10 Remarkably Effective Strategies for Driving Traffic

10 Remarkably Effective Strategies for Driving Traffic

  • Posted by randfish randfish on Mon (7/17/06) at 11:44 PM to Link Building

    In the last six months, we've been lucky enough to help quite a few companies and websites drive significant traffic to their sites. Many of these campaigns have been constructed around the goal of building search engine rankings, as this is our primary business, but we've also found that our ability has given us great power in the fields of brand-awareness and marketing overall. Thus, the following ten processes are primarily about building traffic and through it, attention.

#10 – Targeting Unmonetized Searches

  • Ingredients: KW research tools like Yahoo!'s KW Selector Tool, Wordtracker & KWDiscovery + Overture's View Bids Tool and Google's KW Tool
  • Process: Identify some relatively high-traffic search terms or phrases that have a very rough relationship with your industry, business or site but have little to no advertisers buying keyword advertising. For $0.10 a click (sometimes less), you can build your branding and your site's visibility. Make sure to serve up great content that targets exactly what the searchers want – a list of resources, an informational how-to article or the like. If you deliver great results in a search where you're the only advertiser, searchers will remember you, re-visit you and, occassionaly, write about and link to you.
  • Results: Campaigns of this size can be anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand visitors per day depending on your budget. In either case, be sure to have some action items for visitors to follow and watch your analytics like a hawk to ensure that you're bringing in real value with the terms you've chosen (i.e. if your abandonment rate is 75%+, you need to tweak something).
  • Examples: On this one, its very hard to give examples without giving away clients or potentially spoiling opportunities, but luckily, Graywolf has a perfect example in his Pirates of the Caribbean post, where there's a lot of searches trending that way and no advertisers – a perfect opportunity for the right player to get in the game (pun intended).
Google Search for McDonalds Pirates of the Caribbean
Note the lack of ads…

#9 – Creating Controversy

  • Ingredients: A passionate audience or community with strong (and hopefully misguided) feelings about a subject, person, company, etc.
  • Process: Create content through a blog, article, report or statistics that challenges commonly-held beliefs or assumptions or specifically challenges the views of a very popular person or organization. Be prepared to defend your positions, write about them in comments on blogs, in forums, chatrooms, online groups and wherever appropriate. Sometimes, you can even leverage the editorial section of a newspaper and re-print online.
  • Results: Heavy traffic levels come through multiple channels, but your biggest source is often the direct response of the disagreeing party. Be sure you're handling the dispute in a professional and even-handed manner and you can earn a respectable following. It's all dependent on industry and size, but a between a few hundred and a few thousand RSS subscriptions are usually on the table.
  • Examples: Dead2.0 (who I posted about earlier today) makes a great example, and Danny's post at SEW about his Google hates also follows along this tradition.
Dead 2.0
Dead 2.0 combines controversy and a Top 11 List

#8 – Maps & Mashups

  • Ingredients: Google Maps, Yahoo! Beta Maps, MSN Virtual Earth, etc. + some good geographic data
  • Process: This doesn't neccessarily require a map mashup, but they do make a compelling and timely example. Utilizing geographic data and a maps API system, you can create a very cool tool on your site that combines the two in a graphical, fun-to-use and highly-linkable way. Even sites in the most boring of sectors can employ this strategy by mapping things like their own industry's stats from census data or concentrations of relevant physical locations. If you're an optomotrist, why not map all the optometrists in your state/country (using a directory of some kind that you re-write into XML or tabular data) and mash it up with areas of high-tech concentrations (attempting to prove/disprove that techies who stare at their monitors all day need vision care).
  • Results: Getting picked up by some of the major map mashup reporting blogs like Ajaxian (if you employ it well) or Maps Mania can bring many thousands of visitors in a say. Longer tail traffic sources often feed off these and send additional visitors over time. The holy grail here is to be mentioned on the example pages by the sources (the map API folks or directory/data source) which can bring a constant stream of thousands each day.
  • Examples: Matt's IP to Location tool is a good one, as is Geology.com's Meteor Map , the famous HousingMaps and the hypercool FlickrMaps.
FlickrMaps Mashup Screenshot
Flickr Maps Mashup – Showing Photos from San Francisco

