The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

The Beginners Guide to Online Marketing

Chapter Four

Written by Neil Patel & Ritika Puri

Get 'Em to Your Site:
Foundations of
Traffic Acquisition

You’ve built an amazing website, mobile app, or online storefront. Your brick-and-mortar customers love you, and you have the Yelp reviews to promote.

Now what comes next?

If you build it, they will come.

It doesn't matter how slick your website looks: If no one comes to it, good luck building that Web business.
John Brandon via Inc

Just kidding. If it were that easy, the multi-billion dollar internet industry would be totally useless.

Your website could be amazing, but it’s probably hiding in a digital dark corner where web traffic is like the lochness monster. As much as you want it to exist, it doesn’t.

So what should you do?

You need to actively think about how you’re going to bring new visitors to your website. You need to build your traffic acquisition strategy. From paid channel advertising to content marketing, you have a range of options. We’ll get to these topics but before we do, we want to explain a key concept:

Audience connections.

You need to leverage your traffic acquisition strategy to connect with the right audiences — people who are most likely to become paying customers.

If you’re new to online marketing, you’ll probably read a lot about blogging, paid channel advertising, and social media marketing. This guide is going to take a different approach — we’re going to give you the holistic education you need to build a powerful marketing framework. Traffic acquisition is so much more than your SEM strategy on Google AdWords. It’s the single-most important marketing strategy for reaching your target audiences.

So let’s get to it. Here’s a bird’s eye view of the traffic acquisition landscape.

Go Find Customers, Not Web Traffic

Marketers will frequently group their web traffic into distinct buckets — traffic that converts into sales vs. traffic that doesn’t. Traffic that converts in the long-term and traffic that converts via direct response. Spammy traffic. Good traffic. Targeted traffic.What does it all mean?

Some traffic is more valuable to your company than others. But this distinction will always be subjective and depends on the unique needs of your company.

As we keep emphasizing in this guide, you need to understand your marketing goals to determine which web traffic is right for you.

That means taking a step back and understanding your customer acquisition goals.

Who are you hoping to reach?

Answer that question first. The next step is to venture out to find where these folks are hanging out online. You might decide that the most direct and efficient way to reach your target audience is through Facebook. Or LinkedIn. Or by sharing your blog posts with a larger audience.

Speak2Leads, for instance, is in the earliest stages of launching its traffic acquisition strategy. As part of this process, the company runs a sales leadership blog on the company website.

Here’s the problem — audiences aren’t there yet. Speak2Leads is blogging consistently, and in time, readers will come.

But this process isn’t magic — and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, dedication, and patience. Realistically, the site is at least six to eight months out from positioning the blog as a growth engine.

In the meantime, we’re syndicating Speak2Leads’s content with Business2Community, a website with an established audience of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and company leaders. And that’s not all. Business2Community also syndicates its content with Yahoo Small Business.

Publish your content in one place, and amplify your audience through distribution. The idea is to find audiences that are much bigger than yours — and make the connection substantive. One way to do this is to advertise on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Another way is to share your branded content with a larger publisher.

This distinction brings us to a very important point, that distribution is the heart of online marketing. To bring people back to your website, you need to put your brand out there. This concept is timeliness and applies to virtually any marketing medium.

Eagle Rock Brewery, an example we mentioned in chapter 1 grew its customer base of craft beer aficionados by partnering with local restaurants in the LA area.

Eagle Rock Brewery mirrors a similar concept that Estee Lauder leveraged when building her makeup business — she distributed her products through department stores where her target customers were likely to be shopping. Today, her global empire is worth billions.

The key difference between traffic acquisition and more traditional modes of distribution is that you need to do more than just go where prospective customers are likely to be. Bring them back to your company’s website — and keep them coming back.

Understand Key Traffic Drivers

Web traffic drivers typically fall into one of two buckets — free and paid.

Free traffic includes visitors who arrive at your website organically through word of mouth referrals, social media publicity, viral videos, and news outlets who might be covering and linking to your company online.

Paid traffic includes visitors who arrive at your website through a sponsored placement or advertising slot that your company has devoted to testing. These channels include banner advertising, social media advertising, and sponsored placements. If you’re having trouble figuring out what’s paid and what isn’t, look for the “sponsored” or “from our partners” label. By law, companies need to indicate when advertising is paid.

A myth in online marketing is that free traffic is inherently better than paid traffic. This perspective is untrue. Both types of marketing require significant investment in terms of time and money. In other words, free traffic isn’t free — you need still to dedicate time and human capital to building an intelligent strategy and executing your operations.

The next two sections include a high-level review of free and paid web traffic drives. We start with the big-picture now and dive into the details in upcoming chapters.

Leverage Free Traffic Drivers

There are several key ‘free’ traffic drivers (also known as organic or referral traffic drivers) in online marketing.These include the following channels:

  • Public Relations:

    Build relationships with journalists to gain visibility in media channels. Connect with top blogs in your industry to contribute content and thought leadership on behalf of your brand.

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO):

    Develop a strategy to improve your website’s visibility in search engines. When prospective customers are searching for information online, your company should be the first-responder to these questions.

