May 21 2008

5 Ways to Direct Traffic to Your Website

Home in on these five critical Web metrics to build optimized sites that generate more traffic and sales potential.

Photo: Christopher Navin
Get started with SEO by focusing on a few key terms, say VistaPrint's Trynka Shineman and Dan Marques.

In the past few years, the Web-site manager’s dashboard has evolved from the simple dials of an Edsel to something more like the control panel of a jet plane. As is often the case in our data-rich world, the challenge is one of focus.


What separates a site that generates revenue and sales leads from a site that only posts marketing data and maybe some photos? The most successful sites are run by companies that consistently track traffic and proactively respond to the latest data.

Here are five indicators that can help gauge whether your online marketing and search-engine optimization (SEO) efforts are paying off.

1. Inbound Links
Inbound links are frequently unmonitored, but tracking them is a critical part of any online marketing effort. A good site should attract links from other sites, which in turn should boost traffic and improve search rankings. “Think of your site not as a person you want to rank in an engine but as a person you want discussed in the community,” says Aaron Wall, owner of SEOBook.com, a site with 229,000 inbound links, according to Yahoo.

What to Look for:
Good link monitoring consists of tracking the overall volume of links, the level of traffic sent from each link, and all links added or removed since the last measurement period. Dan Marques, an organic-search marketing specialist at online-print and graphic-design company VistaPrint.com, recommends checking Google alerts to see if someone is writing about you in the blogosphere. He also suggests searching for your domain in Yahoo’s Site Explorer (http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com) to see who is linking to your site. You can also use Google or Technorati’s blog-search tools to search for your domain. Google’s advanced search includes time-sensitive filters, such as “last 24 hours,” which can be helpful.

How to Interpret the Data:
Look carefully at the links that sent the most traffic — if you can couple this data with conversion rates to determine the quality of the traffic stream, even better. Then, revise your strategy to generate additional links from these top referrals or similar ones within the same category. Keep a record of how your competitors are faring in link volume.

2. Top Search Rankings
Nothing is static in search-engine results. Knowing where your site ranks is critical if you want to leverage search engines to reach those who are searching for your products or services online.

What to Look for:
Keep a monthly tab of your rankings in Google, Yahoo and MSN. Track your leading competitors at the same time to find out who is aggressively targeting SEO.

How to Interpret the Data:
Regular movements of one or two search positions are no cause for celebration or alarm. Note instead the more gradual patterns, or rankings that climb high or drop precipitously. A slow decline indicates competitors may be whittling away at your position. A sharp rise or fall could be indicative of a search engine’s algorithm change or a penalty to your Web page.

“Rather than an individual phrase, look at baskets of phrases within a category and look at the trends for that,” recommends SEOBook.com’s Wall. Within this grouping, look at the phrases where your Web page ranks near the top, and consider trying to boost those rankings by fine-tuning your internal links to that page or through new promotional strategies for that content.

“This is where small businesses can really gain some traction immediately, and it was one of the places that VistaPrint looked first when we started focusing on SEO,” says Trynka Shineman, VistaPrint’s senior vice president for North American marketing. “Instead of trying to improve any related terms, we started by focusing on a few key terms that had the highest impact.”

Focusing on core terms within a specific category lets the team gain confidence from deliberate, incremental improvements, Shineman explains.

“You can really measure increased traffic, and in the long run, revenue. This will also increase your confidence in the effort so you can expand to secondary and tertiary categories.”

VistaPrint monitors keywords weekly. The team tracks a report showing the 50 keywords that are most important to the business; it also shows how many rankings rose and how many fell.

The VistaPrint team also keeps a log of Web-site changes. “If we’ve done something that affects our rankings, we can usually track that back to our efforts over the last few weeks,” Marques says.

3. Conversion Rates
Traffic is wonderful, but how do you know that the business is bringing in the right type of traffic? Conversion data will tell you which visitors are performing the desired actions on your site, such as making a purchase or filling in a contact form.

What to Look for:
Ensure that your Web-analytics package is capable of tracking conversions. This often requires adding a small bit of code to your site’s pages. Once this is in place, look for which keywords or search phrases offer the best conversion rates. If you have a multistep process for checkout, monitor the drop-off rates at each step with an eye for potential improvements.

How to Interpret the Data:
A low conversion rate for a landing page may indicate that the site visitor was looking for something and didn’t find it. “Look at the bounce rank when visitors hit the first page of your site,” Marques says. “If a page ranks second but has an 80 percent bounce rate, you’re doing a great job in terms of SEO, but it’s not helping you grow your business.”

Visit the landing page to see if the content matches the query adequately. Wall suggests including direct links in the page content to help get visitors to the desired action. “It’s much better than if you rely on the navigation to get them there,” he says.

4. Top Keywords or Phrases
Any Web server will log the actual search phrases that brought visitors to your site from search engines. This is valuable data for fine-tuning your online marketing efforts.

Marques recalls working with a blogging company that provided tips and advice. When they waded through their metrics and looked at the combination of keywords that drove traffic, it turned out that 70 percent to 80 percent of the traffic was coming from user reviews on the site instead of advice-oriented articles. “So we changed the focus of the site, and that helped grow the traffic a lot,” he says.

What to Look for:
Keep an eye on the terms sending the most traffic and note any new entrants. You’ll also want to comb through lower-volume terms to find opportunities to further target that phrase and increase traffic.

You can also experiment with new phrases by purchasing pay-per-click advertising on search engines like Google. “If you have a new product, or want to get a view of the big potential keywords, the best source is your own paid search data,” Marques says.

How to Interpret the Data:
It’s a good idea to track the volume of visitors by keyword or phrase over a historical time period of three months or longer. For a new phrase, find the page that is receiving traffic and see if there are ways that page can be optimized further to rank well for that phrase.

5. Search-Engine Referrals
A steady flow of traffic from Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines is the hallmark of a successful online marketing effort.

What to Look for:
How much of your site’s traffic comes from search engines? Is this number increasing steadily? Is it rising in relation to direct traffic? You can do monthly comparisons of the percentage of search-driven traffic to the percentage of direct traffic to see the interplay between the two.

How to Interpret the Data:
Try comparing one year’s data against another’s to note the rise and fall of potential cyclical patterns. The volume of search referrals is important, but when you see a jump in referrals relative to other sources of traffic, it’s a good sign that something in your SEO approach is working.

Dan Skeen is director of search-engine marketing for Quarry (www.quarry.com), a communications and branding agency in Waterloo, Ontario.