The Truth about Website Traffic and First Page Rankings


Slowly but surely, the arena of digital marketing has started to overtake traditional marketing methods, and has systematically and diligently begun trampling them into the dust.

Business owners are often frightened with statistics about more than half of the world’s population using the internet, about the number of online shoppers rising each year, about the vast numbers of social media users that also keep increasing year on year, even with all the scandal surrounding some of them.

With such staggering numbers, there is little wonder that digital marketing as an industry has also been recording year on year growth, and its estimated worth also keeps increasing. This unfortunately also means that often, unqualified and unskilled people are jumping on this bandwagon, selling their services for “a bargain” and promising results like “100% increase in website traffic in the first month” and “ranking first in Google”. To the untrained and uninitiated eye – this sounds like the chance of a lifetime.

What is often left unsaid is the actual truth about traffic and its many varieties, and the different keywords you may or may not want your website to rank for, first or second. Let’s debunk some of the myths surrounding these two holy grails of digital marketing.

Sources of Traffic

Traffic to your website can come from different sources, or channels, as they are listed in Google Analytics. These include direct, referral, paid, organic and social traffic.

Direct traffic is the traffic that comes to a website “directly”, i.e. without a medium in between. This is when you type a specific address into your search bar, and hit enter.

Referral traffic is all traffic that comes through a certain medium – be it social media, or the link you placed in your signature on a forum. All traffic that comes through a social network (any social network) is naturally considered social traffic – and everything else can fall into the rest of the referral traffic bucket.

Paid traffic is the traffic you drive through Pay Per Click ads and other forms of paid advertising, and which you have spent money on acquiring.

Organic traffic, finally, is the traffic that comes through a search engine (not necessarily Google, people still use Bing). This is where rankings come into play, but more on that later.

Running a digital marketing campaign will likely involve driving traffic through most or all of these sources. However, not all traffic is made equal, which is something that marketers tend to “forget”.

Traffic Quality

Tim Soulo states that traffic is a vanity metric, and he is completely right. Unless your website makes money from display ads, in which case you are chasing as many visitors as you can get, sheer traffic alone will often not help you achieve your overarching business goals.

Let’s imagine your website is your digital business card, and that it serves to drive you actual business. In other words, you need to make a sale or need to capture a lead in order to earn a profit from this website.

If that is the case, having a spike in traffic will not and never can guarantee that you will see an increase in your revenue. Visitors may be pouring in, but they may be leaving after a short while, or they may even spend some time on your website, reading a blog post, but if they ultimately leave without converting, you will not have much use from this traffic.

This is why only traffic that has the potential to convert is the traffic you want to increase.

Conversion Potential

Marketers often brag that they have boosted traffic to a particular website by hundreds of percent in just a few short months. The best follow up question to that statement is “and how much has the conversion rate jumped up?”. There is little to no point in spending any amount of dollars on a marketing campaign that will not results in targeted traffic spikes.

Targeted traffic is the visits you get from people who are actually interested in what you have to sell, and who are actually already looking for the products and services you offer, they just haven’t found you yet.

In other words – if you get only 20 people to visit your website, but if 15 of them buy your product, you have a much better conversion rate (and much better revenues), than had you had 4578 visitors. Sounds simple, but can be tricky in practice.

When running a digital marketing campaign, the first step is always to identify the audience you will be targeting – the people who are looking for, need, have purchased, are interested in, and who would value the product or service you have to offer.

This is why the first question you ask the person running your campaigns, should they choose to promise you an increase in traffic, should be “and where will that traffic come from, and how likely is it to convert?”.

Organic Traffic and Top Rankings

The place to compete for organic traffic are Google (or Yahoo, or Bing) search results pages.

In other words, when someone types something into a search engine (the something being their desired keywords), you want to pop up near the top, to make sure the person will actually land on your website.

The catch here is twofold: you will probably never appear near the top for certain search queries, and you might not want to appear near the top for others.

The way out of this conundrum is utilizing the power of keyword research.

Keywords come in different shapes and forms, but for the purposes of this article, we will talk about “money” keywords, and the keywords you actually want to chase. Money keywords are difficult to rank for, simply because the competition for them is great, as they usually involve some kind of purchasing intent. A money keyword could be something like “plumber in New York” – which likely means the person searching is looking to hire a plumber. These keywords see a lot of searches a month, and a lot of plumbers in New York are trying to rank for them.

On the other hand, there are keywords which see less searches, which again means less traffic.

Opportunistic Keywords and What to Rank for

For example, a search like “how to change a faucet” does not necessarily mean the searcher needs a plumber – they more likely want to do it themselves.

There will probably be less competition for this keyword – and you may rank for it in time. But the person looking for this type of post may not end up hiring you.

However, the trick to driving organic traffic is not to rank for low traffic keywords, neither is it to rank for money keywords alone. The trick is to find the keywords that your business specifically can use to its advantage.

Doing that is complex and will require time, skill and patience. You can explore what your nearest competitors are ranking and not ranking for, and go from there. You can use keyword suggestion tools that might find an interesting opportunity. You can use a whole host of tools to help you determine keywords with decent traffic potential, and a realistic ranking opportunity.

Digital marketing is a holistic discipline. In other words, what you do for one keyword will help you rank for another, and long gone are the days when one page could only rank for a handful of keywords. Today, relevant pages will rank for all relevant search terms.

Ranking pages that sell something will be more difficult – simply because it is more difficult to build links to them, but that does by no means mean that you can’t do it. Even if you are battling the likes of Amazon, there will certainly be shoppers out there who are looking for an independent store.

Depending on the industry you operate in and the area you offer services in, it may take time to rank on the first page. The one thing that you can reasonably soon rank for first is your business name and the city you are registered in – which is often what agencies promising “page one” ranking actually have in mind. However, this will not bring in much in terms of revenue.

Questions to Make Note of

Hopefully this short guide has helped you understand the complexities of traffic and rankings. The main point to bear in mind when embarking on a digital marketing campaign is that qualified and targeted traffic, even though smaller in numbers, can result in much better conversion rates.

There is no need to obsess over the tactics that have worked for your competition in the past. You know your business best, and you can easily find a way to reach the audience you are looking for. All you have to do is research it properly, and come up with a way to pop up in front of their googling eyes.

Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.

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