Why there is no such thing as free traffic…

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There are two ways to get traffic, and neither of them are free. Yet the desire for “free traffic” is pervasive, romantically seducing business owners with visions of nothing-in-profit-out marketing funnels. It’s an attractive idea, but so poisonous. And here’s why:

Compared to the sound of “free traffic”, paid traffic sounds like suicide. The reality is that for most growing businesses, paid traffic is a goldmine under their feet.

The Fallacy of Free Traffic

Whether it’s SEO traffic, social media, blog traffic or features from online PR, there are no channels that don’t come without at least some cost. Typically, this cost is in the form of a writer’s writing time (if it’s the business owner doing the writing this could be the most expensive time of all), time spent building contacts with bloggers and journalists or the time and effort required to build a social media profile.

All of these activities produce what is thought of as “free traffic”, but in reality the visitors generated from each have been paid for with time, writing and energy.

Content Marketing

The current posterchild of free traffic is so-called ‘Content Marketing’. Getting your articles published on authority sites can be one of the hardest slog, most thankless tasks known to man. We have a large team of PR/writing Ninjas whose entire job is to write and get published for our clients. And these guys work hard. On average, it takes 8 hours of work to get an article published on an authority site. The upside is high ranking and some qualified traffic, but still – if it’s taking experienced Pro’s this long, imagine how long it could take you to get your first article up.

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Paying vs Earning

A much better term than ‘free traffic’ is earned traffic. You’ve earned the traffic through the work put in, and this phrase indicates (accurately) that this sort of promotion requires a trade: you trade your expertise and writing for exposure on the host site.

The same goes for social media. By investing daily/hourly in building your audience and providing interesting and useful posts, you eventually earn the resulting traffic. But again, this is a much longer slog.

The Beauty of Paid Traffic

On the other hand, paid traffic is relatively easy. Get your wallet out and (much of) the pain goes away. Whether it’s Adwords, Remarketing, Facebook ads, display ads, blog ads, tradeshow website directories or even (if that money is really burning a hole in your pocket) LinkedIn ads, the beauty of paid traffic is fast scalability. If you’ve got an offer that’s converting, a hot product in your shop or you’re running a timely promotion and you need traffic asap, these channels all allow you to scale NOW. Earned traffic? Much more long term.

The Danger of 1

The other benefit of paid traffic is diversity. To rely on one marketing channel is suicide in a world of algorithm changes, companies here today and gone the next and consumer habits changing so quickly. The danger of having just one marketing channel, just as with one of anything, is that it can easily turn into a zero. And zeros in marketing are bad news.

But having a regular stable flow of traffic from different paid sources that you can track, measure and scale, insulates you from any one particular channel’s fluctuations. Google throws a curveball that penalises all links and deindexes mobile friendly sites for being manipulative? Who cares! We still have Adwords! Adwords dies? Not to worry! Our Facebook ads are kicking ass!

Paid traffic diversity leads to stability.

Why Your Business Absolutely HAS to Be Utilising Paid Traffic

If you are committed to growth, you should be running many marketing channels simultaneously. Some will be more profitable than others, but as long as a channel is profitable and you have the capacity to handle the business, you should keep that channel open. To ignore paid traffic in 2015 is insanity, because it’s the most stable thing about the Internet. Whatever happens, you know that Google and Facebook will be taking your money.

So rather than complain about the high cost of Adwords, get to work and figure out an offer that converts at 25% and gives you a lifetime customer value of 100X what you’re paying for the lead. THAT’S something more worthy of your time than spending a week trying to find where all else’s free traffic must be coming from.

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