What to do when your advertising budget is $0
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash
It doesn?t matter if you run a blog, an e-commerce store, or have a website for your business; driving traffic to your website is ultimately a critical element of making money online.
Now, I?ve worked in paid advertising for more than three years, and let me tell you, a profitable Google Ads PPC campaign or Facebook campaign is a beautiful thing.
After all, with paid ads, scaling is easier, you can reach your customers instantly, and your decision-making process is much faster since you accumulate meaningful data fairly quickly.
But, obviously, not every business has a budget for paid advertising. Additionally, plenty of free traffic sources often deliver higher quality leads and customers with high levels of purchase intent.
So, today we?re going to look at eight different free traffic sources bloggers and business owners alike can leverage to start growing their online presence.
Let?s get to it!
But First ? What Is a Traffic Source?
If you?re new to digital marketing, you might be unfamiliar with the term ?traffic source.? Depending on who you ask or your industry, you?ll also get different answers.
A website traffic source is really just a category of users coming from a source on the internet. When classifying traffic sources, you can stay pretty general or get granular depending on your goals.
For example, paid advertisers often distinguish between broad website traffic sources like paid, social, and organic.
However, they can also be very granular and get down to elements like mobile device type, geo-based traffic sources, or other narrow categories.
A snapshot of my traffic sources on Google analytics.
For this list of free traffic sources, I?m going to include a mixture of broad and narrow ideas, but keep this range in mind when coming up with your own marketing strategy.
Time to break down some free web traffic sources you can start investing time into nurturing.
Reddit is a news aggregation and discussion website that was founded in 2005. If you?re an avid internet user, you?ve probably stumbled upon Reddit before.
On Reddit, communities are divided into what?s known as ?subreddits,? or subs. Subreddits make it easy to subscribe and follow specific groups on Reddit, and Reddit is home to an absurdly wide variety of subs.
An example of several personal finance subreddits and some threads.
What makes Reddit an awesome free traffic source for marketing is that simple fact; subreddits literally group your target market in a single, easily identifiable place.
If you understand how to engage with a specific subreddit and provide value to readers, you can start pushing some serious website traffic.
Now, Redditors are known for being more tech-savvy and quick to spot a marketing ploy than most sites. In fact, Reddit users are actually the least valuable user group out of any social media platform.
This is large because Reddit is not immensely ad-heavy, and many users have an ad-blocker or a disinterest in advertising in general.
From the CNBC article linked above. $0.30 per user is incredibly low compared to other social networks.
But, while paid traffic isn?t always easy to pull-off on Reddit, we?re luckily talking about free traffic sources in this post.
Here are some important tips to know about marketing your website on Reddit for free:
Read subreddit rules
Some communities allow self-promotion or link sharing, but many don?t. Be sure to read the rules of any sub before you share content to avoid getting banned from subs.
Actually use Reddit
Many subs require an account to have a certain amount of Karma before posting. You gain Karma by receiving content or comment upvotes, so you?ll need to add some value to Reddit in order to actually unlock certain features.
Get your name out there in a particular subreddit by being a valuable member and staying active.
Look for weekly self-promotion threads
Many subs have weekly self-promotion threads where you can shamelessly plug your content. Find threads that pertain to your niche, and jot the days in your calendar.
This can easily score you a few free opportunities to link drop throughout the week, potentially leading to thousands of free visitors per year.
An example of a self-promotion thread on a massive finance subreddit. A perfect example of an easy way to share your content for free.
Don?t just link-drop
If you just post a link to your latest blog article, expect to get some negative feedback. Reddit is a value-add game. I suggest including a comment with your link posts to explain what readers can gain by clicking on your article, and ask for feedback/offer help. Basically, don?t spam and add value.
Understand that Redditors are basically private investigators
Many bloggers use fake names on Reddit to disguise the fact they are self-promoting. Honestly, this is mostly a waste of time.
Reddit makes it easy to analyze a user?s post history, so unless you do an excellent job at burying your link posts in a sea of other content, people will figure out you?re self-promoting from a mile away. It?s better to be honest and upfront from the start.
I?ve covered Quora marketing quite extensively, so I?m not going to dive into this one too much.
How To Use Quora to Generate Traffic to Your Website
A complete guide on one of the world?s leading social platforms
But, I want to tackle two new Quora marketing strategies that I?ve been using lately, especially since there have been some changes to the platform.
Firstly, Quora doesn?t display thread view counts anymore, only question followers.
I still recommend answering questions with high follower numbers where you can since this is more effective than answering questions nobody is looking at, but you?ll have to go a bit deeper to find the really juicy (and trending) questions.
If you create a free Quora Ads account, you can actually use Quora?s paid advertising platform to find high visibility questions to answer.
Quora Ads lets advertisers target specific questions on Quora and provides a ?potentially weekly impressions? metric to give advertisers an idea of the audience size.
This is a potential goldmine for a free traffic source. Just type in questions relating to your niche, make a running list of high visibility questions, and then get to work and answer them (while tactfully linking back to your resources along the way).
