The importance of targeted website traffic

Anyone who has a website can’t help but care how many people visit it. It’s great for our vanity to know that someone else is seeing our creation. Also, if you are running a business, more hits equals more sales doesn’t it? Well, not necessarily.

Take as many hits as you like and multiply it by a 0% chance of purchasing and you still end up with no sales. What matters is not just the number of visitors, but also the quality. Visitors that have a high likelihood of buying your software are said to be ‘targeted’. What you need is targeted traffic (preferably lots of it).

Targeted traffic is particularly important when you are paying per visitor e.g. using pay per click schemes such as Google Adwords. If you are paying $0.40 per click and your software retails at $40 you need more than a 1% conversion rate or you will just be donating to Larry and Sergey’s 767 fund.

I can illustrate the importance of targeted traffic with three examples from my own table plan software website.

1. Earlier this year I agreed for PerfectTablePlan[1] to be used as part of the demonstration of D-Wave’s prototype quantum computer in return for some free publicity. The controversial demonstration got huge publicity in the IT and high-tech communities. Sadly PerfectTablePlan didn’t get a mention in the press release as I was expecting, but it did get a mention in the D-Wave founder’s blog.

  • Click throughs from D-Wave founder’s blog: 566
  • Sales: 0
  • Conversion rate: 0%

2. I hang out on the JoelOnSoftware Business of Software forum quite a bit (especially when there are boring jobs I should really be doing). People often click through to the PerfectTablePlan website from my signature.

  • Click throughs from Business of Software forum: 4,757
  • Sales: 1
  • Conversion rate: 0.02%

3. PerfectTablePlan is built using the Qt framework by Trolltech and gets a mention on their cool apps page.

  • Click throughs from Trolltech coolapps page: 1,922
  • Sales: 2
  • Conversion rate: 0.1%

The data above is based on web stats and using cookies to track the initial referrer of sales. I don’t pretend it is hugely accurate, for example it doesn’t take account of someone clicking through to my site and then emailing the URL to a friend who then buys the software. But it is accurate enough for current purposes.

Adding all 3 examples together the conversion rate averages 0.04%, or about £0.01 revenue per click. So I would have lost a lot of money if I was paying for these clicks through Adwords. What these 3 examples have in common is that they were untargeted. The people clicking through to my site were primarily interested in quantum computing, selling software or creating cross-platform software, not creating table plans.

From better targetted traffic (e.g. people searching for “table plans” on Google) I do much better, with a conversion rate typically in the range 1% to 10%, depending on how well targeted it is. That is 25 to 250 times better than the less targeted traffic.

So, next time you are boasting about the number of hits on your site (or bemoaning the lack) remember that hit counts is a flawed metric. Like LOC (lines of code) it is easy to measure, but not terribly meaningful. You need quality as well as quantity.

[1] Actually an adapted version interfacing with their D-Wave quantum solver, rather than using PerfectTablePlan’s own genetic algorithm.

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