10 October 2007 ~ 10 Comments

Traffic Delusion and Social Networking Insanity

“Advertising only accelerates the inevitable” –Roy H. Williams

Traffic... MyPreciousIn Roy’s practice, advertising builds brands and drives traffic for his offline clients. Roy cautions his clients not to get ahead of themselves. If all the traffic (read: visitors) he drives get what they expected, then the business grows organically from repeat customers and word-of-mouth. If these visitors don’t get what they want, their lackluster experience will erode the brand. In other words, they would be refilling a leaky bucket with new traffic. Unfortunately, the supply of new traffic is never unlimited.

Jeffrey Eisenberg likes to ask, “Are you paying your marketers to make promises that your business has no intention of keeping?”

On the Web, how much traffic is enough?

If your site has a few thousand visitors a month, what would you do with a few thousand per day? Sadly, with average conversion rates barely hovering in the low single digits for most markets, for most of us, a sudden boost of traffic would do little more than squander our audience. In fact, we’d simply do it faster. When your funnel leaks like a sieve, do you really want to turn on the fire hose? Conventional wisdom on the Internet says ‘yes,’ but I challenge you to ask yourself if that’s wise, or just more convenient.

Bryan touched on this topic yesterday, and Robert Scoble, Dave Winer and the Guardian are debating the concept over at Techmeme. Scoble claims he wants a “smart” audience, not a “big” audience. (Sounds like he’s found conversion.) He can model a smart audience, plan an experience for them, then measure and improve upon that plan. A big audience — just for the sake of winning the Web’s version of “Best Looking” superlative (technically speaking, of course 😉 ) — I’d imagine leaves him with the same void some people feel when they grow up, only to realize they’d peaked in high school.

Let’s contrast this with a story I read in yesterday’s Internet Retailer. Our friend Dustin Robertson from Backcountry.com has been experimenting with one of their brands on MySpace. They’ve spent a year, added 3,000 friends, and still can’t find a correlation (forget causality) between MySpace and sales. He acknowledges the experiment costs only a few hundred bucks per month, so their current plan is to keep it going.

Typically, when I hear things like this, Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind (or Franklin’s or Twain’s, depending on who you believe originally uttered the quote). In this case, though, it’s more a symptom of the low relative cost of doing business online, and the large numbers the ‘net provides. We’ll happily chase our tails on the logic that we only need a small success to realize the value of a home run.

Funny. Given that thinking, I’m surprised more people don’t take the, “If we build it, they will come” approach to traffic. Of course, that only works if you build what visitors want, and give it to them the way they want it. Do that, and you just may be amazed at how much profit you can squeeze out of the traffic that stops by for a visit.

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