Dr Online: Where traffic comes from

I’ve worked in the IT sector for 30 years. For 20 of those, I ran software companies. For the past ten, I’ve been MD of Screen Pages, which builds and runs e-commerce websites for small and mid-sized companies. In 2008, with my wife Sarah, we bought the business.

Screen Pages has worked with some of the UK’s best-known niche brands. We know what separates winners and losers on the internet, as well as how online retailers operating off modest budgets can still fight in competitive markets.

I want to share my experiences enabling online businesses sell more. These lessons will apply to “retailers” as well as any business that just wants to make more money from the internet. 

First, I’m going to tackle the big one: where your traffic comes from, and why you need to get this before you build a coherent online retail strategy.

Traffic comes to websites from predictable sources. Understanding the different sources, analysing their characteristics and planning activities to increase them individually make the difference between success and failure.

On average, at least half comes from search engines (most of that Google). Break this down into three elements. Paid search: spend money on Google ads to increase this. Brand related searches (when folk type in your company name): driven by offline awareness or people who know you already. Then the holy grail: coming top of Google by SEO (search engine optimisation) – make sure you have the right words (keywords) in the right places and critically, get other website to link to yours (more about this subject next time).

Email is the single most effective source of traffic. Conversions from email are twice that of other traffic. Try emailing news, stories & promotions to customers until the open rates and clicks drop, then slow up. But mix it up. And work on increasing your email database (by hook or by crook).

Direct traffic accounts for ten to 20 per cent of your traffic- that’s people who know your URL (online address) already. They (like brand searches above) are already in your sphere of influence as customers or from offline activities.Less than a quarter comes from online referrals – that’s people following links from other websites. It’s usually PR that drums this up – mentions and articles on blogs or magazine websites – or barter deals you’ve made with synergistic businesses, partners or associates.

What about the new kids in town? Facebook, Twitter and newly arrived Pinterest. Work on them by all means – they are a small contributor overall – but make sure you deal with the fundamentals above.

Finally, take time to study these, analyse them and the sales results they achieve. You can do this easily in Google Analytics for free. Then plan your growth activity.

Roger Willcocks owns Screen Pages, a specialist e-commerce agency which has designed & built over 300 online shops for some of the best known niche brands in the UK. Roger’s insights combine marketing, technical and analytical perspectives gained from ten years in the online trenches.

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