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Internet Traffic

Some comments on Internet traffic

by , Internet-interested

The term "traffic" is often misleading. What do we mean by it? It could mean:

  • Number of users online at a given time.
  • Number of active users online (Defined as, what, exactly? Activity in the last 30 seconds?)
  • Number of sites visited.
  • Minutes, seconds, or hours of connection time.
  • Number of page views.
  • Number of server requests.
  • Amount of bandwidth used.
  • All of this combined.
  • Any of a number of other things.

Some things it does not tell you:

  • Number of users counted twice (e.g., a person doing a download from a desktop while doing Windows updates on his or her laptop).
  • Who is buying vs. merely browsing.
  • Who is human vs. robots or other automated "crawlers."
  • Who is human vs. e-commerce machine to machine (e.g., almost all credit card data go over the Internet today, even if the customer and the clerk aren't "on the computer").
  • Who is civilian vs. military.
  • Which users are business, consumer, industrial, or military.
  • Anything else about what people or machines are actually doing.

The point of the above lists is that this is an aggregate number. It doesn't really give you much in the way of meaningful information. It is interesting, and over a long period the trend can show you that Internet traffic of all sorts and for all reasons is increasing. We just don't know what that traffic is composed of.

Many e-commerce analysts talk about "traffic." When they do this in regard to a specific Website, they usually mean the number of visitors. They're speaking in the same manner a bricks and mortar store manager would speak of foot traffic through the store. A merchant can get traffic for the sake of traffic, and that's (sadly) what many merchants do because they focus on the raw numbers. What they want to do, instead, is focus on qualified buyers.

A term that enters the discussion at this point is conversion. If the merchant advertises correctly (and, for online merchants, the SEO or Search Engine Optimization is good), then the visitors are coming with the intent to buy (or, a significant percentage is). The merchant can "convert" those visits into sales through proper store design. This includes good organization, navigation, content, graphics, and other aspects of a solid Website design. The merchant also tries to guide the buyer through the sales funnel, rather than distract the buyer with all kinds of things not pertinent to completing a sales transaction.

By now, you have probably concluded that the term "traffic" is something to take with the proverbial grain of salt. For a business, aggregate Internet traffic means nothing in the short term. It's interesting to see the actual metrics, but we all know it's increasing. If you build a good site and follow good practices (see Google's Webmaster guidelines), you don't need to worry about traffic. Your focus needs to be on what you do with the traffic you get.

What you need to do is convert. Tim Ash and several other experts have written good books on this topic. The basic premise is that you need to make it easy for your visitor to buy what you're selling. Don't distract them, don't clutter your pages, and don't make them think. Many tools are available to help with tuning this whole process, including live testing.

As for testing, we've had good results from usertesting.com. But before creating a test, have a goal in mind. What is it you want to test and then improve? Limit the test to four tasks. If the instructions need to be lengthy or complicated, it's a bad test and you're wasting your money. As with the site design itself, focus on making things easy for people.

Traffic with conversion is revenue. Focus on conversion, and your traffic will be worth getting.

 

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