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As the cofounder of WM Media, a company that invests in websites, I have had the opportunity to run a variety of websites from forums to blogs to affiliate sites. There are a few distinct types of traffic and each has their own advantages. We’ll examine each of these sources from two perspectives.

1) How much value these visitors receive and contribute – Since the primary goal of a website is to create value through the dissemination of information, it makes sense to see how each type of traffic helps to accomplish that goal.
2) How much these type of traffic is worth – After all, you deserve to be compensated for bringing this value to people!

Okay! On to the different types of web traffic:

Search Engine Traffic – People from search engines are looking for specific information. They type what they are looking for into a little box and up comes your website describing what they want. Depending on how accurate the description is, the value of the information that comes up ranges widely. For example, a search for mystery shopping jobs will bring up, whose description is “Merchandisers and Mystery Shoppers: post or find merchandising jobs and mystery shopping jobs”. When the visitor clicks on it, he is taken to a job board, giving him exactly what he was looking for. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, a search for say “Viagra” will probably bring up a bunch of spam sites, offering the visitor no value when they click through.

Because the visitors are only searching for a specific bit of information, they generally won’t stay for a very long time and will leave once they’ve found what they’re looking for. For example, 78% of search engine visitors for this blog click the back button immediately after reading one article. Unless they feel very strongly about something in the article, they are unlikely to participate beyond that.

Of course, the advantage to this type of visitor is that because they don’t really stick around, your marketing campaign can reach a lot of “unique” people for the number of page they view. You get a large number of different people looking at your ad, increasing the chance that someone would be interested in the product being advertised. As a bonus, because they leave immediately after finding what they’re looking for, they don’t use up a lot of server resources. As a result, this is probably one of the most desirable forms of traffic in terms of profit per amount of resource used.

Direct Traffic – These are people who have heard about your website from a friend or already have been to your website and came back. Instead of going to Google to find what they are looking for, they go to you! Therefore, the value you bring to this type of visitor is enormous. You give them exactly what they want to see! Of course, there is still a range of people, from the ones who just want to “check it out” to a loyal subscriber. In general though, this type of traffic benefits the most from your website.

This is also the type of traffic that exists in community type websites like forums. It’s a place where people of a like mind gather to discuss common things of interest to them. It’s not surprising then that great projects can come out of this group of people. For example, this final fantasy website has the largest forum out of all its competitors and as a result, contains the most comprehensive information on final fantasy games. Not only do these people enjoy your material, they enjoy it so much that they actively contribute to its creation!

All this reading and contributing takes a huge toll on your server resources though. A visitor that spends so much time on your website gets used to the positioning of the ads and may just scroll past them. In addition, he is not likely to purchase the same products over and over again (plus, he only has so much money!). You are more likely to make a sale to this person than a search engine visitor of course, but it’s much lower in terms of $$/resource usage – short term.

One key benefit of this type of visitor is that they create a lot of content and can spread the word via their close friends. So indirectly, they could certainly refer you a lot of prospective customers!

Referring Traffic – Somebody has told them about your website, be it a friend or a link from another website. As such, this type of visitor is more targeted than say, search engine traffic. They were referred by a reliable and trusted source that is already familiar with your website, so they already know there is value to be found here. After taking a look, they are more likely to convert into a loyal subscriber of your website and actively participate in it than other forms of non-direct traffic.

Of course, this does depend on the quality of the referring source. If you spam 100000 people and get 100 visitors via email referrals, that probably brings close to no value to those visitors. This source could also act like social bookmarking visitors if posted on a “check it out” type website like Digg.

Monetization wise, referring traffic is similar to search engine traffic in that there are a high number of unique visitors per resource expenditure. They are more likely to dig deeper into your website though, making the resource expenditure higher. However, that is balanced by the increased exposure to advertisements, so it’s generally a good thing!

Social Bookmarking Traffic – This is probably the least desirable form of traffic in terms of both value and monetization. People see an interesting title that has been voted high up on social bookmarking websites like Digg, and click through to “check it out”. They aren’t actively searching for the information you provided, so are less interested in your material than any other type of traffic. It’s the difference between someone sitting in front of their TV flipping channels vs. someone eagerly turning on their TV for their favorite 7pm show.

The upside of this type of traffic is that there is a lot of it. When an article of yours ranks high on social bookmarking websites, it’s not unusual to receive a few thousand visitors a day! Therefore, they can cause a general buzz about your website that bring about the other forms of more desirable traffic.

Of course, a small % of the visitors will actually be very interested in your material and may convert to be active participants. Since the amount of visits is just simply so large, this small % may be on par with other forms of traffic.

And there you have it, the four major forms of traffic you will experience throughout the course of your webmaster career. Depending on your goals, you may want to target specific forms of traffic. For example, if your main goal is to make money via search engine rankings, then you can devote more of your efforts to SEO. On the other hand, if your main goal is to form a community for developing future projects, then you would probably want to keep the site adless and ask for donations instead.

Either way, keep your goals in mind, and you’re sure to succeed! :)

If you feel that this post has been of value to you, please leave a donation to show your appreciation and allow me to bring this value to other people as well!

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