Pros & Cons
Paid traffic is a mixed bag. It’s relatively easy, it almost guarantees results, and it’s great for getting eyes on your project. However, it quite literally comes at a price.
Most Advertisers Send You the Cheapest Traffic
This may be obvious to everyone else, but it was not obvious to me. When I launched my app, I allowed advertising to all regions. After all, an app is a digital product and there didn’t seem to be a point in limiting my potential customer base. However, this resulted in all my ads being served in India. That was curious, but I allowed it to go on. I expected the algorithm to distribute traffic when possible and I thought that I simply wasn’t bidding high enough to compete with the big dogs in more expensive countries. I upped my spend when I should have re-tooled my targeting. Paid advertising is most effective (and cheapest) when you know your target well and can advertise directly to their needs. Target the market you want.
There was another reason I allowed the spending to continue: the conversions were really cheap. However, that turned out to be a red herring that taught me another lesson.
Not All Traffic is Created Equal
Everything seemed great. I was getting around a thousand downloads a day at $0.05-$0.11 a download. I thought I had struck gold in the form of an underserved market. However, when your revenue source is mostly ads, there’s no such thing. Cheap ads means a cheap ad marketplace. No one was going to pay me much to advertise to the cheap traffic being sent to my game. My ad provider took a few days to give me the news, but all my new traffic didn’t account for much. About $2.25 all told. At $1.58 per thousand views of my in-game ads, $0.05-$0.11 stopped making sense. I lost 95% of my advertising spend in India. Cheap traffic is cheap for a reason.
That’s not to say it was a total loss. It may have contributed velocity to my app (though I doubt Google treats all downloads the same) and I initially got a few good reviews out of it. I say initially because…
Paid Traffic is Full of Fair Weather Fans
Paid traffic is not (yet) a fan of your content. They aren’t the fans that have been following your progress, getting to know you, and anxiously await what you’re selling. Those fans care about your content and sometimes even about you as the content creator. They’re more likely to be forgiving of some minor hiccups or even some major ones, because they feel like they know you and they’ve more invested more in your product.
Paid traffic is not so forgiving. They don’t know you or your content. Clicking an ad is free. They’ve made zero investment at this point. They don’t necessarily love your idea or even fully understand it. They’re there, because that’s where Google or a brightly colored video told them to go. Any minor issue or inconvenience can cause you to lose them forever.
Paid Traffic has a Low Attention Span
Paid traffic follows the next link. The one thing you know about all paid traffic is that they’re prone to stop what they’re doing to open an ad. They left the app or website they were using to use yours. You have to capture them right away or, like an Abra, they’re likely to teleport to the next ad that comes their way.
Paid Traffic Doesn’t Know What It Wants
Paid traffic goes where they’re told. If they were truly looking for you, they would have found you. Instead, they stumbled upon your content. They don’t know their own goals and you don’t know if they’re your ideal customer, but now it’s up to you to satisfy them. It’s hard to build for the vague expectations of those blindly searching. They might search for an accountant, but really just want tax software.
While they might not know what they want, they know when you’re not it. If those searching for you are disappointed then they’ll regret their decision. If paid traffic is disappointed, then they’ll blame you for “tricking” them and they may be vocal about it.
Paid Traffic is a Money Multiplier, Not a Generator
Ultimately, you’re spending money to make money. That means that paid traffic is a multiplier on your spending. With that multiplier you have to make back your advertising budget, fund future advertising, pay your team, and pay yourself. It’s a machine that will constantly consume your time and money as long as it’s generating it. If you stop the input, then you stop the output.
Paid Traffic is a Race to the Bottom
You may make 30x or you may make 0.5x. It depends on your product, your ad, and how much your competitors are willing to spend. This can lead to a bidding war where those who can spend the most survive. Those that survive are the ones living on the thinnest margins or capitalizing the most on new clients. That can be an especially tough pill to swallow as it’s a bit out of your control. The newest big kid on the block can take your ad placement and your lunch money all in one go.
Sharpen Your Hook
These facts combine to paint the picture of a rather capricious customer. Low attention span, low investment, little empathy, and with potentially unrealistic expectations. You’re going to need to sharpen your hook if you plan to catch these quick swimming fish.
Back to the Pros
That’s not to say paid marketing is a bad idea. There’s a time, a target, and a business for it. It might be great for an initial boost in visibility to build momentum, it may do wonders when you’ve niched down and found a way to target your ideal customer, or it may just be ideally suited to your business model. Regardless, it will get eyes on your product, can be used to test conversions on your product page and find what interests your audience, and it can generate momentum. Overall, it provides a lot of benefit during to your initial push, but it’s dangerous to have as a sole marketing channel.
Curious about the app that taught me so many lessons? Checkmate Chess Puzzles is available on Android, iOS, and web.
Disagree with what I said? Had paid advertising worked particularly well or poorly for you? Generally have more thoughts on the issue? Leave a comment below!