Free traffic vs paid traffic

By Citizen Affiliate | Uncategorized

Nov 09

One of the big debates in internet marketing is free traffic vs paid traffic. This article will explain the real differences between the two, the pros and cons of each, and the strategy I use. It might not be what you expect! So let’s find out about the difference between free traffic vs paid traffic.

Main sources of traffic

OK so we all know what traffic is. It basically means visitors to your website, landing page, offer, etc. The question is, how do you get it. Well, there are different kinds of traffic and different approaches.

The main distinction people use when talking about traffic is free vs paid. Basically, traffic that you pay for versus traffic that you don’t. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Traffic doesn’t just have the free versus paid dimension. You also have to think about where it came from.

To speak (very) broadly, most traffic is either search or social. Not all, but 90% of traffic comes from one of those two places. So, in fact, you have a kind of traffic quadrant.

The traffic quadrant

An affiliate guru came up with this concept (he probably got it from someone else actually) called the traffic quadrant. And basically, you have free versus paid and search versus social. So it looks like this.

traffic quadrant

The traffic quadrant

You thus have four types of traffic, not two. I’ll go through each traffic type in detail, and discuss its advantages and disadvantages.

Free Social

This is social media marketing – putting out your content on free social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and so on. This is good in that these platforms are huge and that it’s free to put stuff up there and potentially get eyeballs on it. It’s bad in that these platforms are very crowded and getting more crowded every day. And some of them (like Facebook) are moving towards a “pay to play” model, where you have to cough up money to get people to see your content.

It’s also not very warm traffic. People here are often just browsing. They’re not necessarily interested in your content and they probably aren’t looking to buy something. So converting people, even those that follow your social media accounts, can be hard.

Free Search

This is for me the holy grail of traffic. It’s free, there are huge piles of it, and it’s warm! People are already searching for whatever your content is about! So, of course, everybody wants it, so the battle for organic search rankings is hugely competitive.

This is what SEO is all about – getting the rankings in the SERPs for valuable keywords. This is a topic I find intensely interesting since it is essentially the no-holds-barred full-contact kickboxing deathmatch of internet marketing. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown! And it is winner takes all.

And the really crazy thing about it is, once it is set up and working, you can basically leave it for a long time, and you’ll still be getting good results. If you do no work on your site at all, it will slip after a while, but it will be a year or two before it really falls off the front page.

So free organic search is the most valuable traffic of all but the hardest to get (in large volumes).

Paid social

This is where you pay for traffic on a social media platform. The biggest and most well-known is obviously Facebook ads, but there is also Instagram ads (Facebook owns Instagram remember), Twitter ads (I’ve heard this is a good and underrated/cheap source of traffic), Pinterest ads (I’ve tried these, they are great, very cheap targeted traffic), and Youtube ads (haven’t done these, apparently these are good).

The bad thing about this traffic source is that it can be quite expensive. Facebook especially charges a pretty penny for advertising on its giant platform. And you have to constantly monitor it, test it, tweak and optimise it to get your best ROI (Return On Investment).

But the good news is, these platforms are huge, they have (pretty) good targeting, and you can scale up as big as you want. But I would advise to start small and scale up once you have tested and optimised a winning campaign.

Also, if you build up a retargeting list, you can reduce your cost per click significantly. I wrote an article that explains how retargeting works. Or if you want to learn how to execute profitable retargeting campaigns from an expert, you can check out the Increaserr or Fuego Breakout courses.

Paid Search

Some of the most experienced marketers specialise in PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising. That’s because it takes a lot of skill and work, but if you master it, you can make serious money. I would not recommend PPC marketing to beginners. The learning curve is steep (as steep if not steeper than Facebook ads)

Much like free search, paid search requires a lot of thought and investment but can lead to big rewards.

Free traffic pros and cons

So overall, the pros and cons of traffic are pretty simple. Obviously, it’s free! But be careful. It might be free in money, but it is not necessarily free in time. You might need to spend a lot of time to get it to work, and time is essentially money (you could have spent that time doing something that earned money).

But the work can pay off and generate returns in the long run.

Personally, I like free search, because the effort you put into free search pays off over a long time. Posts on social media networks can disappear in days, if not hours. (Pinterest is the exception – posts there last for months on average, one of the reasons I am focusing an increasing amount of attention on Pinterest).

But building content that generates search results can lead to traffic for a long, long time. Just make sure it is on your own website, not on some crappy web 2.0 property.

If you’re unsure about starting your own blog or website, I have a free guide that shows you how to get started.

Paid traffic pros and cons

The pro of paid traffic is that it fast! You can get views on your offer or landing page right away. And you can scale up easily. If you pump in more money, you get more traffic!

But more traffic doesn’t necessarily lead to more sales – that’s a common myth! I busted a whole bunch of those misconceptions in this article on common affiliate marketing myths.

You need an offer that converts! So paid traffic can be risky. You can pour money in, and get nothing out, if your offer isn’t good, or it just doesn’t suit the specific traffic source.

So start small, test, test, test. And once you have something working, scale it all the way up.

What do I use and recommend?

So what do I use? All of them! Yes, all four traffic sources on the quadrant.

  • I get free search traffic from this blog.
  • I get free social traffic from my Twitter, Instagram account, Facebook account and Pinterest account.
  • I do some paid ads on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
  • And I have some small PPC campaigns running.

My paid traffic investments are pretty small, because I’m still learning and testing. And because my main focus is actually free search traffic – the biggest, best and hardest of all.

What can I say, I love a challenge!


I hope you found this article on free versus paid traffic helpful. What kind of traffic source do you use? Or are you like me, and mix it up? Let me know in the comments!