Making Money from Content Sites: Search traffic and regular readers

Filed under: — 10:03 am

Reading Paul Scrivens’ article at WorkBoxers, Search Engine Traffic or Daily Visitors, Which is better?, I was reminded of a similar article that’s been sitting in my pile of rough drafts for a while, so I decided to finish it. Here’s my take on search traffic and regular visitors.

Search Traffic

If you’ve run a content site for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that the visitors who make up most of your traffic aren’t your regulars, your devoted readers, or your fans. They’re just people who found you in a search engine and clicked through, hoping to find an answer to a question.

If you’re lucky, they’ll find their answer on your site, stay around a while, and become regular visitors. Far more likely, though, they’ll find their answer (or not find it), hit the back button, and move on.

Worse yet, there’s a good chance they found your site because you were listed on an oddball search query like “world’s most expensive cat”. After realizing your site does not hold the answers they seek, they hit the back button and move on.

This is especially common with weblogs. Unless you write about a single clearly focused topic, chances are most of your search engine traffic comes from obscure searches that have little to do with your site’s overall focus.

The Other 10%: Your Regulars

While search traffic may account for 90% of the visits to your site, you shouldn’t ignore the remaining 10%—the ones who love your site or its topic, and come back regularly to see your latest content. While they may be the minority, they’re your most important visitors. Here’s why you should focus on them:

  • They’re your kindred spirits. They enjoy reading about your site’s topic as much as you enjoy writing about it.
  • They recommend your site to their friends.
  • They link to you from their own sites, or suggest links at other sites.
  • They’re the ones who form a community if your site has comments or a forum.
  • If your site ever sells something—a book, your consulting services, a related product, or even site memberships—they’re the ones who’ll buy it.

Most importantly, your regular visitors help your site grow. Even if you want to get lots of search traffic, your regulars can help you get more by recommending your site.

Who Makes You Money?

Suppose you’re trying to make money on your site with advertising. Here’s the deep dark secret of advertising on content sites: while 10% of your visits might come from your regulars, the 90% that come from search engines are generally the visitors you make money from. Why?

  • Obviously, they outnumber your regulars.
  • They’re diverse and unique. Advertisers want a number of unique visitors to see their ads—a regular reader who pores over 50 pages isn’t very good for advertising, while 50 random visitors who will never return are exactly what they’re looking for.
  • They’re the ones that click on ads. While your regulars are devotedly poring through your site’s archives, the other 90% just want to find what they’re looking for—and clicking on an ad is one way to continue their search. (In fact, thanks to contextual advertising like AdSense, the ads may actually provide the answers they didn’t find on your site.)
  • They actually see your site. Many of your regulars are using an RSS reader rather than loading your site.

If you keep a close eye on your ad revenue, you may find this distressing, because you’ll find that doubling the number of regular, devoted readers actually has little to no impact on your revenue.

This might tempt you to focus entirely on search engine traffic, and that’s great for a quick buck—but in the long run, more regulars will help you get more traffic and more money. Regular readers and great content will get you links, which will boost your search rankings, and eventually increase search traffic.

Personally, I think of it as the 90% of casual visitors graciously viewing pages and clicking on ads to subsidize the site for the devoted 10%. It’s rather nice of them, isn’t it?

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(c) 2001-2007 Michael Moncur. All rights reserved, but feel free to quote me.
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