How do you get visitors to your website? What pitfalls do you need to avoid when buying traffic so you don't get ripped off?
The internet can provide instantaneous mass marketing capabilities unimagined only two decades ago. It allows you to reach millions of prospective clients in less time than it takes to submit an ad to traditional media.
Little wonder that in 2006 U.S. internet advertising revenue was over $16 billion and in 2007 accounted for approximately 5% of total U.S. advertising spending. Contrast this with the early days of traditional mass advertising: according to some estimates, the entire U.S. in 1880 spent about $200 million in advertising. (Of course, many things were different and less complicated in those days. For one thing, they didn't have spam telegrams. I doubt if anyone ever got a telegram, saying, "Congratulations! You've just won a fully-loaded donkey with a 5-speed saddle massager." I could be wrong. But this is a whole different topic.)
Unlike running ads in traditional newspapers and magazines, on the net you can buy "traffic" (a.k.a "hits" or visitors) from "traffic wholesalers" and "Pay Per Click" (PPC) search engines. With the former you're guaranteed an agreed-upon number of hits, with the latter you pay for each visitor when and if you get traffic.
Some caution needs to be taken when buying from traffic wholesalers, though. A considerable amount of traffic sold by wholesalers is "popup" and "popunder" (windows that pop either over or under websites). Most browsers today have popup blockers, making such promotions extremely ineffective. So find out whether they have "real" traffic (which usually comes from expired domains) before buying.
You also need to watch out for "program generated traffic:" this is outright fraud. There are software that make it look like you're getting traffic when in fact you're getting no visitors. So, a good approach is to buy a small amount of traffic first, then buy larger amounts only if the smaller one works out.
You'll usually find 2 types of traffic sold by wholesalers: "targeted" and "untargeted." Targeted traffic is broken down by categories, which allows you to choose traffic related to your business. Untargeted traffic, which is usually a lot cheaper, is of a general, non-specific nature. You may be tempted to buy the cheaper type, but be aware that trying to sell to untargeted traffic can be like trying to sell hubcaps to the Amish. If you feel that lucky, just buy a lottery ticket.
"Pay Per Click" (PPC) search engine (SE) traffic works differently. With an SE, like google or yahoo, you first open an account and deposit a token amount of money, usually $25 to $100. This amount normally goes toward eventual clicks you expect to get.
You can then set up numerous ads, none of which costs you money. You pay for each click only when and if you get traffic. If done properly, SE traffic can turn into an excellent ROI (return on investment).
Unfortunately, here, too, you have to watch out for fraud, which is usually perpetrated by individuals rather than by SE's themselves.
To avoid getting ripped off by PPC traffic, it's important to understand how SEs work. When you do a search on google.com, for example, you'll notice two sections on the results page. One, the wide listings in the middle and, two, the "sponsored links" on the right side. The listings in the middle are free, the sponsored links on the right are PPC. Every time you click an ad on the right side it costs the advertiser money.
Anyone with a website can open an account with google (or many other SEs) and place sponsored links on their website. They then get paid by Google every time a visitor clicks on these links. Google, in turn, charges the advertiser for every click.
Fraud comes in when a webmaster himself clicks on ads on his own site. This can become quite costly for the advertiser if the webmaster uses one of the programs available that simulate clicks, giving the appearance of heavy traffic.
It's therefore best to stick with the major SEs, since they're apt to have more sophisticated fraud detecting programs. They're not perfect, but they do cut down on fraudulent clicks. With smaller SEs you can rack up a huge number of traffic-less clicks in no time. And that can't be good for business. Well, not yours anyway.
Here's a short list of the top SEs and the approximate percentage of internet search traffic they handle at this writing (2007):
Google (adwords.google.com) - 42.7%
Yahoo (marketingsolutions.yahoo.com) - 28%
MSN Search (search.msn.com) - 13.2%
AOL Search (search.aol.com) - 7.6%
Ask Jeeves (askjeeves.com) - 5.9%
All Others - 2.3%
Getting targeted traffic from SEs works differently than that of traffic wholesalers. With an SE account, you set up "keywords" or keyword phrases for each ad you create, and the amount you're willing to pay for each keyword or phrase. Then, when a user enters one of these keywords or phrases into a search box, your ad comes up. How high in the listing your ad comes up depends on how much money you bid on that keyword or phrase. But you only pay that amount when and if the user clicks on your ad.
It's important to note that not every time there's a discrepancy between the traffic you were supposed to get and what your website statistics say you got is it necessarily fraud. In fact, the two figures will seldom agree. They can be off by as much as 10% and still be legitimate. (This is because different algorithms are used by different software to determine what constitutes a visitor. e.g. How long does a visitor have to stay to be counted? If the same IP address hits your site twice within a short time span, some will consider it as one visitor, others as two. If, while your website is in middle of coming up, a visitor moves on to anther site, your site's software may not recognize his visit, while the SE will)
It's usually when large numbers disagree by large amounts -- let's say, you were supposed to get 10,000 visitors and you only got 2,000 -- that it could be fraud, or, perhaps, a system malfunction.
How to effectively write SE ads and set up keywords is too vast a topic to fully cover here. But I'll just mention that it's important to match your ads and keywords as closely as possible to your website content, and to know your targset audience. Giving away promotional snow blowers, for example, won't do much for business if you're selling condos in Florida. Don't try to make your wholesale meat packing business sound more exciting by advertising it as a wildlife preserve. And if you run a skydiving school, don't use the phrase, "If at first you don't succeed."
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