Want another idea on how to maximize the value from this free web traffic source?
Look for Quora threads on the first page of Google and answer those.
If they rank on Google, you already know the thread is getting some traffic, so that?s an easy way to cherry-pick additional Quora threads that are worth your marketing attention.
3. Medium Content Syndication
I?ve always been an advocate for syndicating your content on Medium because it?s free, fast, and you can make money on Medium by doing so.
There?s nothing really groundbreaking here, but your style might differ based on your business type.
I think bloggers should simply make use of the import a story function to quickly syndicate their content on Medium to increase their reach and funnel back to their blog.
It isn?t a ton of traffic, but it?s free and also pays me on Medium. Plus these readers are very engaged!
However, if you run a major publication or a business that isn?t a blog, you might want to consider starting your own Medium publication to bring a bit more professionalism to this traffic source.
For example, Hubspot, The Economist, Twitch TV, and The Atlantic all have their own Medium publications and pretty substantial followings.
At the end of the day, Medium is a massive platform with high domain authority and tons of readers.
If you have limited resources, starting a blog or publication for your business on Medium might be an easier path to driving traffic and sales than building a blog from scratch on your own website.
I blog in the personal finance niche, and it seems like a lot of content creators and massive publications alike are trying to diversify through video these days.
I think that starting a YouTube channel while blogging makes a lot of sense once you have the resources to outsource some of your workload.
Let?s face it: Video content is more engaging (when done right) than your average blog post.
Plus, converting a how-to article or listicle to video format is pretty easy; your blog posts basically act as scripts for your videos!
I only started my YouTube channel in March, but I?m already seeing bits of referral traffic coming to This Online World from my videos, and people are sticking around for a decent amount of time:
It?s pretty easy to generate some sort of traffic on your videos, even as a beginner. To get traffic on YouTube, I just use other free traffic sources like Reddit or Quora to promote new videos as they go live.
By using an intro screen in my video that includes my blog URL and by linking to my blog numerous times in my video description boxes, I think there should be a fairly linear relationship between how my channel grows and the referral traffic it drives.
Only time will tell, but I think starting a YouTube channel is an excellent way to diversify your reach, get some free traffic, and possibly make money down the line as well.
5. Email Marketing
Now, I?m no pro at using email marketing to get free website traffic.
But, I have definitely learned a lesson or two and made several mistakes over my time running This Online World.
A properly managed email list is a valuable asset to have for any webmaster. It doesn?t matter if you blog or sell a service, an email list can help prop up your traffic if you take a hit on organic or social channels.
So, the first lesson I learned after more than a year of blogging was that if you want to grow your email list, you actually need a strategy.
And no, that email subscription box in your footer is not a strategy!
After neglecting my email list for so long, I eventually signed up with Mailer Lite and made a free eBook grab. The eBook is a list of 50 ways to make extra money, so it?s pretty relevant to this niche.
MailerLite, or pretty much any email marketing platform, lets you fire a pop-up email grab to help collect subscribers.
I have mine fire after a minute of a new user being on the page, and it doesn?t re-fire for an IP address for the next 90 days if they decline.
Here are the stats of the email grab so far:
Nearly 2,000 new email signups, not bad!
It?s a pretty low conversion rate, so I plan on creating new email grab offers down the line and segmenting them based on article topic.
For example, I want to create a free blogging checklist for how to publish stellar blog posts, and I?ll have that fire on any blogging related content. The make money eBook can fire on everything else. You get the idea.
I?ve just started making an effort with sending out weekly or biweekly emails, and this is probably the second mistake I?ve made.
An email list is only a source of free traffic if you nurture it and actually give your readers something of value for giving up their email.
I?m trying to include free resources, job postings, and ways to get free gift cards in my email blasts, alongside my own content. We?ll see if this pays dividends down the line!
But long story short: Don?t neglect building an email list, and don?t wait until you have a dip in traffic to start nurturing your list!
6. Guest Posts, Podcasts, and Collaborations
Another nifty free source of website traffic is to produce guest posts on other websites or to collaborate with a host of a podcast or YouTube channel.
Now, this is a tricky source of traffic to develop generally since unless you land a feature on a massive publication or channel, you probably won?t get much traffic.
For most people, I think the process of guest posting or collaborations is a bit of a snowball effect?you want to generate more buzz about your website or business each month until something catches.
This strategy definitely works. I mean, guest posting hundreds of times is how Buffer acquired their first 100,000 users.
As a completely new blogger or business owner, this free traffic source is also not easy to develop since outreach will be difficult. People don?t really want guest posts or to feature someone who is brand new with nothing to share, after all.
You can overcome this if you have a crazy story or you share your success from one industry to help break into a new one.
I see new bloggers coming from the Amazon FBA or investing world all the time who use their business success to help network in the blogging game, but you can go either way with this.
My only advice here with guest post/appearance outreach is to really know who you?re pitching to when you send an email.
If I get a guest post pitch that reads ?dear admin? or ?hey!? I don?t reply.
It takes 30 seconds to read my about page or to figure out who runs This Online World, and that?s the case with most blogs or podcasts as well.