  • Social Media:

    Develop a presence on social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Quora. Focus on the networks that best position your organization to reach target audiences.

  • Blogging:

    Share thought leadership and expertise in your industry. Your company blog can help you to become a trusted resource for your customers and prospects.

  • Video Marketing:

    Create engaging videos to help explain your products and to tell the story behind your brand. Branded videos can also yield entertainment value.

  • Content Syndication:

    Don’t have an audience for the video or blog the content that your company is producing? House it on your blog, and distribute it through a website, publication, or video channel (like YouTube) with a larger audience base. A proportion of these viewers or readers that you reach will find their way back to your website.

  • Email Lists:

    Bringing visitors to your website just once isn’t enough. You need to keep them coming back. An email list can help you accomplish this goal. For instance, every time your company publishes a blog post, you can send a notification to your readers, kind of like the following example:

As we mentioned in the previous section, the term ‘free’ traffic can be misleading. It isn’t magic. Companies still need to invest significant time and financial resources into building a strategy through acquiring traffic through these channels.

Take the example of the Speak2Leads company blog, for instance. As we mentioned, they syndicate their content with media channels including Business2Community and Yahoo Small Business. The company also promotes its blog posts through LinkedIn discussion groups of sales professionals, Quora threads related to CRMs, and to an extent, Twitter.

Even though the blog is new, these pieces of content send a small amount of referral traffic back to the Speak2Leads site.

Speak2Leads shares content via LinkedIn discussion group members who are interested will read the post. Readers who liked the post will share it in their own social networks.

Or, in the case of the company’s content syndication efforts:

Business2Community & Yahoo Small Business re-publish Speak2Leads article à These media channels send referral traffic back to Speak2Leads directly, or through social media.

The cost of the web traffic itself was free. Where the costs went were people-power in building this marketing engine:

  • Hiring a content strategist to help oversee the editorial direction and to build the syndication relationship with Business2Community.
  • Time spent developing content, which is sometimes an opportunity cost (CEO’s time spent writing) or direct cost of hiring a writer or editor.
  • There is also a cost associated with building out a social media strategy, as well as a separate cost associated with maintaining social media operations.

A way to bring down marketing costs is to leverage your team’s existing skillset. Consider the story of Dollar Shave Club, a Santa Monica startup that created a subscription model around men’s shaving products.

The company’s CEO Michael Dubin just happens to have experience as an improv actor. So he and his team made a hilarious viral video.

The result?

Millions of dollars in venture funding and 5,000 new customers in just one day following the company’s launch — all thanks to a viral video that cost just $4,500 to produce.

But don’t expect a great video or story to become an overnight traffic driver. Especially when it comes to internet marketing, Hollywood success stories are few and far between. You need to step out of your company’s comfort zone to actively seek out the audience you want to reach. Take a lesson from Karen X Cheng, founder at Dance in a Year.

Karen learned to dance in a year and videotaped her journey. At the beginning of the video, you’ll see a person who is just getting started learning to dance. As the video progresses, Karen starts to look more and more like a pro. In the video’s final moments, you’ll see someone who can dance like a total pro.

Karen’s video tells an amazing story of patience, dedication, and results. It’s energizing. It’s inspiring. And to date, this home movie has more than 3 million views on YouTube.

What seems like luck was actually a part of Karen’s carefully planned marketing strategy.

I did a ton of marketing, and it started long before the video was released. Going viral was not an accident — it was work
Karen X Cheng via Fast Company

As she outlines in an article for FastCompany, here are the steps she took to grow distribution for her video:

  1. First, she posted her video to Facebook and Twitter as well as social news sites like Reddit and Hacker News. She asked her friends to share it and tweeted it at established bloggers. She also emailed bloggers who had previously written about other viral dance videos. Of the approaches she tried, Reddit yielded the strongest results. The video gained attention and made its way to the top of the GetMotivated subreddit page. After day 1, she received 80K views.
  2. On day 2, bloggers who came across Karen’s video the day before began telling her story through media channels including Mashable, Jezebel, and the Huffington Post. These blogs were significant traffic drivers to Karen’s video. This coverage amplified her web traffic numbers to 800K views.
  3. The video’s popularity pushed Karen to the YouTube homepage. That chain of events helped take Karen to 1.8 million pageviews on the third day.

Karen also leveraged her video to connect with potential sponsors and stakeholders in her project. These included companies like Lululemon and American Apparel — two organizations that she was happy to support. Some of these companies supported Karen and shared her video on their social networks too.

She also released her video on Tuesday, guessing that on Monday, people are most likely to be catching up from the weekend. Her strategy was to catch audiences at the office while leaving the entire week free for her video to ramp up.

The beauty of Karen’s strategy is twofold:

  • The marketing and distribution strategy was relatively low-cost.
  • It can be translated to any piece of high-quality, unique content including e-books and blog posts.

What’s important to also realize is the echo effect that was generated from Karen’s marketing initiative.

If you perform a Google search for the expression “learn to dance” Karen’s video ranks #1 for first-page results on Google (and yes, I cleared my browser cache).

