Guest Contributor: Corey Morris
Director of Digital Strategy
I recently saw in Ad Age that estimated the cost for a 90-second TV ad slot in the Super Bowl to be fifteen million dollars. While a Super Bowl ad goes out to a massive audience on what many consider an unofficial national holiday, it can be hard to measure the full actual impact the spot has on a business. While sitting here with my mind blown about how much work I would put into finding ways to make web traffic from the spot measurable and able to be attributed properly, I started thinking about the differing cost of traffic through specific website traffic channel sources. That led me down an interesting and variable path. In my recent [2016 benchmarking review of the building materials industry] I found some connections that make sense and others that provide for strong predictions of what we’ll see in web traffic at the end of 2017.
The most predictable was that direct traffic (third highest source) and organic traffic (highest source) are both in the top three as traffic drivers. These are two “free” sources of traffic to a website; however, they aren’t really free. There are costs associated with building a brand, sales efforts, and other drivers that cause a website visitor to directly type in a domain name and go to a website. Additionally, while the organic traffic from search engines is free, there are often costs associated with search engine optimization, content development, and website maintenance in external expense or overhead.
The second highest traffic source is paid search traffic. This traffic source is strictly for paid ad traffic to the website from search engines. By default, it is often written off as a more expensive source of traffic by many companies and is not considered. Yet, the evidence continues to suggest that this is an important source of traffic, right after organic search engine traffic. It fills gaps and ensures that as many visitors as possible are captured from search engines. With the removal of the right column of ads in early 2016, it is as important as ever because the ad slots at the top of the search results pages look more like organic results. The beauty about this source is that it has much more visible and self-contained costs than other channels. We know what we are paying in media, what our external or overhead costs are for managing it, and the more small-scale content investment needed for PPC compared to content marketing.
Social media traffic is a small segment, yet it is the most rapidly growing and surpassed email marketing in 2016. Both social media and email marketing fall under the content marketing umbrella in terms of external costs on overhead for internal management plus the need to generate content.
So, where does this all lead us? After running through a lot of different scenarios, looking at different industries, and diving deep into analytics of specific companies, I realized there’s not really a set, objective benchmark target to report or target. The key is to first find out what the true costs of your traffic are by channel. Once you have those numbers and expose all potential hidden costs, then you can calculate the true cost per acquisition for each channel. That will show you how much return you’re getting on your investment in each area so you can make wise decisions when that next budget season comes around or when that new campaign idea comes up.