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Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

Myths About Site Traffic and Optimization

By Brendan Regan
October 30th, 2009

Lots of folks have been asking us lately about the connection between site traffic levels and online optimization strategies.  There are definitely some correlations, but there also seem to be some myths or mis-perceptions about those connections.

trafficWe often get asked:

How much traffic do I need before I start optimization?

Do I get enough traffic to my site to even consider optimization?

Will my tests take forever to run if I don’t have a lot of traffic?

How fast can I expect to see the results of optimization if my traffic is low?

These are natural questions from folks who haven’t dipped their toes into the optimization waters, but these questions indicate a few myths that I’ll attempt to dispel.

Myth #1: Traffic is the ‘magic metric’ when it comes to optimization

The fact is that the number of conversions is at least as important as traffic levels.  We’ve always said that a minimum threshold to do formal online testing is 5-10 conversions per week, and that this amount of conversions (regardless of traffic) can at least get you results in a matter of weeks instead of months.  A simple tool that illustrates the relationships between site traffic, conversion rate, and test durations is the Google Website Optimizer Duration Calculator.  This free tool lets you play around with data points and estimate test durations before you start your experiment.  I can personally say it has saved me a bunch of grief by warning me away from certain client experiments due to the duration estimates being way too long!  Try changing the page views metric, and see the impact on duration.  Now, try changing the conversion rate metric, and you’ll see it, too, can have a drastic impact on the duration.

Myth #2: Low-traffic sites won’t see results from optimization

The fact is that low-traffic sites can still see improvements from optimization.  Remember that “optimization” doesn’t just mean formal testing using a tool like those provided by Omniture or Google.  Optimization is about getting your company on a program of continuous improvement through hypothesis, change (via formal testing or not), and monitoring of the results of those changes.  Once you have “results,” you feed those learnings right back into the program and keep going.  Lower traffic sites may or may not be good candidates for formal testing methods like split testing or full factorial multivariate testing, but they may be great candidates for optimization!  We often try formal testing on low-traffic sites, and if it’s not productive, we switch our focus to “serial testing,” which means benchmarking the performance of something (an ad, a landing page, etc.), making a change, and then monitoring the impact of that change. Either way, we tend to get results.

Myth #3: Testing and optimization doesn’t really work for low-traffic sites

The fact is that optimization can definitely work, and even formal testing can work if you do it right.  One way to do formal testing on low-traffic sites is to focus on higher-trafficked pages.  Another is to test micro-conversions (e.g. reading product reviews as opposed to buying the product).  Still another is to make a B2C “view cart” page the conversion point instead of the purchase confirmation page.  There are plenty of methods to shortening the duration of a test, but we’ll keep a few of those to ourselves for now ;)

Myth #4: It’s better to defer optimization until site traffic grows

The fact is that the time to optimize is always “now.”  There’s an opportunity cost associated with not doing anything, when you could at least be doing something less-than-optimal.  Your traffic may be less than optimal, but you can still optimize, and when your traffic becomes optimal, you’ll reap the rewards of earlier optimization work.  We’ve always used the metaphor of the “leaky bucket”:  If your conversion funnel is a bucket with a bunch of holes in it, why would you spend marketing money to pour more water (a.k.a. traffic) into that bucket?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the holes, then start pouring more water?

We’re definitely invested in dispelling any other myths about testing and optimization, so feel free to ask questions or contact us if you think you have a unique case and aren’t sure if optimization is right for you.

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Comments (79)

  1. As far as I know, the minimum number of samples you’d need before you can draw any meaningful statistical conclusion is 40 and usually the bar is set at 100 (to be in a reasonable confidence interval). Correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. “Now” is always the time to optimize. If you optimize effectively, traffic will increase and, ideally, conversions. Web content and copy also plays a key role in optimization. Check out

  3. Smaller websites can have excellent results from basic search engine optimization because they tend to be so “un-optimized” to begin with. It is easy to double the traffic for a site getting 500 visits, generally speaking.

  4. So is there any point to optimize a site with 20-50 users/day? Or should I just focus on getting more users?

  5. @Kim: how many conversions are you getting per week? Consider a 50/50 approach where you’re simultaneously working on generating more traffic, and doing light optimization.

  6. Hey, thanks for the great article.
    I think it’s always a good time to optimise your website even from the beginning.
    Some of the website i’ve optimised even from the beginning get around 500 uniques per day and still manage to generate a decent flow of $30 a day, which is good enough.
    It’s good to optimise it even from the beginning. Though I agree if you’ve only got a small member count you might want to work on promotion more than anything, yet optimising can have a big impact on optimising.

