In one of the support forums I monitor, an agent asked this simple question: "How long should I try out a vendor for sending traffic to my site if I’m getting absolutely no traffic? It isn’t a pay-per-click arrangement, it’s a monthly fee."

Simple question, right? Of course, the answer on this isn’t entirely simple. There are several things to consider when evaluating this sort of traffic generation arrangement. I’ll give the standard consultant’s answer: It depends.

It depends on seasonality

In many markets there are definite seasons for house hunting. The online activities associated with house hunting start before the time of year when people are calling up or emailing looking for a real estate professional.

The person who asked the question in the forum lived in one of those markets where there are seasonal effects. She had been testing her vendor during offseason months for house hunting in her region. If there isn’t a lot of activity around house hunting in the offseason, then her vendor isn’t going to magically create people who want to buy a house.

So when testing out things like this, it’s important to know what part of the yearly season you are testing.

This can work the other way as well. You can test something out during the high season and be so impressed that you sign a yearly contract, only to discover that activity drops off during the low season.

So know which season you’re in, and know that online activity peaks before real-world activity peaks in many markets. There are, of course, markets which have no real seasons.

Seasons and how they affect house hunting activity is one of the many reasons that an approach that works for someone in another market might be a total wash in your market.

It depends on market size

Many lead purchasing or traffic-purchasing arrangements depend on the volume of search traffic arriving at the vendor site. Just as seasons can have an impact on that traffic, so can the size of your market.

The person asking the question in the forum was in a relatively small market that bordered a very large market. For a traffic or lead vendor, the large markets are where most of the revenue originates. Despite all the talk about "long tail" search, the vendor’s attention is going to be primarily on large markets.

The reason for this is simple: the vendor is going to focus the most effort where the largest amount of customers reside. If you’re in a small market, the vendors aren’t likely to devote as many resources to capturing the traffic there and reselling it to a small amount of customers (the real estate professionals).

Traffic and lead vendors may have solid automated systems for keeping their sites well-ranked in search. Some will even have a little bit of advertising or branding going on. But generally speaking, if you’re in a small market they aren’t going to be doing that much to make sure you get a lot of traffic.

The person in the forum was paying a monthly flat fee. This isn’t going to work out well for her in a small market. It’s small enough that in that month maybe only a handful of people will even see the page that is supposed to be driving traffic to her site.

The vendor isn’t rewarded for increasing that number. The actions required to do so would increase the vendor’s operating costs, so the math in general just isn’t going to add up.

If the vendor has a heart of gold and decides to really put in the effort for this small market with one customer, the vendor risks going out of business because that sort of behavior doesn’t scale.

Evaluating traffic

In the forum, I suggested this person should run a pay-per-click (PPC) ad with Google while simultaneously running the vendor’s product. In this way, she can find out what sort of traffic there is to begin with.

If she gets a ton of clicks on her PPC campaign but continues to get nothing from the vendor, then it’s an easy decision. If she gets traffic from both sources, she can start to assess the quality of the traffic:

  • How many visitors are still there after the bounce rate is applied?
  • How many look at a specific property on her website?
  • How many contact her?
  • How many look at her contact page?

Or any other relevant conversion metric she thinks is important.

These are some simple, straightforward tasks for assessing the value of lead-buying or traffic-generation value of a vendor relationship. There’s a good chance you can implement them yourself, and your virtual assistant or digital marketer can certainly run this sort of stuff for you.

Remember, what works at one time of year might not work as well (or at all) during another time of year. What works for someone you read about as a case study in another market might not work for your market. Test things out and see if they work.

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