#7 – Event Coverage

  • Ingredients: A popular, well-attended event with a particular industry theme and a passionate writer who makes friends wherever they go.
  • Process: Go to the event, cover as best you can – make friends, take copious, detailed notes, go to the bars afterwards, shoot photos and videos and, most importantly, let everyone there know that you'll have the coverage on your site in the next few days. Time is of the essence here, but once you've got a great writeup (with photos!), send emails to your event contacts to help boost the buzz.
  • Results: Depending on the size of the event and the people you form connections with, this can drive thousands or even tens of thousands to the site. Covering something private (with permission), exclusive or underground can be even more rewarding, though big, public events often make an easier starting point.
  • Examples: We covered the SES NYC 2005 show to great effect and the Washington Post currently has a terrific blog covering tech shows and events.
Washington Post Tech Event Coverage Blog
The Washington Post's Technology Blog on Events

#6 – Top Ten Lists

  • Ingredients: A great idea and ten little numbers.
  • Process: This might be the easiest of the bunch, but it's also the hardest to make work consistently. Top ten lists are everywhere and unless yours is particularly well-targeted, well-timed and well-marketed, it might end-up fizzling. The keys to great lists are – knowing your audience, knowing your subject matter (and writing as an expert) and presentation (the right content at the right time read by the right people). Tricky? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
  • Results: We've seen top 10, 5 and 20 lists make it onto Digg, Slashdot and even into the mainstream press. While tens or hundreds of thousands of visitors certainly isn't the norm, it can definitely be your goal.
  • Examples: Letterman's Top Ten might be the most famous, but on the web, Nielsen's Top Ten Web Design Mistakes and the recent Top 10 Unintentionally Worst Company URLs (that made both del.icio.us/popular and Digg) are good examples.
David Letterman's Top Ten List
The Late Show's Top Ten Lists Online

#5 – Online Tools

  • Ingredients: A service that you can code into a tool to save someone time, effort, money or, alternatively, provide entertainment (plus a solid developer, preferrably skilled in AJAX).
  • Process: Tools aren't always able to attract visitors independently, so much like mashups, you'll need to do some promotion. Fortunately, there are dozens of online tool lists and plenty of folks blogging about their creation (like the aforementioned Ajaxian). The tool itself needs to serve a real purpose (or make people laugh) and it needs to be unique. If you're in the retail industry, imagine a tool that could be used to help visitors custom create a product, or organize a set of products in a useful, humorous or fun way. For B2B, cost calculators for customers can be useful, but are often un-exciting. Imagine how you can expand the use of your services to fit a wide audience, then make it fun and interactive.
  • Results: Tools can generate traffic slowly over time, or they can have huge bursts. Often, they spread virally through email and social networks if they're built right (and look great – so pay attention to #4, too).
  • Examples: SEOmoz's page strength tool got a bit too popular last week and crashed our server. It threatened to do it again yesterday. Some other great tools include this activity/calorie calculator from the Fitness Jumpsite and the website Hipcal, an online calendar tool.
Page Strength Tool
SEOmoz's Page Strength Tool from Last Week

#4- Graphic & Web Design

  • Ingredients: A useful site, a talented CSS designer and a list of design portal sites (this one and this one come in handy).
  • Process: Re-design your existing site to the best of your ability. Use pure CSS, graphics, color and layout that mesh well and make it not only easy to use your site, but aesthetically remarkable, too. If you're struggling for inspiration, look at the sites that make it to the front page of this site.
  • Results: The design portals themselves can send 1-2 thousand uniques per day if you make their front pages, but the additional value you'll get from other bloggers and sites picking you up once you make it there is also worthwhile.
  • Examples: There are thousands – as I noted before, just look at CSS Thesis or CSSBeauty to get the idea. Even a dentist's office site or a manufacturer of toilet seats can get traffic here.
CSS Thesis Screenshot
CSS Thesis from Veracon.net

#3 – Leveraging Social Networks

  • Ingredients: Solid, targeted content, a writer who can create compelling titles and descriptions and this list of social sharing sites (from Ekstreme's Socializer Tool).
  • Process: Create great content (from one of the ideas here or something totally unique), then submit it to the major social bookmarking and link sharing services. You can also use this tactic in a long-tail fashion by tagging many small pieces of solid, but unremarkable content to services like del.icio.us, technorati, etc. with regularity.
  • Results: Digg's traffic effect is well known, as is Slashdot's, but even the smaller services like Reddit, Furl, Shadows and StumbleUpon can send several thousand visitors to the site.
Rand's StumbleUpon Profile
Rand's StumbleUpon Profile