    Just my thoughts, thanks.

  7. more traffic, more money :)

  8. it is not a myth about sites traffic.. has to be optimize

  9. Always looking for new ways to improve my traffic

  10. very informing, good post ;)

  11. Your Foruth point “It’s better to defer optimization until site traffic grows” just opened my eyes wide.
    Thanks for the great information.

  12. very informing, good post

    thank you

  13. Yes…i agree with that. Many people still having mind like that. Traffic is doesn’t take effect with your SEO

  14. Always looking for new ways to improve my traffic

  15. #

    very informing, good post

    thank you

  16. it is not a myth about sites traffic.. has to be optimize

  17. Great Article for the fact, no real facts are there

  18. Now when you say optimization, you are referring to SEO correct?

  19. There are really some big myths specially among clients like some think submitting same article to 20+ sites is a good idea

  20. @Toronto SEO: No, we’re not an SEO shop. We do conversion rate optimization, i.e. what happens after the SERP.

  21. I like your comment about the time to optimize is always “now.” I really don’t know how people expect that their web site will ever get noticed at all if they don’t optimize. I always found that to be a very strange assumption, but so universal none-the-less.

  22. Smaller websites can have excellent results from basic search engine optimization because they tend to be so “un-optimized” to begin with

  23. Optimizing is always an ongoing process and it is always good to start early

  24. I can see optimizing being a big benefit for low traffic sites that are competing with other low traffic sites.

  25. Optimization is so important, and it’s not that hard to do either. The sad thing is that most people don’t know where to begin with SEO. Hopefully those people will make their way here and learn a thing or three.

  26. Low number of traffic to the site does not have any effect on optimization. When we do optimization certainly within a span of time you will see the improvement.Onpage optimization contains keyword research and off page optimization contains creating backlinks. Optimization is very important.

  27. Having more sites with low traffic, I agree with you.
    Good article with good reminders.

  28. nice info gan…
    more traffic.. more money…

  29. Blog muy interesante que he favoritos traducida a través de la RSS de TraducirRSS

  30. I have to admit I had fallen victim to #4. Great article newbies should definitely have a read.

  31. Nice tips to improve the traffic of website

  32. all i know is nice blog, nice content, nice traffic and great money would come.

  33. He is right, I mean if you don’t start trying, how on earth are you going to improve. Every method is good, its just a matter of what finally clicks for you, so try everything and keep trying, you never know what might work for you.

  34. Very useful information, i am about to get to work to fix some things. Thank you very much for your information.

  35. You are right,generally low traffic sites should not optimize as the results may take a long time to come.

  36. Some great info, I agree that Google does suggest way to much traffic :-) I am interested to know how Omniture stacks up compared to Google? Is it worth the investment?

  37. A really good post.

    I’ve always believed that optimization, traffic and conversions are mutually inclusive.

    In order to increase your traffic – you need to optimize your site. In order to optimize your site – you need to find out what your converting traffic is, in order to find your converting traffic you need traffic in the first place.

    It’s about constant vigilance and tweaking the optimization to rank for the converting keywords as the campaign progresses. Optimization should be an integral and ongoing part of any online marketing campaign.

  38. Good tips to point out.

  39. Good tips you pointed out there. Very useful for my future design endeavors.

  40. Thanks, very nice article about this topic

  41. Those tips are very usefull. Thank you :)

  42. As always, test, test and test some more! Traffic will come but before it does you should have sufficiently tested and optimized to see what works and what doesn’t.

  43. more traffic is very problem for people on the world

  44. Good content is always ranked and admired you will get high traffic no matter what

  45. [...] You­ D­on­’t N­eed­ Ton­s of Traffic­ to Op­tim­i… Bre­nda­n Re­g­a­n, o­f the­ no­w Bry­a­n E­ise­nbe­rg­-l­e­ss Fu­tu­re­no­w Bl­o­g­, dispe­l­s the­ m­y­th o­f ne­e­ding­ m­inim­u­m­ tra­ffic v­o­l­u­m­e­ to­ m­a­ke­ we­bsite­ o­ptim­iza­tio­ns. [...]

  46. good to know Ive always heard these myths and thus been reluctant to try it on some small sites but it looks like i should just give it a shot…

  47. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have a clear understanding of the subject matter but it seems like this article is a little short on actual concrete advice.

