On this episode of Ground Up, Kieran Flanagan talks about the early days of freemium at HubSpot, instilling a growth discipline that expanded well beyond the marketing team, managing cross-functional teams, and more.
Ground Up Podcast | Oct 21
Dann Albright on September 24, 2018 (last modified on October 19, 2018) • 13 minute read
When we dug into the quantitative data behind our research, we learned something interesting – while referral traffic does tend to convert at a higher percentage in comparison to other channels (organic, direct, etc.), it’s not as dramatic a difference as most would think.
To get a baseline, we polled marketers to find out what their overall visit-to-lead conversion rate was…
Then, we asked those same marketers to share their visit-to-lead conversion rate from referral traffic alone…
The biggest difference was in the segment reporting a 2-5% visit-to-lead conversion rate.
This segment saw 64% growth when comparing referral traffic to overall traffic. However, perspective is everything here – a seemingly small increase, from 2-5%, can yield big returns on overall leads and sales for any business. The more traffic a website is generating, the greater impact that growth is having.
Obviously, there’s value in referral as a channel. Not only does it convert better, but it’s a credibility booster, too.
Like most effective marketing tactics, referral traffic is driven by merit.
Sure, there are companies out there that buy links, but in order to build a sustainable referral strategy, there needs to be a deliberate focus on quality and relationships.
So, how do you do it?
We asked dozens of marketers to share what’s worked for them. Here’s what we learned.
*Editor’s note: Want to see something really cool? You can visualize your traffic by source, in a variety of visualization types, in just a few minutes. Grab this free Google Analytics template and track all of your essential website KPIs in one place.
“The best way to get referral traffic is to focus on guest posting on websites that have serious traffic in your niche,” says Tim Brown, owner of Hook Agency. “Instead of guest posting just for SEO, guest post for pure traffic.”
“One post that I worked with a ghostwriter on was on a popular startup blog and drove more traffic and leads than the 20 other guest posts I had done previously,” Brown adds. “Some sites just have the type of audience that will actually follow through or are actually ‘shopping’ or looking for a solution. It’s about the audience the blog has, but it’s also the angle of the post – is the article high intent? If you can achieve a marriage of these two concepts you can really drive referral traffic and leads.”
Ian Revling, brand strategist at Evolve Digital Labs, stresses the importance of research. “If you want [guest posting] to truly work, you’ve got to do your research and write guest blogs that leverage the power of long-tail keywords.”
“This allows you to narrow your content’s focus and speak to a specific audience,” adds Revling. “When you’re creating content it’s a must for your strategists and copywriters to focus on user intent and to try to build links that truly enhance your potential customer’s user experience.”
But don’t start guest posting everywhere you can just yet.
PR&Prose‘s Lauren Gilmore says “Dumping articles on irrelevant blogs won’t increase your referral traffic.”
“Guest blogging should be strategic,” said Gilmore. “You need to spend time and effort to identify industry blogs that publish content on topics similar to yours. Then, build relationships with those publishers to become a go-to contributor.”
It’s a long-term process. But it can work.
(In addition to guest posting on relevant sites, Kobe Digital manager Arya Bina recommends posting on a variety of different sites. So spread out your pitches.)
So how do you actually go about guest posting? How do you make it happen?
PostcardMania founder Joy Gendusa shares her workflow:
Laura Cabrera from Outcry.io also gave advice on finding places to guest post. “The goal is to have a few sites where you’re a consistent contributor,” she says.
“To find these sites in your space that accept guest posts, you can simply Google: “[your niche] ‘write for us.'” Be prepared to offer some topic ideas that you think the prospective website would like and link back to your site from your author bio.”
Many people focus their efforts on high-authority sites for “link juice,” says Ben Taylor of HomeWorkingClub. But, guest posting can actually get you a solid amount of referral traffic, too.
“Marketers are so fixated with link building that they forget that the best links generate traffic as well as “link juice”, said Taylor. “By guest posting more mindfully and by targeting the right sites, guest posts can bring you a new audience.”
