edit Tom McSherry on May 24, 2011
edit Starting a website, starting a web business
creating a website - especially one you hope will make money - you need ask yourself how you'll get traffic to your site. How will people find your website, and will they be the right people, the ones who need or want what you're selling?
Different traffic sources are going to produce different kinds of visitors, and in differing volumes. Each will also produce a different return on investment (ROI), whether that investment is your time, your money or both. To help you consider which traffic sources make sense for you, I'm outlining the pros and cons of each source.
edit Organic Search Traffic
"Organic search" refers to the results that show up when you type an inquiry into a search engine - not the ads, but the web pages that the search engine's algorithm deems most relevant.
Getting good rankings in search results for the right keywords has the best potential for generating large numbers of visitors to your site. They're likely to be visitors actually looking for what you offer, as they'll have been searching for keywords you've emphasized on your site. The best part is, once you achieve good rankings in search results, the traffic is free. Any sales or revenue you get from that traffic is pure profit.
Of course, it’s not that simple. It takes a lot of time and effort to rank well for valuable keywords. It can take months to get a new site established, and years to get top rankings for particularly competitive keywords. If you’re doing all the work yourself, you’ll have to put in a lot of effort up front before you begin to see any payoff. If you’re hiring the work out, be prepared to make an initial investment of several hundred to several thousand dollars - depending on your industry - before you start seeing a return.
Search engine optimization can be a costly avenue up front, and it takes a while to work. In the long run, if you achieve good rankings, SEO will pay for itself many times over.
edit Paid Search Traffic
Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are the ones you see at the top and to the right of search results, or in the Ads by Google blocks on many websites.
The plus side of PPC is that it's easy to track results. You get immediate information about your cost per acquisition, so you can calculate return on investment very quickly.
On the downside, there’s a steep learning curve to learning how to run a PPC campaign without wasting money. You also have to learn how to write ads that generate sales. Above all, you need to bear in mind that the moment you stop handing over advertising dollars, this traffic source disappears.
edit Social Media
There’s a lot of buzz about social media’s role in online business. It’s easy to get sucked in and think it’s a total marketing solution. While the importance of social media as part of a solid traffic generation strategy is growing, bear in mind that social marketing is not effective for every type of business.
Social media traffic can often be harder to monetize than search engine traffic. That's because searchers are looking for information and solutions to immediate needs, whereas social media participants are generally just hanging out and browsing.
In general, social media may end up being more useful for relationship building and reputation management than for generating site traffic. The bottom line is that social media sites haven’t replaced search engines for generating site traffic in volume.