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Strategic insights
Sales vs Traffic vs Intent

Written by on October 18, 2013

Over the past couple of months, I have written several articles in which I say that there is often little correlation between traffic and sale. And I have illustrated this with graphs like the one below:

Some of my readers have questioned this line of reasoning. "How can more traffic not also lead to more sales?", they ask. "You wouldn't have any sale if you had no traffic!"

I fully understand why you say this, and in many ways you are right.

Of course you need traffic to get a sale... that much is obvious. But it's not the traffic that creates the sales, it's the reason why you got that traffic to being with. It's the intent behind it.

Let me illustrate this in another way:

Imagine if we divided up our traffic into two groups. One group is the people who are coming to your shop because they feel inspired or because they have an intent that matches your product. This is the kind of traffic you usually get from email newsletters or really good social media strategies (and sometimes SEO).

This inspired traffic has a high probability of converting, which is just wonderful.

The other group is people who visit your site because of something funny. You know, the low-end content-marketing type. This creates a ton of traffic, but because people are not inspired in an actionable way (no intent), they rarely convert.

So, I completely agree that more traffic will lead to more sales if you can focus your exposure on the audience in the yellow 'inspired' bubble. If you can double your inspired traffic, you are also likely to double your sale.

But most brands, and indeed most tactics, are focusing on the red 'entertaining' group. This creates a ton of traffic , but it's not really that valuable. And it's why I keep saying that more traffic rarely leads to more sales.

No matter what strategy you have, it will always be easier to do something that is entertaining, and it will always be harder to do something that is inspiring (and doubly so to do both).

This is why the 'most engaging content' is always of the shallow-but-funny type. And when a person writes an article telling you to do these seven things to create more entertaining content, ask yourself if that type of engagement is going to lead to inspired or entertained traffic?

The same is true for newspapers. In recent years they have all been focusing on pageviews. With Buzzfeed being the one who has managed to create the most highly engaged traffic of all.

But ask yourself, what type of traffic is that? Is it the inspiring kind that leads to a conversion? Or is it just the type of traffic that people have fun with without ever translating it into an actionable intent for advertisers?

If you are a paid-for newspaper, would this type of content 'inspire' people to subscribe? ... or are they just being entertained?

Don't get me wrong. Sites like Buzzfeed are sometimes great fun. And unlike most other newspapers, 90% of Buzzfeed's articles are positive (designed to make you smile). But what they are doing is not very valuable in terms of conversions.

My advice to you, as I wrote more about in "Social Media Strategies in 2014", is to understand the difference between a valuable and not valuable audience.

It's easy and fun to build engagement. It's hard to build inspiration. Know the difference.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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