Regarding Web Analytics

You Don’t Need to Drive Traffic to Your Website

Recorded on September 1st, 2016

There’s a popular but wrong idea out there that when you have a website, and you have an email subscription tool like Constant Contact, Emma, or MailChimp, that when you send out an article through the email list, you should give your audience just a taste of the article and link back to your website. You know, to “drive traffic”.

I’m not talking about those emails where it’s a digest of the last six or 12 articles from your site. I’m talking about the times when your email list functions as a written newsletter or a very occasional one-blast-email-per-blog-post feed for the recipients. If you still have such a mechanism in place, and people still want your emails, do them a favor and just hand over the complete text of your post when you send it out. Don’t give them a paragraph and a hyperlinked headline that they have to click through to read the rest of your press release. Your readers are sitting there in their inbox, they’ve opted not to delete or ignore your email, and this is your opportunity to “meet them where they are”, which is a lazy phrase, but it fits. If your organization’s goal is to educate people, help them get things done, expand their horizons, lift them out of poverty, help them eat better, find a new job, whatever — then take that tiny open window of attention and pour your content — your actual full dose of that particular content — right into their eyeballs, or ears, or fingertips.

I doubt that your company was originally founded in order to “drive traffic to the website”. The website is just a tool, and it’s a blunt one. When people subscribe to your targeted email list, they’re telling you in capital letters, “I want to know more about this topic as soon as you have stuff to tell me about it”. Those are the people ready to hear what you have to say. Don’t make them expend any extra effort (other than scrolling) to see the rest of your message.

Here’s what happens when your reader has to click or tap through a link in an email to read the rest of the story:

  1. Person sees a promising headline and teaser and has to decide to click on the link and not just bail out and go on to the next email.
  2. Person clicks on link.
  3. Email client gets unceremoniously whisked away or obscured by the web browser (or a new browser tab opens if the user was in a webmail client).
  4. Person waits for-fucking-ever for DNS to do its magic and your server to respond to the browser’s request.
  5. Person waits some more for their sub-optimal network connection to finish delivering the page.
  6. Person scrolls down past your header, your banner ad, and any navigation taking up precious real estate.
  7. Person finds where they left off from the teaser in your email and keeps reading.
  8. Person finishes article and closes the tab.
  9. Person switches back to your email message and subconsciously remembers that they’ll never get those seconds of life back.

Here’s what happens when your whole article is embedded in the email message:

  1. Person sees a promising headline and first paragraph and decides to keep reading.
  2. Person scrolls down through the piece and reads it.
  3. DONE.

See how much better the second scenario is?

No, this doesn’t scale when you have so much content every week that the only way to keep up is to send out an email digest. It would be crazy to embed 12 full articles in one email message. Sure, in that case, give your readers a bunch of headlines and teasers and suck it up.

But don’t forget that email is one channel, just like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, printed materials, your call center, and your TV ad spots. All those channels are not there to serve “the website”. They should serve your audience. We now have an unprecedented array of possible ways to give people what they want from us. All we have to do is structure our stuff in a way that we give our users useful information at the time and place that they want it.

I’ve been guilty of this, even with this vain blog of mine. Lots of times, I’ve posted very short little things on this site and then linked to them on Facebook. Why? Because I wanted to drive traffic to my blog. Ugh. And the point of driving traffic is what? I don’t have advertisers. I don’t have anyone else to answer to except my ego. Don’t I write because I want people to read this stuff? (Yes, but I also write to get better at writing. Anyway.) If I write something short, wouldn’t it reach more people if I copied and pasted it right into my Facebook wall? Who cares if no one visits my dusty designated corner of the internet?

I don’t need to drive traffic to my website. Do you want people to know about your website or do you want them to learn from you, know what you do, and find the answers to their questions with as few barriers as possible?