spikes that come from direct. This still isn’t perfect as Google obfuscates a lot of legitimate traffic referrals into ‘direct,’ but that’s your call.
So what should we be measuring? I’d suggest this, though it will vary from business to business:
(Organic/Social) Traffic -> Social Shares -> Downloads/Subscribers/Leads (for longer, B2B sales cycles) -> Sales
None of them tell the full story by themselves – not even sales – what matters is their relationship with one another. Are they are all growing in a similar rate? Has one suddenly dropped off versus everything else (indicating a conversion issue)? Did something spike when you didn’t expect it to, and if so why? Did the spike push up your other key metrics?
Next time you read that traffic is a vanity metric, and how you should focus instead on engagement (as measured by time-on-site), consider whether this is really what you want to be doing as a commercial enterprise.
I’d suggest that you want to grow your ‘footfall’ of prospective buyers, check they like what they see as measured by how much they share with their friends, and whether they go on to buy.
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