October 7

The Essential Guide of Traffic Sources for Marketers: Paid, Earned and Owned

Online marketing


All digital marketing relies on content: written, videos, photographs and audio recordings. And all this content needs to be publicly available to consumers so that they may become familiar with a company and trust its products. This is the crux of a marketer’s work: finding the right places to post content so that consumers see/hear it. Thus, we believe it is time to create a clear and complete guide of traffic sources for marketers.

Traffic sources are the channels through which the content they promote circulates. You cannot simply upload a video or an article and leave it there. You must start an entire chain reaction that spreads out to as many people as possible. Some parts of this chain are free (owned), some are paid and some are earned. Also, there is a new form of traffic – the shared traffic, which we will also cover.

The Importance of Traffic Sources for Marketers

Knowing how to use traffic sources, how to select the right combination of them is the key to a successful and cost effective digital marketing campaign. If money is not an issue, your can go ahead and rely heavily on paid traffic sources. But in most cases money is an issue (otherwise you would not be looking for articles like this one).

When you use traffic source, you want to know how well it works. You want to know if you are getting any results for your effort. In some cases, you have full control. In others, you get what you can from the available analytical data. But in all cases, you need to have an idea whether you are at least getting close to the goals you set.

Making a Choice or Going for Everything You Can Get?

Before we move on to the in-depth presentation of traffic sources for marketers, let us settle a contentious point. What should you focus on? Paid, owned or earned traffic sources? Ideally, you should have a good mix of all of them.

But nothing is ideal in the conditions marketers must work in these days. So, it is useful to know precisely the pros and cons of each type of traffic source in order to select the right combination for each client and for each campaign you are working on.

For instance, when you are on a shoestring budget, you will focus on owned and earned media. When you want quick results for an impatient client who gives you a decent budget, you choose paid and owned traffic sources.

In-Depth Presentation of Traffic Sources for Marketers

Now that we have cleared up these issues, let us move on to the core of this article. Each section, for each type of traffic source will cover:

  • Definition
  • Examples of traffic sources
  • Advantages
  • Disadvantages.

Paid Traffic Sources


Paid traffic sources represent media placements that you pay for in order to get your content featured. These media placements can be online, offline and on TV/radio.

Examples of Paid Traffic Sources

The best known types of paid traffic sources are boosted social media posts, social media ads, video ads and Google AdWords. However, other effective forms of paid traffic sources are:

  • Paid articles featured on popular websites/blogs
  • Paid press releases on specialised websites
  • Paid syndicated content.

For bigger brands, paid influencer content is also useful, but there are some issues here. The value of this traffic source is directly connected with the influencer’s reputation and popularity. And if a brand is associated with an influencer for a long time, the influencer’s actions and conduct will reflect back on the brand (both in a positive and negative way).

Advantages of Paid Traffic Sources

This is one of the most effective traffic sources for marketers. They have access to a series of valuable tools that allow them to:

1. Target Relevant Customer Groups

The number one advantage of paid traffic sources is getting your content in front of consumers who match the profile of your customer persona. Through advanced targeting tools, marketers can select audiences with a high degree of customisation.

2. Get High Visibility Rates

Paid content is always prominently displayed on social media, websites and search engines. Users cannot fail to notice these promoted content elements.

3. Get Real Time Data and Tweak Campaigns

The creator of a paid content campaign can see how it performs and make adjustments to it on the go in terms of: audience, content, budget, geographical area and display periods.

Disadvantages of Paid Traffic Sources

There is only one key disadvantage to this type of traffic source: money. As soon as you stop paying, your content is no longer displayed to users.

Owned Traffic Sources


Owned sources are the only type of traffic sources for marketers fully under their control. They can decide:

  • What type of content is posted
  • Where it is posted
  • Who has access to the content.

Examples of Owned Traffic Sources

The best examples of owned traffic sources for marketers are the websites and blogs they control or operate on behalf of clients. Other forms of owned traffic sources are the social media profiles for the brands and various listings, such as the Google My Business listing.

Advantages of Owned Traffic Sources

1. Free to Publish

For small brands and start-ups this is the number one benefit of this category of traffic sources for marketers. You do not have to pay to get your content published.

2. Full Control

On owned traffic sources, you are in full control of every aspect. You can add, edit or delete content. You can approve or delete comments from visitors/users. You can bar access to your content from specific geographic areas.

Disadvantages of Owned Traffic Sources

Visibility is the weakest point of owned traffic sources. You may have the greatest content, but there is no use if no one sees it. This is why SEO is so important. It is the only way to make owned traffic sources (website and blog) more visible by earning authority and a higher page rank.

As for social media profiles and content – the news is not good at all. Organic traffic is steadily declining and you have to resort to paid traffic in order to gain visibility.

Earned Traffic Sources


Earned traffic sources represent actions taken by internet users that bring your content to the attention to new audiences.

Examples of Earned Traffic Sources

The best known forms of traffic sources for marketers of this kind are social media shares, likes and comments, reviews, testimonials and social mentions.

Advantages of Earned Traffic Sources

1. They Are Free

This is a free distribution channel for your content. And it has the potential to reach audiences you had not planned in your paid traffic sources campaigns.

2. Your Win Brand Reputation

Earned traffic sources represent an implicit endorsement of the brand and its products. A large number of likes and shares, as well as many positive reviews can generate an important number of sales for your brand.

3. You Can Discover New Potential Placements and Audiences for Ads

As explained above, by looking at where your earned traffic sources come from, you can discover new consumer groups that fit your customer personas, as well as websites/forums where you can expand your paid traffic sources.

Disadvantages of Earned Traffic Sources

1. There Is No Predictability

You cannot be certain at any moment how much you can rely on earned traffic sources. You cannot plan, forecast and determine even a medium term strategy to turn these traffic sources into leads and sales.

2. You Have No Control over It

There is no way to determine how and where your content is distributed. You and the brand are mostly passive elements in this game.

3. It Can Go Wrong

Social shares and reviews can be positive and helpful, or negative and highly damaging to the brand. A post, a quote, a photo or a video can go virally wrong, with connotations you did not intend for them. There are many examples of blunders even by huge, global brands that got mercilessly exploited by social media followers in funny or scathing posts. This is why you must always triple check everything before you post it on the internet and make sure there is no room for hilarious or offensive interpretations.

The New Kid on the Block: Shared Traffic Sources

Last, but not least, we will discuss a form of traffic sources for marketers that is increasingly valuable. The shared traffic source represents user generated content. It is not a part of earned traffic sources, because the brand is not the creator of the content.

Consumers create the content and fully own it, but they choose to attach the brand name to it and feature its products. This is one of the best forms of free traffic for any business, because it generates both visibility and brand authority. As part of your digital marketing strategy, you should encourage subscribers, social media followers and customers to create and share as much user generated content as possible.

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