Over the past few weeks I have had numerous discussions with people about the cost of getting people to visit websites. All sorts of services are now available to the ecommerce venture, from search engine optimisation, to portals, to email-based direct marketing.

They all seem very attractive, but ask one simple question: how much does it cost to get one person to visit one page on your website? The figures can be quite a revelation.

For example, I was offered a presence at an online event, which would have cost about £2,000. They claimed more than 20,000 people would register at the event. That works out at 10p per visitor – surely a lot more cost effective than using a mailshot to tell people about me at about £1 a go?

Maybe, but that's the number of visitors they may get. My cut of that depends entirely on how well sign-posted my stand is and how well the visitor is guided as they move through the site. If I was very lucky I could only expect 10% of the visitors to venture in to my stand, which puts the cost at about the same as sending out a mailshot via Royal Mail.

Let's break the figures down further. There may be 20,000 people – but how many would be journalists, competitors, junior staff, students, tourists and other people who would not directly contribute to the bottom line of my business?

And how many would go beyond simply visiting my stand and make themselves known to me by asking to join my mailing list or visit my site? Suddenly we're into expensive territory. The question in the back of my mind is: can I invest my marketing budget elsewhere for a better return?

There are a few good models out there to help generate traffic to your site, but they are not “neat ideas” looking for a problem to solve, or someone selling a particular technical solution. They have been thought out from the business perspective, with return on investment models, clear marketing strategies (which they are willing to share) and emphasis on guiding people to visit your own site.

You can't expect a site to promise to improve your sales, after all once they are at your site it is down to you to achieve that, but you can expect them to give you a reasonable return on your investment.

Before you sign up to any of these services ask that one question: what will it cost to get one person to visit your site? Then do the sums and work out if you couldn't invest your money better elsewhere.

  • Ross Hall is managing director of Garol and can be contacted on 020 8902 0618 or ross.hall@ garol.com.