Why web traffic is a vanity metric


Just because it’s easy to measure, and compare yourself measurably to your competitors, doesn’t mean it’s worth tracking let alone basing your sales model on it.

I’m not at all arguing that Web visits aren’t important.  But if you’re building a sales pipeline model for your business, traffic shouldn’t be a direct part of the equation.

Too often, I see companies build their demand waterfall based not on qualified leads but based on Web traffic.  The model is based on an assumption that a certain percentage of your Web traffic will convert into leads and that a percent of those leads will become sales opportunities.

It makes for a nice, clean spreadsheet.  But it rarely works that way, for a few reasons:

  1. Not all Web traffic is equal.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you’re succeeding at content and inbound marketing, the majority of your Web visitors won’t be qualified prospects.  I get 35-50 leads per day from our Web site, but most of those will never buy anything from us.  They’re consumers, students, network marketers, dentists in South Carolina.  As happy as I am to share content with dentists, they’re not our target market.  Some of the leads we get from our Web site are very qualified.  But building a model purely based on Web traffic is a quick path to inaccuracy and delusion.
  2. Not all leads come from your Web site.  I sure hope you’re not just waiting for your entire sales pipeline to come from Web traffic and Web site-originated leads.  Inbound marketing is great, but you have little if any control over quantity and quality of leads, both now and over time.  The best marketing programs subsidize Web leads with a variety of other sources – email, social, other digital channels, your SDR team, referrals, nurturing past prospects, etc.
  3. For most businesses, Web traffic isn’t your most valuable marketing channel.  If you insist on modeling your demand generation and pipeline growth on a single channel, I recommend email.  This includes outbound emails to new prospects as well as nurture campaigns to your existing prospects.  With email you have far better control over quantity AND quality.  I still don’t recommend using email exclusively, but it is a far more predictable and scalable channel with inbound lead results I would be more likely to trust.

Beyond lead generation, however, Web traffic isn’t too much better as a metric than raw inbound leads.  An up-and-to-the-right chart showing lead volume and/or Web traffic doesn’t necessarily have a direct bearing on the success of your marketing, nor the health of your pipeline.

Worse, too narrow of a focus on Web traffic might keep you from putting more time, attention and resources on other channels, strategies and tactics that – while not as visible or sexy – can lead more directly and successfully to pipeline and sales growth.