Why Attention Is The New Traffic

Posted: March 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Business Startup, Entrepreneurs, Marketing Strategy | 5 Comments »

Let me put it to you bluntly, in case you didn’t already know…

The days of the destination site are over.

The days of thinking about indiscriminately scaling traffic, and then working to “monetize” are over. (were a long time ago)

And the days of finding a model “after the fact” are over too.

And for you and I that’s all a good thing… if we’re able to adapt.

Will you adapt?

There’s been a shift over the last year or more driven by fundamentals of the internet environment, the sheer mass of content out there, the collective evolution of competition in niches, and the realities of the economics of marketing and advertising online.

It used to be that online companies could find traffic sources, buy it, and hope that it converted.

For every company that didn’t have a clear strategy on Where traffic would come from, What the traffic cost, and How Much they’d make back over X amount of days… there was still a funny way of hanging in there for a while and fumbling their way through to enough customers and revenue (unprofitable) that an exit or additional financing could materialize.

But it certainly wasn’t sustainable. Just hustling and hype. Short term faux-sustainability.

The real numbers of these traffic and destination businesses told a grim story that the founders tried to reframe with misleading charts and press releases. They didn’t want you to see and understand the numbers, because the fundamentals were flawed.

This was what was going on during The Age Of Traffic.

That age is over.

Next came a wave of smarter businesses marketers that understood the value of targeted Quality Traffic over traffic for traffics sake.

These people knew how to spot and identify market niches online, they knew how to read the tea leaves of keyword research, and they knew how to create compelling content or products to meet the desires or needs of real individuals that made up a niche of targeted traffic.

Hundreds and thousands of businesses have prospered and jumped to the ranks of a 2, 3, 20 or 30 million dollar a year businesses in this way, and they did it through a relatively simple formula-

  • Create a service or product of real value that solves a real and existing need
  • Find your real target market through testing
  • Invest the time and effort it takes to create real value in content and products for this real target market
  • Find a way to convert your real target market in some way (subscribe, buy, use)
  • Follow up, often, and don’t be afraid to market and ask people to come back, try and buy

This formula was some of the focus of The Age of Conversion.

That age is largely over too, but the fundamentals of the Conversion formula are still as important now as they were then.

By the way, I talked about some of those old conversion fundamentals for internet marketing as they relate to the very first impression people have of you and your site/service on this quick ditty about Landing Pages. (*Hint- note the more “social” elements I’m testing and thinking about)

So, what’s happening now? Where are we going?

I see that we’re moving into a time I think of as The Age of Attention.

For most companies starting today online, the Conversion Age is over because of the rising cost of marketing and advertising online, and the added challenges of standing out in the crowd of existing products and businesses in most markets and niches makes competing very hard.

Building a large email list isn’t as straightforward as it used to be.

Driving traffic and getting it to convert at or above the minimum you need it to isn’t as easy as it used to be.

And prices are still generally rising in online ads, even with the downturn in the economy. (although Google Adwords hasn’t grown the same 5-8% this year in average CPC that it has steadily risen other years, from what I can tell across lots of different areas)

We’re now moving into a different time where existing companies who already have significant brands and audiences have a real advantage over companies that don’t and are starting out.

The barrier to entry for real online success has grown significantly over the last 5 years- both because of the Price of trying to compete, and because of the challenge in trying to grow your audience and the amount of Attention you can get.

Attention here meaning Qualified Traffic or Views of your message that were either referred, posted or bought.

Here’s a quick example of a barrier to entry for new companies, and the challenges in gaining Attention…

Google’s algorithm looks to favor bigger existing brands in a variety of search categories and keywords, where they didn’t before. The simple existence of Site Age in obtaining ranking in search results shows this… although age and audience awareness/attention/links can often go hand in hand.

Sites that alread have more Attention will be getting more Attention. And Attention seems to lead to more Attention.

Here’s an interesting article related to the value of links that older sites and businesses build up online. I found this quote particularly insightful:

“[There is...] the law of “preferential attachment” as it is also known, wherein new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links, proves that the scheme is inherently biased against new and unknown pages.”

Now, considering this, and consider the fact that even some of the more well-funded, experienced, web savvy people who used to be of the Conversion crowd are now changing or augmenting their methods of communicating, promoting, and growing their businesses.

Traffic and Conversion aren’t the game anymore. Everyone, even the Internet Marketing crowd, now wants a Brand, a Community, and an SEO strategy.

I found this article about the Two Tribes by Sonia Simone on Copyblogger a great insight into those still Traffic Age-minded, and those still Conversion Age-minded.

Here are some things I’m seeing as important and true in the new Age of Attention:

  • Brands used to be a bad word to Internet Marketers. Now they’re essential.
  • Great content alone, now matter how great, won’t win you enough Natural Search traffic to make it
  • People online are starting to want and trust “in network” information, not interruptive ads and marketing
  • Google is changing, can make or break you in a day, and can’t be depended on
  • There are starting to be some cool ways to build attention directly in social media. Especially Twitter

What changes are you seeing?

What’s stopped working that used to work for you and your business?

How has social media, and thinking about Brand and Attention become more important to you, and changed your approach?


  • Clueless_Media_Buyer

    Every online marketing channel has monetization strategies which are more efficient or less efficient. That scale more effectively or less effectively.

    The name of the game right now is optimising the channel to the offer and vice versa – although – that’s always been the game ;)

    Nothing in marketing has changed since time began.

