If you own a small business (say a real estate company in southern Spain, for example) then you will probably have received a phone call similar to the following:
Them: Hi I'm calling to ask if you'd like more customers.
You: Well.. business has been a bit slack recently, so err.. yes please.
Them: Great. You need to advertise on our forum*/portal*/Armenian property bazaar*/website about my cat* [*delete as applicable]
You: Err, how much is it?
Them: Arm and a leg. But its worth it because we're the busiest. Honest.
Them: Yep. Got your Visa card there?
Suck it and see
It has always been notoriously tricky to decide where you should spend your online advertising dollar.
Most agents are too busy keeping the wolf from the door to learn enough about the various sites in their niche that might benefit them. They are even less likely to be aware of the different measures of site traffic, visitors, impressions, uniques and so forth.
Plus (believe it or not) certain sites will exaggerate or be selective with their stats in the hope of signing you up.
So (and I'm only theorising here) for most small business owners, online advertising has pretty much been a trial and error affair, more often ending up with disappointment and 3 months ad budget pissed away, with little or no decent enquiries to show for the time and money and effort.
How can you guard against this?
Well the really short answer is you probably can't. There are stats and analytics, and things like Alexa, that can give you an idea of a site's popularity, but as I said before these can be manipulated.
Everyone knows that salesmen are the easiest people to close - and hate to admit their ignorance on any topic! Combine that with an advertising telemarketer (on no basic) trying to hit his monthly target and bob's your uncle.
But it doesn't have to be a blind leap. There are certain things you can do to find out if a site justifies its advertising fees. The best of these, by far, is Google trends. By signing in with a Google account you can compare numerous sites' traffic stats and also see where the visitors come from as well as other popular sites they have visited.
The following screenshot shows 3 popular Spanish property portals I compared using the system:
(click image to enlarge)
From this at least one can glean if a site is worth its price by comparing it with similar sites in the same sector. Previously, this kind of competitive intelligence was only available from certain ISPs to companies with deep pockets. Now its yours for free! Not bad at all.
NB to see figures and projections, you will need to sign in first.
Use your powers wisely
It still remains a fact though that large volumes of traffic do not necessarily equate to lots of lovely leads. For example, the site with the most traffic may also have the most subscribers, therefore reducing the average number of enquiries per subscriber.
Neither does volume equate to quality - a small number of niche, "on target" leads is far better than an inbox full of dross to wade through.
So it probably is still the case of "suck it and see" in terms of finding a good source of reasonably priced leads. But at least you can wade in armed with a little more knowledge. All free of charge.