    For example, what should a low traffic site be testing since it doesn’t have much data to draw from?

    And it seems like the word “optimization” is used a lot without providing a clear understanding of what’s being optimized or what “optimization” consists of.

    Again, not trying to be critical, I may just be too uninformed on the subject to follow along. :)

  48. [...] You Don’t Need Tons of Traffic to Optimize Your Site: Brendan Regan, of the now Bryan Eisenberg-less Futurenow Blog, dispels the myth of needing minimum traffic volume to make website optimizations. [...]

  49. [...] You Don’t Need Tons of Traffic to Optimize Your Site: Brendan Regan, of the now Bryan Eisenberg-less Futurenow Blog, dispels the myth of needing minimum traffic volume to make website optimizations. [...]

  50. [...] You Don’t Need Tons of Traffic to Optimize Your Site: Brendan Regan, of the now Bryan Eisenberg-less Futurenow Blog, dispels the myth of needing minimum traffic volume to make website optimizations. [...]

  51. [...] Source:Myths About Site Traffic and Optimization Share and Enjoy: [...]

  52. can we say “you dont need to have any traffic for optimization”

  53. thanks, great information, i need more traffic :-)

  54. Your website’s great I’m very happy, I am very happy to find the information I was looking for

  55. I have had my site tested and been advised to formally optimize my site for the search engines.What does that mean.

  56. Thanks for another good article.

  57. Good tips…if you buy an expired domain that is 10 years old does it mprove optimization techniques really easily?

  58. Traffic, traffic, traffic. So many people think they need more of it, yet what are they doing with the existing traffic they have?

  59. Brilliant ideas. I wouldn’t mine having more traffics through SEO. I believe it would really help my online business.

  60. Those were really great ideas, somehow it makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, most of the myths were not true. The possible way to gain traffic is to do SEO.

  61. yes, lots of speculation and guessing involve on this SEO thing. But in real, we must implement a proven good ways. That’s why we need to learn from so many article before doing something. To learn and to conquer the SEO. Learn by doing hehehehe…

  62. This make me know more about SEO knowledge..thank you for sharing :)

  63. Well, as we live on the real world, we must not believe on myths only. However, it is good to get some knowledge from your article above. Thanks…

  64. Excellent to know, I have often heard these types of myths and so been reluctant to try it on a few small websites nonetheless it appears like I ought to merely give it a shot… I actually do get a couple of hundred visits daily on my smaller internet sites and in my opinion they may be worth optimizing for.

  65. I agree that it’s always a good idea to test and optimize. But I think the fact remains that you can be best be assured that your assumptions are correct by having a large amount of data to examine.

  66. I’d like to use Google Website Optimizer to test Adsense ads but there doesn’t seem to be a viable way of doing that.

  67. Automate the process as much as possible to free up your time, and tweak as necessary

  68. First question, I think you should optimized your website to be good before you publish it to people know and review it.

    Second, traffic never enough, if you have a lot right now. You would like to have more more and more. That’s progress you should work and continue to work

  69. I have seen the most progress with smaller sites with very little traffic. I think they are low hanging fruit for seo company. Thanks for the great post.

  70. Myths can be a destruction for your plans. I suggest you do more research and stick to your plan regarding SEO. The best thing to do is make a strategic plan before doing optimization.

  71. Good tips. The way I look at it, the best way to always be on top is to always test and experiment.

  72. I guess what we can do about it is to try every strategies and test if it really works. Optimization takes time to see the results.

  73. Some people really got confused between traffic + optimization. Thanks for compiling this list of myths. There’s no other time to start optimization but now.

  74. There’s not enough conversion testing happening today and I have no idea why. I guess it’s the cost, but it seems silly to create something without testing other versions to see if they work better.

  75. It’s easy to fall for the myth that traffic happens overnight. I did – I’ve learnt that it takes time – and rather than ‘set and forget’ you need to constantly monitor and amend – the world keeps changing and you have to change with it.

  76. Some good tips and advice. Traffic doesn’t come overnight but with the right SEO techniques applied it will come.

  77. Thankd for this article, if the traffic is low it’s impossible to optimisize anything on the website. I totally agree with you and i’m going to link back to you.

  78. I always thought it would sell a lot to do optimization, but in practice I have seen is not so easy. Thanks for the tips!

  79. the site traffic is compulsury to enhance the publicity of the site, its not a myth

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