    It’s always been the age of attention. There’s always been too much to focus on.

    Back when we hunted deer with slings, I’m sure there was pitching for the new and untested bow/arrow invention along with the requisite testimonials and emerging engagement mediums to sell it through. Possibly there were marketing forums on the benefit of animal hide ad placements over painting on cave walls – because painting on cave wall placements might have worked 10-15 years ago, but doesn’t work now.

    People wanted their bow/arrow ads in an easy to carry and walk around format – plus those animals hide placements are also used for warmth at night – resulting in a %600 increase in exposure and increasing user engagement.

    The reality is this:

    As the internet scales out, there are passing opportunity’s to channel market broadly – and the offers which work on those channels don’t necessarily come with a sustainable branded business. That might be because those models piss a lot of people off – but they are transitional – and necessary for the development of the internet medium as companies find more sustainable ways to monetize.

    It’s taking a lot of time and energy to scale internet advertising – and it’s got a long way to go.

    I dare say that the brand model of hot topic media’s sub brands is based on a few key strategic relationships – and the partners in the business who are not privvy to those leveraged relationships probably struggle. But I don’t know much about your business to be honest – that’s my perception from the outside.

    In any event to summarize: nothing has ever changed about people ever – EVER. The technology is changing, non sustainable business models come and go – and monetize what may be too expensive to develop without them. And those who are in good positions in the mix are able to create a branded business – but – having a branded business is not necessary to make a lot of money on the internet – even if it may be a good business model – it’s certainly not the only model.

  • http://www.subvertmagazine.com Paul Magee

    Clueless_media_buyer already said what I was just thinking, but used bigger words than I understand. Although I did like the hunting story. >–>

    I was going to say, although Google pricing has probably changed a lot I don’t think the basics of marketing have, for hundreds of years.

    That’s actually one of the things I like about direct marketing, it’s often comfortable talking about and relying on old school books and manuals. What worked 100 years ago, still works now.

    Unless we have our marketing consultant heads on, in which case it’s tempting to say that everything has changed, all the time.

    I think what has usually changed when we take this kind of “step back and review” is US.

    We, the observers, have changed.

    The change is, whether we are keeping up or lagging behind what was a constant all along.

    For example “branding” as in – providing a positive experience that the customer will remember as uniquely US and want to experience from US again.

    At no time in history was that a bad idea.

    Some people may have been able to get away without providing that temporarily because advertising was so cheap.

    But now that is no longer the case, some people have simply had to learn what was already there.

    They changed, not the market or their needs.

    So, maybe another way to look at this is to re-phrase the question. Instead of asking ourselves “what has changed or what will change in the future” we might ask “what fundamentals are we currently fooling ourselves into thinking don’t matter right now?”

    What I think is a really interesting question is – “what role has the social thing, playing in marketing in the past, before the internet?”

    I mean, let’s go all the way back to Clueless’s caves and see what history teaches us.

    If we remove the hype that we as marketers and consultants create, how much real value is left from a marketing perspective in all the “social stuff”?

    I think it’s also worth inventing a pair of glasses that filter out or make internet marketers invisible, not just for the obvious benefits :) but to allow us to observe individual sites or communities more clearly.

    They say that any experiment is changed by the simple act of being observed, right? Well, I think to measure the value of twitter, you would have to take away all the internet marketers to clearly see what is going on.

    I bet it would be a much, much quieter place.

    Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to communities having real value, as Mulder would say “I want to believe”. But like Scully, I seem to have miraculously missed seeing much hard evidence of their existence so far.

  • http://www.subvertmagazine.com Paul Magee

    I’ll rephrase that question : what types of “social media” have existed throughout history, before the Internet, and how much value did they provide to either consumers or marketers?

  • Kaiser_Soze

    The time to foist Twitter off onto Microsoft for $1 Billion is now.

    It’s just a fad site that offers a small amount of value in some very narrow ways. There are a few business models (like IM Guru’s) which work on Twitter, and a few sales and customer support strategies (like Dell’s), but other than that – it’s useless.

  • http://www.chancebarnett.com Chance Barnett

    Here are some of the most compelling “social marketing” numbers I’ve seen…

    Facebook Comments & Resulting Click Conversion Data:

    http://awe.sm/Nmk

    Facebook and Facebook Connect are cool, but this all really just boils down to “the stream” to me. Friends sharing info with friends on what to choose, what they like, where to go, etc. Conversation in the micor-community. It’s real.

    I see Twitter not as a fad, but as an indicator of the larger movement – micro-communication that’s personalized and more targeted for Users. (regardless of how business models do or don’t fit in to this)

    Users have more control (if they want it) in the “social” world online… and more control is likely coming for users in the Search world as well.

    Whether it’s Twitter, or a Facebook, or whatever “stream” of comments and posts, people and services are finding unique ways to better organize themselves and share information.

    There is real value in improving the control, efficiency, and personalization options available to users, and I don’t see this a passing fad in any way. It’s part of a move towards a personalized and more inter-connected web (for users who care and want it)

    The “mainstream” of course has not fully adopted these or care yet though. But part of the 200+ MM FB users, and millions of active Twitterers seem to find it valuable in the way these micro-channels allow conversations to happen and for information to be organized.

    Not everyone will want it… but I believe that the big traffic channels (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) will all start integrating more options for users to “personalize” what they find that’s valuable, and do it with help from their friends who have already been there and commented, tagged or rated.