#2 – Blogging & Blog Comments

  • Ingredients: A blog, some elbow grease and a tactful, savvy, industry writer.
  • Process: Regularly blogging about your industry, passion or profession can have enormous payoff if done properly. There's a host of considerations, but for the purposes of this short list, it's enough to simply blog well and take advantage of the inherent traffic provided by blog & RSS feed directories, tagging your posts at Technorati and commenting thoughfully and intelligently around the blogosphere. Even though those links don't get link credit (due to nofollow), you'll get clicks and attention if your comments are intelligent and provocative.
  • Results: A successful blog can be the biggest marketing tool and online traffic source for many small and medium business websites. But, be prepared to giving it love and attention, as the value may be best felt after months or years of writing.
  • Examples: There are tens of thousands of great blogs, but a few non  sequiter favorites include Better Living through Design , Montreal Food, Re-Imagineering and Creating Passionate Users .
Disney's Re-Imagineering Blog
Disney & Pixar's Re-Imagineering Blog

#1 – Reporting Remarkable News

  • Ingredients: A story that's so big, everyone will be writing about it and a talented writer who can passionately and effectively cover it.
  • Process: This is the same process that sells newspapers and makes journalists. But, in the case of the web, the news can be smaller, as long as it's deeply tied to your industry or sector. Being the first to report is good, but by also being the best report on the subject, you firmly establish yourself as an excellent source for the current news and the future.
  • Results: Some of the highest traffic boosts possible come from news reports as thousands of popular sites write about their own experience or opinion with the story and credit you, sending what can often be tens or even hundreds of thousands of visitors over a few days.
  • Examples: Techcrunch has a remarkable reputation and ability to get news before anyone else, and some specific reports, including Henk Van Ess's SearchBistro post on Google's human-reviewed SERPs and Slyck's coverage of torrent-favorite Pirate Bay's servers being snatched by police.
TechCrunch Breaks News on Google Calendar
TechCrunch Leaking News of Google Calendar

#0 – Offering Something Incredible

  • Ingredients: An idea whose time has come.
  • Process: We're cheating by putting a #0, and cheating again because there's no set formula for this one – it's a build-it-and-they-will-come product. If you launch a site with goods, services or a gimmick that is simply irressistable, massively useful, universally appealing and hard to live without once you've tried it, rest assured that the Internet will respond by sending you appropriately stratospheric levels of traffic.
  • Results: These are the sites generating millions of uniques each day – traffic that borders on the insane.
  • Examples: Think Zillow, Flickr, Craigslist, Kayak. In a smaller way, our Web2.0Awards met some of these criteria and received a few hundred thousand visitors as a reward.
Zillow's Home Page Screenshot
Zillow.com's Home Price Valuation System

These tactics can very easily fit under the umbrella-term "linkbait," though not all of them are as useful for the purpose of link growth as brand awareness. If you've got stategies of your own to share or insights about how these can be tweaked and optimized, please do share.

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  • BWelford
    That's an excellent list, Rand, that everyone should print out and keep by them. I'm particularly pleased that you put Blogging so late in the list (and thus one of the most important). I still don't think most people realize the incredible way a blog presents the same content in so many ways that are all indexable and distinct to the search engines. Given that you also have a news feed to help spread the word rapidly, I would almost have put it at #1. Edited by BWelford on Tue, Jul 18, 2006 at 01:20:50 PM

  • Reply to BWelford
  • laura
    gold. solid gold. I'm giving this to every product manager.

  • Reply to laura
  • randfish
    Laura – Have them all click on this while they're at it :)

    Barry – Agreed about the blog power; I'm still amazed when I see that 4 million people read about Paris Hilton's catfight with Lindsay Lohan on some blog. Edited by randfish on Tue, Jul 18, 2006 at 03:55:03 PM

  • Reply to randfish
  • Search Engines WEB
    There has to be Three Categories to this Tutorial



    Ephemeral Hits


    Highly Targeted Traffic


    Look how much Traffic Search Engines WEB has caused by DIGG-ing sites – but how many people returned to them on a loyal basis after that Digg Homepage Peak

  • Reply to Search Engines WEB
  • cfull72
    Best comment on a good post, but I think Rand's list does a solid job of categorizing the sources of traffic based on their position in the list – i.e. you're much more likely to attract highly targeted visitors by being a reputable source for breaking news than offering up a flash in the pan controversy.

