Research reveals not all Web visitors are created equal

By now most of us have read an article or two (or 10) about how to increase traffic to our Web sites. Change a headline and traffic increases. Put keywords in your Web link and you get higher placement on Google. Get other sites to link to you and your page rank may rise. The basic assumption is that getting found in Google and other search engines is a good thing and that increasing traffic will result in more customers and more revenue.

But a simple question needs to be asked: How much are those SEO-generated users really worth? As usual, research is the key to the answer.

Throughout the fourth quarter of 2010, Scout Analytics profiled the relationship between frequency of visit and engagement for users at eight publishing Web sites. In the course of their research they developed four different profiles of Web site users:

  • Fly-by - Someone generated by search engine optimization (SEO) who visits a site once.
  • Occasional – A visitor to the site two to three times per month.
  • Regular - A visitor to the site one to two times per week.
  • Fan - A visitor to the site more than two times per week.

The research quantified the revenue potential of loyal visitors (fans) to a site versus fly-bys generated by SEO. While SEO was the largest source of unique visitors and added quite a lot to the unique user base, the research revealed that loyal visitors had an average revenue potential of 50:1 when compared to fly-bys.  (Occasionals had an an average revenue potential of 5:1 compared to fly–bys. Regulars, 10:1.) Simply put, a site’s frequent visitors are the ones who consume the most content and generate the most revenue.

Despite all the hype about unique visitors and SEO, running a successful Web site is no different than running any other business. “Very few publishers can build a sustainable business with SEO as their core strategy,” says Matt Shanahan, senior vice president of strategy for Scout. “It’s critical to develop long-term relationships.”

So, if SEO is your Web strategy, you may want to rethink the value of attracting those visitors. Just like in fielding respondents, quality trumps quantity every time.

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5 Responses to Research reveals not all Web visitors are created equal

  1. This is a little bit of the chicken or the egg.

    I always ask new clients how they heard of us. We’ve gotten several projects because someone had a research project that was slightly different, had never heard of our firm, but ended up on our site because of a Google key word search and then emailing or calling in.

    Then there are the more regular visitors, but how did they discover you to begin with?

    I can tell you where I do not recall getting serious business from, a trade journal listing. Why? Because anyone contacting a research firm in a trade journal listing is just trying to shop around for the lowest bid. Most often I find it’s actually an overseas firm trying to field a global project shopping for lowest price or to get competitive information, or a non serious research buyer trying to educate themselves.

    Why we usually no longer bother listing even though we have the advantage of being listed on top alphabetically.

  2. Interesting analytical exercise, perhaps information best utilized within the framework of your own business. I did not find the statement ‘a site’s frequent visitors are the ones who consume the most content and generate the most revenue’ to be a learning; that is common knowledge in sales – the 80/20 rule.

    In helping a small business grow, I find all avenues are required in today’s market environment to reach potential customers and drive them to whatever it is you want from them – be it visits to your site, purchase of your product, completing your survey, opting in/joining your community. To reach customers you have to be the initiator and spark the discussion – SEO is as good as anyplace. It’s also a numbers game, the more people you reach the more opportunity you have to find customers, to spark the discussion and to ultimately create true customer engagement. Is SEO the only tool a company utilizes to reach potential customers? Certainly not, but when used appropriately it can be targeted and effective.

    For our business, it might not be ‘rethinking the value of attracting SEO visitors’ but more thinking about the value of what we offer to spark the discussion, to drive the return visit to truly engage potential clients so they become active long-term clients.

  3. M. Nelson says:

    I think this study points out what we already know. Potential customers have a different value depending on where they come from. My best customers are referrals from existing customers. My worst are those that simply find me online [and most aren't even customers!]. Everything else is somewhere in between. Value is only half the equation. What about cost? SEO and social networks seem cheap, but that is only because people are not accounting for their time. When you factor in human capital to get highly ranked, staying highly ranked and then all the wasted time from the bad inquiries I’m not sure it is worth it.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I love Quirks and think the fact that your basic directory listing is open to anyone free of charge is great and probably therefore makes is the most complete as well. However, I find social marketing far more effective than any traditional advertising.

  5. Karl Richards says:

    It’s easy for firms to get caught up in the pure clicks and numbers game. This post is a great reminder to look at the quality of your leads. I agree with Kathleen, it seems best to utilize all avenues when trying to attract new customers. With search engines and social networks it is certainly easier to cast a wider net than ever before. Personally, when i’m looking for a vendor, I usually use one of the industry directories (Quirks or Greenbook). It’s much faster and more targeted to firms that can actually accommodate my projects. How often do you click on a google search result only to find out that it’s not what you expected or that they were just gaming the SEO system for higher ranking? Social networks are good to gather some information, but I would be very unlikely to select a vendor or post a bid request on a social network – networks seem filled with “sharks” that will strike at any post, even if it is not their specialty.