I’ve worked with many companies who’ve shown exceptional growth, triple digits year over year that brings them to the next levels in their industries (music, education, marketplaces, etc.). But… in some cases, it wasn’t as good as it should have been. Because the main channels that they were using were vastly too big for what they should have been. So let’s dive a bit deeper into what that means.
When 80-90% becomes a problem
For some of these top performers in their space, they all had one fundamental problem: They were far too much relying on one specific channel that was driving their growth. If one channel (which is/was often Social Media or Organic Search) is driving over 80% of your traffic and/or revenue you might be growing but you’re also in immediate danger. As you can see in the following graph, this company was growing greatly for years before this. However what they weren’t realizing is, that they were not particularly setting themselves up for SEO success. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but they also weren’t doing anything in a way that I would consider a world-class SEO program. Then Google decided to change their approach to certain sites in their algorithm and this happened in the span of a few months. They lost over 40% of traffic and with that approximately 20-30% of their business.
So ask yourself, does your site/business have a healthy divide in traffic? Have you looked at the difference in channels for new and returning visitors? Looking at it the wrong way (combined) will likely skew your approach.
What channels this applies to
- SEO: If the majority of your traffic is coming in from SEO you have a serious problem. Remember the company that I was talking about at the beginning of this article. They saw their traffic drop with over 90% overnight! I repeat: overnight! This meant that their revenue streams itself crashed with over 80% (they weren’t solely relying on SEO at their revenue driver at the time).
- Paid Search & Social: When you’re thinking about this channel you’re likely thinking about Google AdWords, Bing Ads and for the social channels; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It makes sense, I do the same and because of that, I can’t blame you for it. But most companies aren’t even using Bing Ads, or only look at one of these channels. Even with, for example, Bing just being a few percents of your spend it will help you diversify your strategy a lot and protect you from Google changes that might hurt you in the long run. In addition, there are also tons of other networks out there which you could combine that could easily drive a few percent of your PPC spend. We looked into this recently and decided to move part of our display budget over to another platform/vendor just to ensure this, they were able to drive the same ROAS metrics and it felt safer to move a few percent of traffic to a smaller player.
- ‘Email Marketing’: In most cases, I don’t think this is really an acquisition strategy at all. Because from what source are these people actually signing up to be on your newsletter/mailing list? Likely one of the other channels that have been mentioned in this article.
- Social Media: Think about all the publishers who doubled down on social media a few years ago (Vice, Buzzfeed, etc.). Social media was a great driver of engagement, branding, and traffic for them. But have you noticed that trend over the last two/three years? Most of them have for sure not seen a traffic increase over that period. The reasons why: the social networks decided to change the way they ranked content and are likely less interested in sending more clicks to publishers instead of keeping them on their own platform.
In all these cases, still focus on these channels, they’re great drivers of growth for your business. Don’t rely on just one of them!
Why not other channels?
In my opinion, the problem doesn’t apply in most cases to referral traffic, affiliate marketing, and multi-level-marketing. As the majority of traffic from these is spread (it should) across many different partners and sites.
Valid Traffic Model
To marketers and founders, I would say, think more about the divide of your traffic and what is bringing in the actual revenue. Explore other channels, it’s not bad to kickstart growth on one channel (social/community, SEO, paid acquisition), in most cases I would encourage founders & startups actually to focus on this. It’s better to take a leap of faith and double down on a channel then to suck at a few channels.