Oh how can I increase my web site traffic? This is the cry on literally thousands of e-commerce forums around the world on a daily basis. I pop my head into these forums on a regular basis because I love to keep my ear to the ground. I'm also a scientist by training, so I love to run a good experiment. As Chad likes to say: "Man you test everything." And I do. My favorite tests are on new ideas around web site traffic generation.

So you know the basics. But I'm going to repeat them here anyway for those just starting out. There are two major approaches to gaining appreciable web site traffic. They are pay per click (PPC or paid search) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). These are two very very different strategies that both bring traffic from ultimately the same place: Google. it is just a matter of paying for the traffic and being listed on the right as a "sponsor", or getting your traffic for free (known as organic traffic) and being listed in the search results on the left.

Obviously, web site traffic that you don't pay for is much better. So the knee-jerk reaction here is to aim for web site traffic from SEO. Sure. How hard can that be? REALLY REALLY hard. Trust me on this. For any keyword phrase that has any meaningful search volume, to get a top spot (and thus great web site traffic) is extremely difficult. Sure, you can rank on the phrase "purple banana iced tea" in about 24 hours (assuming your site is established and is crawled at least once a day). I've run that experiment too. Yes, you can be the proud owner of position 1 on page 1 of Google for "purple banana iced tea." But guess what? There will be zero web site traffic from that term. Why? Because there is zero Internet traffic on that term period. Simply put: People don't search on that phrase. No searches, no web site traffic. The thing about all search marketing is that the demand has to be there. You can't create it with search engine optimization. You are simply capitalizing on search demand that is already happening.

So, the natural progression then is to turn to PPC, or paid search, for web site traffic. After a month or two of writing articles, blogging, posting in forums and social bookmarking, nothing is happening. And people can't understand. Again, a 5 minute trip to every search engine optimization forum online tells you that you can get great web site traffic by doing these four things. Maybe they have even tried some SEO technology, but things still are not working.. "But I've done them until my fingers are about to fall off and I have no Internet traffic whatsoever," you will read in the forums. So the desperate web site owner turns to paid search. They go to Adwords and put in their credit card. They start spending money with Google and at first it feels really good. Why? Because finally there is web site traffic to their site. They see the clicks and it's fantastic - for about 10 minutes. See, at the end of that first day they start to think about their PPC / paid search spend rate. They look at the total spend in their Adwords account. Maybe it's $10, maybe $250. But they also look at the conversion and see that nobody bought anything. Or perhaps a few sales trickled in, but the profit margins on those sales are nowhere near enough to cover the costs of the paid search spend.

Am I saying that paid search is a negative return activity? Not entirely. But at first, and administered by a novice, spending money on Adwords will bring web site traffic that does not have a positive return on investment. Again, I've run many experiments here on many different keyword phrases. Chad is about to launch another one and we will be sure to describe those results. To date: I can't say that I recommend paid search as a primary web site traffic source for small web sites. I believe it has a great place within the larger context of a huge marketing and advertising campaign. But for the little guy, it's frustrating. The reasons for this are clear. Adwords represents nearly a perfect marketplace. You are bidding on keyword phrases in an open market along with your competitors who all want that same web site traffic. Changes can be made immediately, even using automated tools that adjust the campaigns in real-time via the Google API. There are reports and analyics to tell you exactly how much money you are making from these clicks, per impression, your conversion rate, your click-through rate, etc. In other words, you have perfect information. So a perfectly responsive marketplace armed with perfect information, does it surprise you that the price is perfect also?

So is gaining meaningful clicks from Internet traffic a myth? No. It can be done. My point is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, you should use PPC in your campaigns. But you should be aware that you may need to recoup that investment over many repeat visits from your customers. And on the search engine optimization side, realize that you need top notch SEO campaign management by professionals who understand the long game. Don't believe me on these points, look at the numbers. Better yet, run your own experiment. But whatever you do, don't believe what you read in those forums.