Marketers are also fixated on the A-listers, but Jx Tan, principal consultant at Momentum Digital, says there’s value in lesser-known partners, too.
“Guest blogging with complementary partners is a lesser-known but highly effective way to enhance B2B referral traffic,” said Tan. “But you have to understand that the objective has to be providing unique takeaways that will add value to both of your audiences, and that referral traffic is just a by-product of this strategy.”
“Leaving thoughtful or insightful comments on industry or influencer blogs is one of the most overlooked referral strategies we’ve come across,” says Colibri Digital Marketing‘s Andrew McLoughlin.
“So long as you’ve sufficiently acquainted yourself with the blog you’ll be commenting on, and so long as that blog is under the direct control of its author, your comment can become the first step toward a dialogue, a referral, or a partnership,” adds McLoughlin.
McLoughlin points out that writing a comment is much faster than writing a blog post. So you can use this strategy to create more interactions than you would through guest posting or cold emailing.
Rick Ramos, CMO of HealthJoy, says that in his experience there are two types of content that are more likely to provide value and get picked up by larger publications: studies/surveys and infographics.
“This type of content is very time consuming to create, but the results are amazing. If it’s unique enough and talks to a broad industry, it can be picked up by some pretty large publications,” said Ramos.
You can also use roundup articles to great effect, says SEO Hacker‘s Sean Si. “This allows us to be able to link other websites for users to find, along with being able to promote our website.”
It’s important to remember that just creating content isn’t enough. You have to promote it too, according to Dario Sipos of DWR. His company uses videos in their content marketing, but they place a strong emphasis on effective promotion to get referral links.
To stand out, it’s worth looking into less common types of content. Infographics grab people’s attention, but they’re all over the place now. Kent Lewis, founder of Anvil Media, suggests trying a podcast. “Podcasting offers a unique opportunity to generate inbound links via consistently compelling content,” he says.
By combining that with competitive benchmarking, you can put out better content than your competitors.
And remember, says David Pagotto, founder of SIXGUN: referral traffic is about relationships. “Referral traffic suggests a relationship with the website linking to you, whether it be through a paid sponsorship or mutual respect for a blog post on your website. The key here is the relationship.”
“The best way to increase referral traffic is to actively seek out opportunities to build relationships with website owners in your niche, sponsor events or meaningful causes and put a content marketing plan in place that includes an outreach and amplification strategy,” adds Pagotto.
“If you can find an active forum related to your niche and build a presence on there as a valued member, it can become an incredible source of referral traffic,” says Max Robinson, founder of FishTankBank.
“The great thing about most forums is that the threads don’t expire—if you post a link on there to your site, it could potentially drive traffic for years to come.”
Adds Robinson: “One method that I use is to find threads on these forums which are ranking in Google for competitive terms, then post a link in the thread, further increasing the chances that it could drive valuable referral traffic.”
ASPLI‘s Steve Pritchard emphasizes the importance of providing good information on Q&A sites. “The topics you provide answers to will obviously need to be relevant to the industry your company is in, otherwise, you won’t be seen as a credible source.”
As is the case with almost any marketing, you’ll need to provide value. “The key,” says Pritchard, “is to make sure you are being genuinely helpful to the users for them to visit your website—you don’t want to appear spammy. For example, if you are an insurance company, start by providing insights to users who are asking questions about their policies or are unsure about which types of insurance they need. You can then provide a link within your answer to a piece of content on your website which is related to the question being asked.”
“Make sure you do some screening; answer questions which have been viewed by a lot of people but not had many answers, this will make sure you don’t get lost in the noise,” adds Pritchard.
We also had a very interesting tip on getting referral traffic from forums and Q&A sites from Jim Milan, communications and organic search manager at Auto Accessories Garage. Instead of just engaging on forums, you can also sponsor them.
“For example, we at Auto Accessories Garage sponsor forums like fordfullsize.com and gmforum.com. As part of the sponsorship package, we receive sponsorship button links on these sites, which generates referral traffic to our site.”