7. Social Media
Social media is the second-largest source of free website traffic for This Online World, and this is probably the case for a lot of blogs or businesses.
Now, there?s no cookie-cutter answer I can give on what social media platform is best, or how to leverage each one.
Truthfully, I mostly focus on Pinterest and Tailwind to drive free traffic, and I don?t really use Facebook or Twitter much except for networking purposes.
The last 30 days or so of Pinterest traffic. Keep in mind a lot gets filtered into ?Direct? from my understanding.
I know other bloggers out there who drive decent traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even random websites like Mix.
Whatever you decide, I think there are two main lessons I?ve learned about using social media to generate free traffic.
The first is to simply not stretch yourself too thin.
When I started blogging, I wanted to be everywhere. Ultimately, for many people, I think this results in just half-assing a bunch of platforms. This is why I mostly stick to Pinterest now and SEO.
Secondly, make sure you choose a social media platform where your audience is already active or one that caters to what you?re selling.
I use Pinterest for blogging because personal finance pins do alright and can be a bit clickbaity to generate free traffic.
In contrast, when I ran a dropshipping store or my Etsy POD store, I made niche Instagram pages instead since Pinterest or Facebook wouldn?t be as easy to reach a very narrow audience.
If I was selling a course, I?d probably spend time building a Facebook group for course members to provide additional value and to use it as a selling point for the course?you get the idea!
We only have limited time, so make sure you use it wisely with whatever social media platforms you decide to use.
8. SEO and Organic Traffic
I left search engine optimization, or SEO, until the last point in this list of free traffic sources for a reason.
Don?t get me wrong: SEO is awesome. In fact, organic traffic makes up the bulk of traffic for This Online World.
But, I?m hesitant to call SEO and organic traffic completely free because the reality is, at a certain point, this traffic source becomes paid (and quite expensive).
You can only bootstrap your SEO game so far before you can?t keep up with the competition in your niche. Eventually, you will probably have to reinvest into something to improve your SEO game.
For a lot of people, this means optimizing their website speed or hiring a link building service to improve their backlinks?or both.
This is a ton of money, and it?s an ongoing operational cost as well since you need to stay ahead of the competition.
So, I think it?s fair to categorize SEO and organic traffic as a free traffic source, but only to a point.
SEO is a business, and at some stage, it truly does become pay-to-play.
However, I think investing some time into basic SEO and content isn?t a bad idea for business owners?especially if the alternative of paid advertising is expensive in your industry.
Free Traffic Sources I Don?t Recommend
As I mentioned, our time is clearly valuable, so there are a few free traffic sources I really don?t recommend spending too much time on (or any time, really).
Spam blog commenting
Commenting on blogs you read and enjoy is an awesome way to network and to potentially generate a bit of free traffic and awareness for your own website.
Spam commenting on other blogs, on the other hand, is an absolute waste of time.
I probably get five to six spam comments a day on This Online World, and it boggles my mind that this is still a thing these days.
In fact, I had to turn on comment approvals recently because of stuff like this:
Bonus points if your comment is in Russian!
I don?t know if people are trying to link build, get free traffic, or how much of it is even automated. However, whatever the case, don?t try to use blog comments as a way to improve SEO or gain traffic.
Use comments to network and learn or to just be a decent human being and connect with someone.
Social share exchanges
I used to use a website called Viral Content Bee when I started my blog, and there are a few other websites out there with similar premises.
The idea is pretty straightforward.
You gain credits for sharing content and posting your own content for other people to share costs credit. It?s a social sharing exchange that is designed to foster reciprocity.
It?s not that these channels don?t do anything, it?s just that I think the opportunity cost might be a tad too high.
Sure, it?s awesome to have your content retweeted for free or to have a post that gets shared on Facebook, but from my experience, you don?t get much free traffic in exchange and this makes sense.
After all, pages with massive followings wouldn?t be giving away their mentions for free or spending their time on random exchanges?this makes it highly unlikely that you ever get your content shared for free to a wide audience.
Just my opinion on social share exchanges, and I recommend that you always consider the opportunity cost of whatever platform you end up using to generate website traffic.
Nothing will ever really beat the speed and scale of paying for traffic.
However, there isn?t always room in the budget for paid ads. As a blogger or business owner, sometimes free traffic sources are truly all you have.
Plus, I think a mixture of organic, social, and paid traffic is truly the ideal scenario to create a diverse web presence that helps reduce the risk of one Google or social media algorithm update tanking all your traffic overnight.
As long as you don?t bite off more than you can chew, I think there are plenty of free traffic sources that you can leverage to help your business grow.
Personally, I stick to Reddit, Quora, Pinterest, and SEO. But again, there?s no cookie-cutter solution out there.
Play to your strengths and focus on the traffic sources where your customers/readers are. There?s no need to be everywhere at once as long as you excel at a few of the platforms you operate on.
Thanks so much for reading! If you have a favorite free traffic source or trick to get website visitors, I?d love to hear what it is in the comments!
Catch you guys in the next one.