It has been amazing how much referring business or website traffic we are currently witnessing for clients through Word of Mouth Advertising (WOMA). Some of these channels may be considered part of Web 2.0 relative to the Social Media craze, but they really seem like good old-fashioned referrals to me after all is said and done.
Through website analytics it is very easy to identify referring URLs and distinctly differentiate those channels and campaigns you pay for, versus the outlets that drive visitors to your site through “natural” sources. Part of this could also include viral marketing or WOMA, as the sites on which this type of activity normally occurs for a business would result in a “natural-appearing” traffic source. To identify it definitively as something other then your organic search traffic, you will need to drill a bit deeper into actual traffic sources or referring sites by name.
Recently we saw a client, who had some highly qualified web site visitors (on a local level) being delivered by AngiesList and YELP. These sites are delivering visitors, not being generated from any paid efforts and that traffic is converting very strongly. After researching a bit further as to the two sites the traffic came from, it became clear why it was so highly qualified. These sites are very wholesome in nature and content. YELP is an almost fanatical "neighborhood" sounding board for good (and bad) service. When someone "Yelps" (raves or complains) about a product or service, the readers of this site listen — really listen! It is set up on a city or local basis, so it becomes a personalized experience you are sharing with others in your community. I’d like to think of it as a "Lead Generation" service to the local business owner, for rewarding their efforts and solid customer service.
Obviously given the nature of these types of programs, it is not something you can (nor should you) control or direct. However, I do think it is critical to check these on behalf of your business to see if you have been mentioned. For good or bad, it’s important to know what your customers are saying about you, especially online in a social media forum. In addition – we need to catch up with the times. My dry cleaner has a sign hanging up on the wall that says, "The greatest compliment you could give us is a referral – if you are happy please tell a friend". Well, how about telling way more then just one friend? By taking the refer-a-friend model to a grander scale through some of the online communities, your business could quickly get an unexpected boost. Encourage your happy customers to promote you online… no matter what the business, there is an online forum to embrace it.
Monitor your reputation online and address anything less than satisfactory posted about your business. Not everyone may have something nice to say, but if it was something genuinely overlooked on the part of your business, responding accordingly and honestly could be beneficial after all.