Build Your Business:

Rush Hour

The most valuable traffic for our industry in 2015 comes from Facebook. It’s still relatively cheap, does not take a lot of time to engage, is highly targeted on multiple levels, can be scaled almost infinitely and converts well.

April 7, 2015

Just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, online businesses need traffic. After which, this traffic needs to be converted to either capture a potential customer’s email address or place an order.

In reality, 95% of the traffic landing on your website won’t place an order the first time around. Knowing this means you need a steady, reliable traffic stream to your site to get orders.

There are two main types of traffic: paid and free. But don’t kid yourself — there’s really no such thing as free traffic. If you’re on a tight budget and decide to go the free route, you’ll expend a lot of effort before attracting significant volume to your site. Free traffic takes time to develop. Paid traffic is like a switch that gets flipped — you buy it and within minutes, visitors start arriving.

The more targeted and refined your traffic, the higher the conversion rate. However, the more precise the targeting, the higher the cost. Traffic costs generally are determined in advance by the conversion rates and how much profit you generate from each conversion. For now, we’ll concentrate on getting as many low-cost visitors to your site as quickly as possible.

In the past, I was a big proponent of using free traffic sources, which required me to simply find them and do the work to get the traffic to my site. It was slow to develop, and sometimes we would only get a few hundred visitors a week.

That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. I’ve since learned that “money loves speed.” This means the more traffic you can generate, the more buzz you attract. This, in turn, creates more traffic. In today’s socially driven online atmosphere, speed and buzz are essential. In fact, speed generates buzz.

The most traditional method of attracting website traffic is search engine optimization (SEO). From 2000 until about 2014, it was one of the top methods of geting visitors to your site.

Using this method, you would optimize your page for free and get to the top of Google’s search results page. The free traffic flowed and the orders poured in. Google let everyone get comfortable and happy with these free rankings — for a while. Then, they changed the ranking formula, causing site owners to freak out when their pages vanished overnight. The cure was for business owners to instantly start spending thousands of dollars with Google Adwords to get traffic back to their sites.

Last year, Google made more than 500 changes to its ranking formula and had three big updates (Google Slaps). Most site owners today have become annoyed and distrustful of Google, and have, thus, moved away from SEO as their main source of site traffic.

That being said, Adwords is the quickest way to get instant traffic to your site. Traffic will arrive within minutes of posting a live ad. It’s also one of the most expensive methods. If you have a site that converts well, Adwords is an excellent choice for quick traffic (and orders) when you have peaks and valleys in production.

Viral offers are becoming increasingly common. If you’re using WordPress as a website platform, there are a number of plug-ins that make viral sharing easy. One of my favorite methods is to offer something really cool for free. It might be a discount coupon, premium or deep discount on an order.

For customers to get the offer, they would need to share the site with their friends, and get their friends to come to the site and register for the premium. Registration is the key. I usually set the referral number at three to five. This is a reasonably low and attainable number for a visitor to achieve. If the number is too high, they won’t share.

This is an explosive way to grow a list and potentially get thousands of visitors to come to your site during a promotion. For this to work, your premium has to truly be worthy of someone sharing it.

In the past couple of years, content marketing has moved up the list as a method of driving regular traffic. Examples would be Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, Gizmodo, Sploid and UpWorthy. The idea is to provide great content around your subject area.

If you’re a small local company, make your website blog the single community source for information on decorated apparel and how it’s being used in the community. You also could do school profiles and show how they are using your apparel for their spirit or community campaigns.

The big social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and for 2015, Pinterest and Instagram are the two hottest properties for decorated apparel. Not only are they fantastic ways to connect with your prospective audience, they’re also rich resources for ideas on what’s popular and trending.

There are thousands of T-shirt boards, by subject area, on Pinterest, which began as a crafting site primarily used by women. That has changed; major brands, as well as just about every genre and niche, are represented. You can start multiple boards and pin content as you surf the web. The beauty of Pinterest is the viral nature of the pins and the shares of those pins.

Banner ads are as old as the web itself. They fell out of favor but have recently surged back to life. With so many specialty websites showing up now, it’s possible to contact a site owner and negotiate for a permanent ad on his page. This works exceptionally well for specialty niches.

Most of these sites derive income from Google Ad Sense, where Google places ads on its site and they share the revenue with the site owner if someone clicks the ad. The site owner gets pennies for the click. You can approach him and offer $30/month for a small ad. This is a tiny price to pay for targeted traffic back to your site.

TIP 1: Email Lists
This constitutes my main option for traffic. During the years, we’ve built numerous specialty lists based on different interests. This is called list segmenting. Each segment is highly targeted, engaged and eager to hear what you can offer them.

Email success is based on a few fundamentals. No. 1, respect the list. Don’t just always pound them with offers, specials and deals. Send them useful emails. You don’t like to be spammed all the time and neither do they.

Use double opt-ins to ensure they absolutely want to correspond with you. This is best done with a specific mailing program. My favorites are Mail Chimp, AWeber, Get Response and iContact. Constant Contact is a popular program but it doesn’t scale well.

Mail Chimp is excellent and free for a list of up to 2,000 contacts, and for sending up to 12,000 emails to your list per month (up to six mailings in one month.) This is plenty for any business doing less than $1 million in annual revenue.

TIP 2: Facebook
Without a doubt, this is the hottest source of traffic today. There are so many different ways to use it. Besides delivering traffic, it has fantastic data that’s free to access for creating highly targeted audiences.

The free methods involve creating Facebook Fanpages for your special interests and special-interest groups, while also posting and participating in similar pages and groups that match your target audience.

Some have hundreds of thousands of visitors and members. To make this method work, you need to bring genuine value to these pages or groups. Don’t spam them with offers. It’s all about delivering valuable content. You want to be viewed as a contributor, expert and authority. Answer questions. Post useful content.

The method that works best for me is to post useful content and then provide a link to more information on my site. Think of it like a teaser or movie preview. You show them enough to get them interested, but migrate them for more if they want it.

TIP 3: YouTube Videos
The second biggest search engine behind Google is YouTube. People love to watch videos. You can use this to your advantage without even making your own videos. You can embed other people’s videos on your site and use the traffic from them to get visitors.

Search for a video for which you want to attract interest. For example, “How to Print over Zippered Sweat Shirts.” Find videos with a high view count. You simply comment below the video and embed a link to your site where the viewer can explore deeper.

You also can embed the video on your site and provide a counterpoint or go deeper with your perspective. This makes an excellent link back if you post to a Facebook page on the same subject. I have seen sites get tens of thousands of visitors to their pages using this method.

TIP 4: Contest Giveaways and Sweepstakes
These methods have been around for more than 100 years. They’re just as effective on the web as they were in print or television in the analog days. Like viral offers, you get visitors to sign up to win a free shirt or order.

Similarly, give them extra entries for referrals. You can very quickly build a highly qualified prospect list this way. This works extremely well if the prize is 24 or 50 shirts for an event. The drawings could be held once a month.

TIP 5: Joint-Venture Partnerships
Finally, joint-venture partnerships (JVs) are mutual exchanges. If you know a business with a similar audience to your target, you can approach it to promote an offer on your behalf. For instance, a local sporting goods store may promote your team printing in exchange for a commission on work coming from its customer or list base.

The best way to make this work is to offer some incentive. When used, you’ll know it came from this promotion and you can compensate your JV partner accordingly.

JV mailings can be one of the most powerful traffic sources, especially if you combine multiple partners on the same promotion. It is one of the fastest ways of adding tens of thousands of dollars of new business in a matter of days.

Mark A. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to comment on this article, email Mark at