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Owned, Earned and Rented Traffic: Is Your Budget Properly Aligned?

As an SEO consultant to CMOs, Directors of Marketing and Business Owners, I’m often asked “How can I get more traffic to my website?”

My answer is that the brands and businesses that are the most successful online, and by successful I mean high brand visibility, generating qualified leads and making sales, are the ones that take advantage of all three components of traffic:

  • Owned
  • Earned
  • Rented

 Three compoents of online traffic: owned, rented and earned media

Owned Traffic
Owned traffic is traffic from properties that you own. You own the customer relationships. You make the decisions around content, creativity and evolution. The more owned properties you have, the more chances you have to drive traffic to your website.

Examples of owned properties are websites, blogs and customer forums. Social media properties like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter can also be considered as “owned sites”.

One of the most overlooked owned property is your email list. You have total control over the timing of the messages you send to your subscribers. And when you click “send,” your messages get delivered straight to them.

Earned Traffic
Earned or influenced traffic is online word of mouth, usually seen in the form of mentions, shares, reposts, reviews, recommendations, or content picked up by 3rd party sites.

It is traffic that you cannot directly control. For example you cannot directly control whether people will “Like” you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, and then visit your website and become your customer.

Earned traffic also includes organic traffic from search engines. Traffic from organic search is considered earned traffic as you cannot control how much traffic the search engines can send you. But like other influenced traffic you can impact this by following SEO best practices.

Rented Traffic
Rented channels are those channels where you are able to contribute content and engage with the audience. You might be able to control the conversation, but you do not own anything else (data, relationship, creativity, etc. etc.).

Your primary rented channels are Google Adwords (PPC), Facebook ads, display ads, retargeting, paid influencers and paid content promotion.

If you are relying on rented traffic as the primary traffic source to your website that is not a sustainable business model as you are continuously paying more and more per visitor.

Traffic Combinations
Owned, earned and rented media are not individual silo’s. The best results are seen when they work together such as when owned (SEO) and rented (PPC) channels are combined. Data shows that combing SEO and PPC can result in increased organic traffic.

In her book Marketing in the Age of Google Vanessa Fox writes:

An iCrossing study found that when a brand appears in both the organic and paid results, the searcher clicked on that brand 92% of the time compared to 60% of the clicks when the brand appeared in only one location.

Key Takeaways
All three elements, owned, earned and paid are important to a digital strategy. The most successful sites and brands allocate resources across all three channels.

Owned media sites are an extension of your brand. Earned media is the equivalent of online word of mouth. Rented media is a great way to promote content in order drive traffic directly to your owned media properties.

Your online marketing budget should reflect the difference between the channels and the long-term benefits they provide. The most successful brands usually allocate their online budget like this:

  • Owned (website content) – 40% of budget
  • Earned (SEO) – 40%
  • Rented (PPC) – 20%