Attracting visitors – focus on ‘free’ or ‘paid for’ traffic?

Cars speeding through an intersection using as an analogy for attracting visitors

Launching an amazing website is a great start to your online business, but if you have no traffic coming through it, you’ve wasted your time and money. This post is for you if you want to understand the basics of attracting visitors to your site. When you target the right audience for your products, you end up with loyal customers who help you grow your business.

The foundational elements of attracting visitors

Before you begin, you need to have some basic elements in place. These include:

  • Knowing who your customers are
    Segmenting your customer base and creating personas for them helps you understand what they need and how to best interact with them to get their attention.
  • Understanding what their journey with you looks like
    Customer journey mapping helps you create such a positive customer experience across all touchpoints that your customers keep coming back.
  • Being clear about your own business goals
    Having specific business targets helps you to get clear on your focus, and allows you to put effective strategies and tactics in place.
  • Building a website that will hold your visitors’ attention
    With your website the cornerstone of your digital presence, it needs to be fully responsive and optimised to your customer’s needs.

Once these are in place, you can start to look at attracting more visitors.

Two ways to attract visitors – ‘free’ vs ‘paid for’ traffic

There are two main ways to attract visitors to your site: via free or paid for traffic. Let’s look briefly at each of them.

1. Attracting visitors through free traffic

Otherwise known as “earned” traffic, free traffic should eventually be the backbone of your business, although it may take a while to reach that point.The initiatives under this type are not really free as you do need to spend a substantial amount of time and money building up your traffic. The ‘free’ really only means that you are not paying for advertising space.

Free traffic is made up of the following:

a. Organic search traffic

This is generated when someone searches for a product or service on a search engine like Google and your company shows up in the search listings. If the person clicks through to your site from there, they become part of your organic traffic.


People normally only click on the first 2 to 5 sites on the list before their need is met, so the higher you appear in the rankings, the better. Moving up the rankings requires:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – this should be in place on your website and blogs from the beginning
  • Ongoing work to establish your site as useful and authoritative with search engines

Although it takes a while to build, this type of traffic is ultimately your first prize. Watch out for a detailed blog on the topic coming soon.

b. Referral traffic

Referral traffic finds your website by clicking through from a link on someone else’s site. To attract high-quality visitors, who have a good chance of becoming customers, make sure the site where they find your link is highly relevant to yours and is also useful and authoritative. Essentially, they are giving your site the thumbs-up, which creates trust and credibility upfront for you.

Some ideas to generate this type of traffic:

  • Get your company mentioned in News Aggregators or forums.
  • Write press releases whenever you have a new product or something changes in your company.
  • Put your company or product forward for“best … ” round-ups.
  • Ask an industry expert to review one of your products.
  • Write a guest post for someone else’s blog, or invite them to do one for yours. They’ll probably post it on theirs too, bringing new visitors back to your site.
  • Ask industry partners to place your profile or link on their site. For example, at Comalytics, you will see our links on sites, like Payfast and NopCommerce. We also have a brochure on IQ Retail’s website.


c. Social traffic

These visitors come from social media sources (excluding paid advertising). Social traffic is such a growing trend that Google Analytics has given it its own category, and it’s now possible to measure the results of the strategies you try in some detail.

For example, you could post a short summary of a blog you recently wrote on one of your products, with an attention-grabbing headline and image. This invites readers to click through to your site to read more. Or invite people to share the amazing ways they are using your new product in their lives, taking advantage of the selling power of peer pressure/approval.

d. Direct traffic

Sometimes people type your URL directly into their browser to quickly reach your site. This may happen because:

  • They have bought from you before
  • Your brand has been around for a while and has a good reputation
  • People are referring your site via word of mouth
  • You are running an offline advertising campaign to raise awareness of your brand

For some well-known online retailers, this is their biggest source of traffic.

The work they have done to attract visitors over the years is now paying off.

2. Attracting visitors through ‘paid for’ traffic

These visitors are attracted by online advertisements you have paid for. There are many different ways to work with paid for traffic and it’s usually a good idea to get expert assistance. We will talk about this in more detail in an upcoming blog.

a. Paid for traffic categories

When you’re thinking of advertising to a specific audience, it’s useful to categorise them into “cold” and “warm” traffic.

“Cold traffic”: These people are not actively looking for your product, so your ads are simply aimed at building brand awareness. Your audience may not even consciously focus on your ad, but it registers with them at some level anyway.

Adverts on Facebook work like this, and you may ignore them many times, until one day you find you need a particular product. Then the brand that has been popping up day after day in your newsfeed or on the sidebar suddenly comes to mind. You’re then likely to go looking for that brand or simply click on it next time that ad comes round.


“Warm traffic”: This type of visitor is ready to buy as they are actively searching for a product like yours.

This traffic often gets to you through channels like Adwords. When you type in a search phrase, ads that match that appear right at the top of the listings. You then click on the first few ads, and go through to those sites to check if they offer what you are looking for.

b. Retargeting

To make the most of any traffic landing on your site, even visitors who aren’t converted into customers, consider retargeting. This technology uses cookies that log which sites people visit, and then reminds them of those sites by showing them related ads later.

c. Paid for traffic platforms

Online advertisements can be done using many types of ads and they can be placed on various platforms. The main platforms to consider for driving traffic to your site using advertisements are:

  • Google: Adwords, Google Shopping, Google Display, YouTube, Google+
  • Facebook and Facebook Shopping
  • Instagram, owned by Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

On these, the most popular payment method is Pay Per Click (PPC), although there are others. We will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming blog.

Whatever platforms you decide to use for your various campaigns, remember that all the visitors you attract should be taken to specifically designed landing pages. Make sure they are high quality and expertly created, so they grab your visitors’ attention the moment they arrive. For more on this, see here and here.

Attracting visitors through traffic driving strategies

There are so many options here, depending on your circumstances. If you have a large digital marketing budget, paid advertising is a good way to start. If not, you can still achieve a lot using SEO, along with social and referral traffic. It may just take up more of your time as you will be doing a lot of the work yourself.

In the graph below, you can see that retail professionals felt that email marketing, then SEO, then paid search and then social media were their strongest customer acquisition strategies. It is interesting to note the retention value of these strategies in comparison to the customer attraction strength.


Link to source

Which then – ‘free’ or ‘paid for’ traffic?

There is no one answer. It will differ according to your business stage and customer needs. One very popular strategy is to aim for a combination of free and paid for tactics when launching a new site.

In the example below, this e-commerce business has set up their SEO during site design, so their pages and content are optimised upfront. They then focus on creating excellent content on an ongoing basis, establishing themselves as an authority in their industry. They also build partnerships, gain strong links and generate a social following, all driving traffic back to their site.

This process takes at least 6 months though.

In the meantime, they put a PPC campaign in place, using Adwords and social media marketing. This paid advertising (green) immediately starts attracting visitors, while the organic free traffic (blue) slowly builds over time to eventually become the backbone of the business.


Link to source

The bottom line…

The ability to attract great quality visitors, who then convert to customers, is the cornerstone of any successful business. To achieve this, you need to have a plan. There is no silver bullet and you need to work on several fronts. Start with a few basic elements, then keep fine-tuning your strategy until you have a flow of visitors that work for your business and helps you achieve your goals.

What keeps you going back to a website again and again? Post your comments below and let’s learn from what’s working for others to help us improve our own sites.

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