  • Reply to cfull72
  • shepherd
    How come domains are not mentioned, direct navigation?


  • Reply to shepherd
  • sheseltine
    So you think that top 10 lists can help drive traffic to your site? ;)


    Great list from a great, informative site :)

  • Reply to sheseltine
  • pianist718
    Very good post Rand. I suggest people read this more than once.

  • Reply to pianist718
  • Retrospector
    I gotta say here that the top 10 list did it for me. A month ago I made a Top 10 ways to motivate geeks list and it got a little attention from reddit and digg. I didn't think much of it until lifehacker got ahold of it and posted on it. The last 3 days I've been getting 100 times my normal traffic after reaching del.ico.us popular and a few dozen additional link-ups. It's not really slowing down that much either. The top 10 list did far more than I ever expected it to do.

  • Reply to Retrospector
  • EricW
    If I am Link Building Moses, you are Link Building God. That was fantastic. One addition: Sites that meet the criteria should announce themselves on URLwire.com. There is no better way to attract links from high value editorial targets and trusted source sites.

    Eric Ward Edited by EricW on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 at 11:00:38 AM

  • Reply to EricW
  • randfish
    Sorry Eric, I'm still just a humble serf, especially when you compare our two experience sets :)

    The URLWire suggestion is an excellent one, though – I note that a lot of the content there gets picked up in many other sources. Have you ever tried to scrape Yahoo!'s link data before and after an article hits URLwire? I think it might be very revealing about the effectiveness and reach of the service.

  • Reply to randfish
  • EricW
    I run a baseline inbound link check before I announce a site, then again in weekly intervals. I also check for links to my announcement as well as to the site being announced. Headline scrapers and aggregators grab my announcement headline as the link, so those are easy to spot and the numbers vary depending on the topic. An announcement about an archery web site will show up on less places than an announcement of a site about the Da Vinci code, simply due to the relative popularity of each. As for links to the site I announce, those start showing up in a few days to as long as several months later. For example, one of URLwire's core audiences is reference librarians (at .orgs) who maintain "best of" guides for their patrons. These links are golden. Example? http://nypl.org/links/

    Of course, not all sites have the type of content that will engender a link from an NYPL.org type site, so it's not URLwire that gets the link, it's the content of the site. URLwire is just a technique developed over time to be the exact opposite technique used by mass wire services. But URLwire only works if the site is good, end of story. If the site is of little value, it doesn't matter who announces it or how often. :) Edited by EricW on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 at 12:13:20 PM

  • Reply to EricW
  • Andy Ford
    An excellent list. I've been seeing so many half-baked lists make it to the top of Digg and Delicious lately – it's great when you find one that's sure to be a great reference for some time to come. Thanks for sharing Edited by Andy Ford on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 at 01:23:04 PM

  • Reply to Andy Ford
  • David Jackson
    I also wonder about your assumption that Digg traffic is really valuable. I'm founder of Seeking Alpha, a site that filters and aggregates stock market commentary. One of our articles got "dugg", and we had a sudden surge in volume. But hardly any of those hits resulted in repeat visitors, despite the fact that we're literally the richest source of free stock market content on the web. In contrast, we're adding hundreds of new email subscribers every day to our free annotated Wall Street Journal summary which seems to be spreading by word of mouth. My conclusion is that the Digg audience just isn't our audience, which is much more traditional and prefers email to social networking.

  • Reply to David Jackson
  • randfish
    David – our measuring of Digg traffic finds that although very few users stick around or become "fans," there's a long tail of links and a prestige/branding value to being there. If you've been "Dugg" a few times, people around the tech world start to become familiar with your site/brand and will often think of you first when they need something in your sector.

    On the linking side, the Digg users are often blog owners and contributers to forums, news sites, etc. so getting one Digg can mean hundreds or thousands of links over the course of a few days – excellent stuff for search engine rankings.

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