Google Keyword Planner tells us that this phrase is a moderately competitive search term — in other words, there is significant competition for people seeking out tips on learning to dance via search engines.

Karen’s video, with the social and PR activity promoting her, ranks among the top 10 search results. This search engine placement will generate strong residual impact and drive more web traffic.

When you bring visitors to your website for the first time, make sure to bring them back. Email lists are low cost and powerful tools for accomplishing this key goal. It’s one of the ways that PassivePanda grew its audience from 0 to 350,000 unique visitors in just a year.

If you’re ever feeling lost, anchor yourself with the following foundational concept, that people are the heart and soul of your marketing strategy. You need to fight for your audience’s love, support, and attention.

It’s Cool to Pay for Traffic Too

Paid distribution channels are powerful traffic drivers. These channels include online advertising through banners on websites, search engine marketing campaigns on Google and Bing, and retargeting campaigns for users who have visited your site before.

This technique is a strong strategy for building awareness around your brand as well as bringing existing customers and prospects back to your website.

When you’re careful about your strategy, the online advertising ecosystem can be quite robust in generating significant results for your brand. If you drop an ad budget without carefully considering the end results that you want to achieve? Not so much.

Small business owners and startups are frequently hesitant to start paying for online ads.


For one, they’re skeptical that online marketing doesn’t work. And secondly, they don’t want to spend the risk of spending their funds.

But here’s the thing. If you ignore paid channel advertising, you risk missing out on a valuable user acquisition opportunity.

Facebook, for instance, runs an advertising program where marketers can acquire on a cost per install (CPI) basis. Users can install apps directly from Facebook’s mobile platform. Meanwhile, advertisers are only charged on a cost per install basis.

Moreover, the cost of acquiring these users is competitive — costing under a dollar in some instances. What’s also important to keep in mind is that Facebook isn’t the only platform for running mobile ads — there are a range of options available to align with the target customers and price points that your company needs.

And here’s the thing. Companies that are risk averse about paid channel advertising are probably doing it wrong. Contrary to what our instincts may tell us, marketing is not a money-sink or investment. When executed correctly, it’s a solid revenue driver.

As one Harvard Business Review article argues, it’s time to put an end to the war between sales and marketing. Both business functions are on the same team and are exponentially more powerful when aligned and working together.

If your marketing team is doing its job, it shouldn’t even need a budget. This is a controversial perspective, but you know what? It needs to be said. If your marketing team is a money-sink for your organization, then it probably shouldn’t exist. Why would you invest in something that causes your company to lose money?

The trick, however, is not to jump in with an arbitrary million-dollar spend. You need to start your test small (with a budget), and raise that budget incrementally.

Here’s what business owners will be especially glad to know — you can start testing with as little as $100. Yes, you might lose it, but the trick is to keep collecting data about what pricing models, targeting options, and ad networks perform best for you.

AdRoll makes it possible to get up and running with a new retargeting campaign in just 3 steps. In fact, they give you $60 for a two week free trial.

The PPC industry is valued at hundreds of billions of dollars thanks to online media giants like Facebook and Google as well as other small companies. And rest assured, it’s growing.

In just a few chapters, we’ll walk you through the mechanics of successful paid traffic acquisition. For the purposes of this section, we’re just sticking to a quick introduction.

Inbound Marketing Is Your
Company’s Pull Mechanism

Inbound marketing is a term that HubSpot, a Boston-based company, has popularized in the last few years. The term is catchy for sure, but what exactly does it mean?

In a nutshell, inbound marketing is a lever that brings web traffic to you. This is a marketing discipline that encourages business leaders to position their companies as pull rather than push-mechanisms.

Examples of inbound marketing include branded content (through blogs and video), social media, and giveaways. Inbound marketing works for companies that can successfully position themselves as thought leaders and valuable sources of information.

As with any other marketing initiative, the critical ingredient here is quality. If your content sucks, nobody will want to read or share it (because there’s a lot of other good stuff out there). Your company can’t fake authenticity. So focus on creating value, not gimmicks that customers can see right through.

On that note, we’ve reached the perfect stopping point.

Key Takeaways

  • Marketing adds visibility to your website.
  • Web traffic doesn’t just happen. You need to invest time and energy in connecting with the right audiences and leading them back to your website.
  • Traffic acquisition requires dedicated time and resources. You need to invest in your strategy and put muscle behind your plan.
  • Marketing is a revenue-generating operation. If you’re not seeing quantifiable returns from your investment, you’re probably doing something wrong. Once your marketing strategy gains momentum, you should feel comfortable raising/lifting your budget to grow your customer acquisition.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions that paid traffic is somehow inferior to organic traffic. When well-executed, paid channel advertising campaigns can be quite robust.
  • Focus on developing a high quality product and robust marketing materials. When your stuff is awesome, there will be an echo effect in the form of free marketing through social media and return visits over the long-term.
  • Consumers can sense BS from miles away. Give them the respect that they deserve. Start with your target customer and work backwards to define your marketing strategy.