Milan’s company also posts information and ads on some of those forums to drive more traffic. “The traffic from these sites is often highly qualified,” which is a huge bonus.
Many marketers mentioned Quora, possibly the most popular Q&A site around.
Valli Vishnubhotla with Market Inspector, points out that nearly every industry is represented. “[T]here isn’t a niche that you cannot find on Quora these days.”
Of course, you’ll need to provide value to readers.
“I search for questions that people have asked relating to fashion, music festivals, online gaming, and other topics related to our brands,” says INTO THE AM hiring manager Darren Schreher.
“Then, I provide an in-depth, insightful answer that is beneficial to those reading. I’m able to include supporting links in my answers, which entices curious readers to click and find out more.”
“Quora or other industry-specific forums are excellent opportunities to respond directly to your target audiences’ questions and pain points by providing links to relevant content on your site, said Jennifer Lux, growth strategist at LyntonWeb. “Not to mention, you’ll also receive an inbound link from what is most likely a highly relevant source. Just make sure to optimize the pages you link to for conversion, so that visitor doesn’t just get the answer to his or her question, but converts on a relevant offer and becomes a referral lead as well.”
If you answer the right questions and point readers to the right pages, you can get very well-qualified leads. “On certain relevant Quora answers that feature AND CO, we have an almost 13% conversion rate,” says Sophie McAulay, growth and content strategist at AND CO.
Like forums, social media can be a great place to address customer pain points.
It won’t happen overnight, but you can build a solid following, says Blake Aylott of Shape & Skin Medical. “[W]hen we post about specials for the month a lot of people visit our site through the link in our bio.”
Instagram is big for iHeartRaves too, says digital marketing strategist Brandon Chopp. Instead of posting specials, though, Chopp emphasized connecting with influencers:
“We measure our return on investment based on the number of impressions we receive, how much referral traffic we get, and of course, how many sales come as a result of the campaign.”
(Chopp also recommends Tomoson for finding influencers to work with your brand.)
Of course, before you can recruit an influencer to your cause, you’ll need to build a relationship. Ketan Kapoor, co-founder of Mettl, recommends the following tactics:
Once you’ve built a connection, you can subtly pitch your product or service.
Positive reviews and great testimonials are great for overcoming buyer nervousness about your product or service. But they can also be a source of referral traffic.
“[S]ee where your competitors have been reviewed and then pitch something similar,” says Josh Spilker, content manager at ClickUp. “This may require you to provide a free trial or product samples, but it’s generally worth the traffic and the comparison to your competitor.”
If you’re not sure where to find these opportunities, Spilker recommends tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to find links to your competitors’ sites.
Heartland Funding‘s Don Wede uses testimonials for the same reason. “On our website, we use extensive testimonials as a source of referrals and credibility.”
And Heartland takes advantage of multiple media: written testimonials both with and without images and video testimonials have proven effective.
“To increase your referral traffic you must first increase your brand authority,” according to Tim Absalikov, co-founder of Lasting Trend. How do you do that? In addition to guest blogging and building relationships with influencers, Absalikov recommends going offline.
“Speak at local events or even sponsor some local events. It doesn’t have to be anything big and fancy – a few hundred dollars can go a long way with smart planning.”
Jomel Alos, online PR lead at Spiralytics, agrees. “Though it takes a lot of time and resources,” he says, “once you are already considered as an expert, other websites will naturally use your content as a reference and link back to your site.”
Consumers are getting increasingly savvy to marketing tactics. But other marketers can content creators are especially so. You’ll need to provide value that they can pass along to their readers if you want referral traffic.
It may be through offering great content they can share with their readers. Or exclusive products to interview. It might even be, as SIA Enterprises‘ Syed Irfan Ajmal suggests, a product giveaway.
By providing that value and creating a real relationship, you’re more likely to generate the links and influence you need to boost your referral traffic.
Have you made an effort to increase your referral traffic? Which methods did you try? Which worked best for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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