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Where Are Your Website Visitors Coming From Just Now? – Vitruvian Advertising
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Where Are Your Website Visitors Coming From Just Now?

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This article by Howie Jacobson was originally posted on Search Engine Watch.


After two weeks exploring Botswana, my family and I returned to South Africa on a hot and dusty late morning via the Bray border crossing, one of the least utilized in the country. Getting to Bray required a jarring 70 kilometer drive along a dirt road so deeply rutted that our car’s underbelly was constantly scraped and dinged by drifts of dirt and rock.

Leaving Botswana was a simple matter of proving that we weren’t smuggling rhino horns or elephant tusks in the boot of our car. After receiving passport stamps and a “Visit Botswana” map and DVD (which would have been much more useful as we entered the country 14 days earlier), we banged down the road toward the South African entry point.

The South African border post consisted of a trailer in which sat a couple of immigration and customs officials. As one poured over our passports, the other made friendly conversation with us. “So, what country are you coming from?” she inquired.

“The U.S.,” my wife replied.

“No,” the official persisted, a little annoyed. “Where are you coming from just now?”

My wife and I exchanged puzzled looks. “Botswana?” she offered, wondering if this was a trick question.

The look of satisfaction on the official’s face told us that this was, in fact, a perfectly acceptable answer. What made this hilarious, of course, was that there was no other possible answer. We were at the Botswana/South Africa border, about 300 kilometers away from any other country. Where else would we have been coming from?

The Border Posts of Your Website

As ridiculous as the border official’s question was, we can be just as ridiculous when we ignore where our website visitors have come from. In search marketing, where they’ve been tells us a great deal about what they’re trying to accomplish on our site.

Our AdWords traffic can arrive from two different universes: search and display. At the risk of oversimplifying, search traffic consists of visitors who want something right now, while display traffic is made up of the curious whom you have distracted from whatever they were trying to do on the referring website.

Since the visitors are different, your ads need to be different, and the two universes need to arrive at different border posts – er, landing pages.

The Search Universe

Essentially, searchers want to find answers. You can craft a landing page that provides those answers by imagining that their search query is the question they speak into the phone when they call your business.

So a query for “pottery making supplies” would translate into “Hi, I’d like to check out your catalog of pottery making supplies.” When you frame your visitors’ intent that clearly, it’s pretty easy to imagine what your landing page should look like.

Not a “Welcome to Pottery World” page that talks about when you started your business and how many cats come to work each day, but a catalog home page that highlights categories of supplies with professional photographs.

The Display Universe

Display visitors are harder to figure out, but you often have clues to help you help them. These can include the ad they click, the site and page where they see the ad, and if you advertise with topics and audiences as well as keywords and placements, you can infer who they are and what they care about in general.

For example, a remarketing audience made up of people who abandoned your pottery supplies shopping cart in the past 7 days might be tempted by a coupon for the item they almost purchased.

An audience made up of people whose browsing behavior shows them to be avid about craft shows might prefer a page that focuses on how your pottery supplies can help them make a bigger profit at their next show.

And display network visitors who’ve just come from an article about raku (a particular type of glazing technique) would probably appreciate a page that describes and offers supplies specific to that technique.

Additional Clues

For both search and display, you can discover additional clues to where they’ve just been. Geography (what actual country, state, region or city they searched from) and time of day and day of week can give you clues as to the mindset of your visitors. City dwellers may be hobbyists, while those in tourist areas may run pottery studios. Weekend and evening visitors may be hobbyists, while workday visitors may be professionals.

While there are dozens of ports of entry into South Africa, there’s only one in Bray. And while there may be hundreds of ways for visitors to find their way to your site, each of them arrived at one specific border crossing. And they all arrive with a passport stamp that tells you exactly where they’ve been.

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