Driving relevant traffic via referrals

It’s all too easy to get obsessed with optimising your site for Google and imagining that all your traffic will arrive via natural search.  But there are plenty of products and services where search isn’t necessarily the route that prospective customers take. This is particularly the case for professional services, where generic terms are too competitive, and your customer may find it hard to express their rather complex requirement in a small search box.  Then you need to focus more on how external links in related sites can drive relevant traffic to your site in their own right, which has the added benefit of enhancing your pagerank.  The trick is thinking through your customers’ purchase process, and working out which online sites they will use to gather information before looking for a supplier.  Here are five ideas to help you identify these types of links and build referral traffic back to your site.

1. Build your personal brand

Small businesses usually have one or two key figures who are well known in their industry sector.  Even larger businesses have some “stars”.  If these individuals build up their personal online brand using profiles on Linked-in, blog posts or activity on twitter they can drive traffic to your site.  Profiles on professional associations sites, niche directory listings and conferences or seminars where your key staff speak can all attract relevant traffic. See my earlier blog on building content around people for some more thoughts on this topic.

2. Create a referral community

Work out related, non-competing suppliers, and exchange links and profile their services on your site.  A wedding dress-maker did well by getting referrals from florists, wedding car hire, venues and other linked suppliers.  A themed party provider could link to venues.  A hotel could link to local events, attractions and restaurants.  This creates a virtuous circle for related products, and helps the customer.

3. Post useful content on social media sites

How tos, top 10s, checklists, guides and other useful content can be added to social media sites such as slideshare, issuu, linked-in, facebook, twitter and will be consulted by people in the buying process.  See an earlier post on using content to acquire links.

4. Review books and related products

Work out which books and other products your prospective customer may consult before embarking on their project.  Post helpful reviews on Amazon or niche reviews sites and include some simple background on your business.  This has proved particularly successful for travel providers who reviewed relevant guidebooks.

5. Contribute helpfully to niche forums

Decide which forums your target customer may consult – maybe those related to a specialist offline publication in your target market.  Post helpful comments with links back to useful content on your site (those how tos, tops 10s, checklists referred to previously).

With all these methods, it is crucial not to sell hard.  Your prospective customer is only starting out on their journey.  If you provide some free advice or useful information they are more likely to remember your business and contact you when they are ready to spend.

You can monitor the success of all this activity through your site analytics, and quickly work out which drives the most relevant traffic and the best enquiries.  Ideally you want to develop referrals as a major source of traffic, reducing your dependence on Google for either natural search or PPC.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, which creates practical digital media and marketing strategies for a range of businesses.  Find out more about our workshops for SMEs or contact us directly to discuss your specific needs.