Study: Brand-Driven Traffic Converts Best For Online Retailers

Direct access traffic--or visitors who arrive at a Web site by directly typing in a URL or bookmark--represents some of the most valuable traffic an online retailer can draw in, according to a new study by Engine Ready.

The San Diego-based search marketing firm studied 2 years worth of traffic from 27 clients in its roster, including e-tailers in the CPG, home improvement and clothing categories, and analyzed it in terms of four types of site visitors--direct access, referrals (via links from other Web sites or email), paid search and organic search traffic.

"Visitors arriving via direct access or a bookmark stay longer, view more pages, are more likely to purchase and more likely to spend a higher dollar amount than visitors from other sources," the report said.

Online retailers that have established a brand presence through either on- or offline efforts are likely the primary sources and beneficiaries of this direct access traffic, as they have had the opportunity to wedge their URL into the user's memory (or at least into their browser's bookmarks toolbar).

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And these brand-driven consumers have the highest conversion rate (at 3.3%) and spend just over $170 per order. In terms of engagement, direct access visitors averaged 312 seconds on-site per visit and viewed an average of six pages each time.

Referred traffic, or consumers who arrived via a link from another Web site or email, were the second-most valuable visitors for e-tailers--converting about 3% of the time, and spending about $168 per order. And while they spent some 246 minutes on-site and viewed an average of four pages on each visit, these referral visitors had the highest bounce rate (when a visitor leaves a Web site without viewing any other pages or before a specified time frame, such as 10 seconds). Referral traffic bounced off of the landing page nearly 50% of the time.

According to Brian Lewis, vice president of marketing at Engine Ready, there are a number of factors that could contribute to the high bounce rate, including an incorrect offer in the referrer email, or a disconnect between the way the link was titled on the referrer page and the actual content on the landing page.

And while search traffic may be less expensive to generate than brand-driven traffic, it didn't quite stack up in terms of conversions or average order value. Paid search visitors converted 1.4% of the time, about 20% higher than organic search traffic. And the average order value from both paid and organic search visitors was much lower than direct access traffic, at $138 and $117 per visit, respectively. Organic search visitors did show the second-highest levels of engagement, however, viewing an average of five pages per visit.

Still, Lewis said that there's no detracting from an online retail strategy that includes paid search, SEO (search engine optimization) and branding efforts. "Of course it depends on the size of the company and their online retail goal," Lewis said. "Some companies will have a visibility or branding goal, while others will be more focused on generating leads. For companies with a more limited marketing budget, direct ROI initiatives like search will take precedence. But it's important to have a holistic strategy that touches on all of the elements."

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