Traffic Temperature Explained: Cold, Warm & Hot Traffic

Marketing and sales are different. This seems like an obvious statement, but many brands focus too much on pushing the sale. Advertising is expensive, so why not go for the pitch? The problem is that cold prospects are precisely that: cold. That is, not ready to buy.

By running distinct campaigns for cold and hot traffic (as well as the “warm leads” who are considering your brand), you can usually enjoy a better ROI. Here’s how to segment your cold visitors, warm leads, and the prospects who are ready to buy — and why you need to market to each group separately.

Why You Need to Segment Your Traffic

In marketers’ eagerness to attract new customers, they often forget an essential fact: not all traffic is ready to buy. If you’ve seen ads or cold emails from a strange company that’s already pitching an offer, you know the problem. Familiarity breeds trust, but without this, most consumers will focus on their objections. They don’t have enough information to believe that the offer solves a problem. They may not even know they have a problem that needs solving.

Too many marketers focus on the sale rather than building a relationship with their audience — which is the core of marketing! To get better results from your campaigns, you need to target cold, warm, and hot traffic differently. Stop assuming that every visitor is ready to buy and start breaking down your content for their unique position.

Mapping Your Audience’s Buyer Journey

Let’s review the basic buying cycle: people discover your brand (Awareness), learn about your offering (Consideration), and hopefully make a purchase (Decision). In classic sales, these phases correspond to their “temperature.” New website visitors are “cold,” people who have spent some time on your site or who opted into your mailing list are “warm,” and leads who are talking to your sales reps are “hot.”

In practice, it’s not always this simple. Marketers tend to focus on getting leads into the sales funnel — as they should. However, that funnel can be quite long. Assuming that everyone is at the bottom of the funnel is a mistake.

This is especially true for your ad clickthrough and site traffic, which comprises a lot of people who have not engaged with your brand at all. In truth, the classic sales cycle makes more sense for cold outreach. Now that so many potential customers discover you on their own, through web searches or social media, there may be a long journey before they ever get in touch with you.

In other words, they’re not technically leads, but they can still be cold, warm, or hot. You need to set up campaigns that are appropriate for your traffic’s temperature.

Cold Traffic

Cold traffic is even colder than cold leads. These people have never heard of your brand. They discovered you through a web search or saw an ad on Google, Facebook, or another platform. Either they were searching for information or the platform’s algorithm decided your ad was relevant to their interests.

In any case, they’re not ready to buy. They’re more likely in “research mode,” and they may not be considering a purchase at all. Pitching your offer to them is often a waste of effort. In fact, sales-y content might even scare them away.

When targeting cold traffic, focus on building a relationship with them. What problem are they trying to solve? What are they most interested in? This is your opportunity to do some detailed market research. Be sure to install a conversion tracking pixel on your website to monitor their activity. This will be crucial once you retarget them as warm traffic.

Here are the best types of content to attract cold traffic:

  • Blogs
  • How-tos
  • Podcasts
  • Whitepapers
  • Videos

Warm Traffic

Once people visit your content, they go one of two ways: they continue engaging with your brand (i.e. they warm themselves up) or they leave and do something else. If the latter, don’t despair! Your conversion tracking pixel will allow you to retarget them through paid ads on Google or social media. Now that they’ve passed the “Awareness” part of the journey, you can treat them as warm traffic (albeit lukewarm).

Ideally, though, your cold-traffic content is enticing enough that visitors decide they want more. The easiest way to warm them up is to offer a lead magnet after they’ve accessed your blog/video/etc. They opt into your mailing list to receive a freebie — usually an e-book, worksheet, or another juicy bit of content.

From there, you can send them targeted offers. They’ve already expressed a strong interest in your brand, so they’re primed for more content. But don’t start with the sales pitch just yet. Continue providing value and building that relationship.

Here are the best types of content to warm up your traffic:

  • E-books
  • Webinars
  • Worksheets
  • Free trials

Hot Traffic

Once you’ve continually engaged with your prospective customers, it’s time to make your pitch. Now that they trust your brand, they’re more likely to see your offering as a solution to their problems. You can drive them directly to purchase (e.g. by including a “Buy Now” CTA at the end of your lead magnet or webinar) or retarget them based on their activity.

It’s important to clearly define the warm–hot part of your funnel. For example, someone who has regularly visited your website and has spent a lot of time on various pages is very warm traffic — even if they haven’t joined your mailing list yet. You could retarget them on Facebook and more easily convert them.

On the flip side, your “warm traffic” may not be ready to buy even after several rounds of valuable content. It’s sad but true: some people just sign up for the freebies. If they haven’t opened any of your emails, don’t waste your contact’s budget on sending them a sales pitch.

One more note: hot traffic also refers to previous customers who return to your site. You probably know that it’s much easier to sell to existing customers than new ones. Make sure that you run campaigns targeting hot traffic! This includes upselling, pitching new offers or upgrades, or showing related products.

Amazon is a master of this: rather than assuming their previous customers will be open to buying some random thing, they send highly targeted email and retargeting ads based on customers’ engagement with their brand.

Wrapping Up

As you see, not all traffic is alike. You must refine your campaigns to target people based on their temperature in your funnel. With conversion pixel tracking, email marketing, and lots of data in your pocket, you can even target people who have not yet given you their email address or spoken to a sales rep. This allows you to focus on building a valuable relationship rather than blasting them with sales pitches. The result? Better ROI on your marketing budget, higher LTV for each customer, and a stronger brand reputation.

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