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Jan

Social Media – Under the Microscope

There has been a stir in the SEO community; the buzz this past year has been all about social media. Getting your site listed on
Digg, StumbleUpon, Netscape, whatever the flavor, it’s all getting to be the same. Grumblings, faint at first, have been rising against the cross-current cheerleading of these social media properties.

Social Media Blues
There are a number of reasons for discontent. Being de-listed by a few small groups, spam, and ultimately the traffic that these social media sites provide is very much like a sugar high. There is a flurry of traffic that leaves as quickly as it starts, and sometimes there is less of a result than desired. As Kim Berg recently experienced in I Don’t Digg being Dugg, it also brings out the worst of what people have to offer;

“Update: At last count, this blog post was dugg 890 times. It was submitted by someone else and subsequently, the spam comments, both here and at Digg, have been incredible. I am no fan of Digg. Never have been. This experience and the comments left here just add to my contempt for a place where people act like wild animals instead of human beings.”

Apart from the sheer volume of traffic, the link benefit might be of temporary benefit for rankings, but the amount of visitors and the comments left were not helpful to her or any of her readers.

Under the Microscope of Analytics
This caused some curiosity in me, as I have a few client sites that have been the subject of social media traffic, so, what better thing to do than to analyze the benefit of social media traffic. I did, and the results were surprising.

First, I had data from two types of websites. Then, Kim Berg allowed me to analyze her blog stats, which reflected traffic from Digg and Del.icio.us. Including Kim’s blog, all three are content-based websites. Website #1 is an information-based website that drove people to subscriptions and memberships, website #2 is a technology-based blog with no direct conversions.

I compared the traffic to each of these sites by three methods:

Source
The source of the referral; search engines, links, and social media links. Typically, search engines provide the main source of traffic to these sites. Direct navigation is comparable, but search engines by and large provided the bulk of the traffic. Links accounted for a substantial amount of traffic to the site, and the social media site provided a significant part of the link traffic.

Engagement
Using time on site, page views per visitor, and conversions, engagement of visitors would determine the logical growth for improvement of websites. However it is also useful for determining the continued investment in links from other websites, marketing programs, and other initiatives. These statistics also show the difference in site attraction for different groups based on the source of the link.

Conversions
Visitors from external site links tend to convert at a higher rate than search engines. This has been determined from analyzing many websites, more than just these three. The reason is that visitors coming from another website are better pre-qualified than those coming from search engines. Other website visitors are coming to the subject site based on a recommendation (contextual link), whereas search engine visitors come to the subject site based on a ranking or comparison to other sites in the results pages. The difference is clear and is borne out by the engagement and conversion rates.

Here are the source, engagement, and conversion comparison of search engines, links and social network site links.

Site Awebsite 1 analysis
Search segment #1
1.6 minutes Avg. Time on Site
2.5 Page Views per Visitor
0.1% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Search segment #2
1.3 minutes Avg. Time on Site
2.5 Page Views per Visitor
0.24% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Search segment #3
0.9 minutes Avg. Time on Site
2.2 Page Views per Visitor
0.3% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Search segment #4
1.6 minutes Avg. Time on Site
2.7 Page Views per Visitor
0.28% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Link group #1
18 sec. Avg. Time on Site
2.1 Page Views per Visitor
0.9% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Link group #2
2.7 minutes. Avg. Time on Site
3.9 Page Views per Visitor
0.8% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Link group #3
4.18 minutes Avg. Time on Site
4.0 Page Views per Visitor
1.1% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Social Media Link Group
2 sec. Avg. Time on Site
1 page view per visitor
0.0% Convert at the Newsletter Subscription Page

Site B (Technical Blog)website 2 analysis
Search segment #1
34 sec. Avg. Time on Site
1.2 Page Views per Visitor

Search segment #2
37 sec. Avg. Time on Site
1.3 Page Views per Visitor

Search segment #3
26 sec. Avg. Time on Site
1.5 Page Views per Visitor

Link site #1
1.2 minutes. Avg. Time on Site
1.7 Page Views per Visitor

Link site #2
1.4 minutes. Avg. Time on Site
1.5 Page Views per Visitor

Link site #3
.9 minutes Avg. Time on Site
2 Page Views per Visitor

Link site #4
54 seconds Avg. Time on Site
2.2 Page Views per Visitor

Social Media Link
1.3 sec. Avg. Time on Site
1 Page View per Visitor
0 comments on socially linked article. (Stumbleupon)

Site 3: Kim Kraus Berg’s Cre8pc Blogwebsite 3 analysis

Search segment #1
0.2 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.2 Page Views per Visitor

Search segment #2
0.28 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.1 Page Views per Visitor

Search segment #3
0.21 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.2 Page Views per Visitor

Search segment #4
0.13 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.3 Page Views per Visitor

Link group #1
0.53 Avg. Time on Site
1.8 Page Views per Visitor

Link group #2
0.96 minutes. Avg. Time on Site
1.8 Page Views per Visitor

Link group #3
0.41 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.2 Page Views per Visitor

Link group #4
0.68 minutes Avg. Time on Site
1.5 Page Views per Visitor

Social Media Link – Digg
0.06 Avg. Time on Site
1.1Page View per Visitor

Social Media Link – Del.icio.us
0.21 Avg. Time on Site
1.2 Page View per Visitor

This is a most derogatory piece of evidence, in my opinion.
Despite the higher rates of conversion and engagement by visitors who are referred by external site links, social media site links consistently yielded the lowest rates of engagement and no conversions. On the technology blog, thousands of Stumblupon users left no comments. On the opinion blog, the Digg users that did comment left negative replies or spam.

No Killer App
I have cautioned against declaring social media as the end-all marketing force for SEO’s. This research, though limited, confirms my suspicions. Social Media provides a “sugar-high” approach to building links, much less an online business. It provides a lot of traffic, very fast. However the vast majority of that traffic is not engaged, rarely stays for more than a few seconds and can sometimes be rude. If page views are the goal for a site, social media will provide a lot of one-off page views, but rarely more than that. Comparatively, good external links provide traffic that will view multiple pages – typically many more than social media traffic.

For a search engine marketer, social media traffic can be a proof that they know how to build quick attention for a site. However, beyond that shot of traffic, what is there to show? For those in the SEO business, there is not much else, traffic sells. For businesses that make their living on and off the web, traffic like this is not helpful. It is not direct, and the numbers show that there is even less engagement and branding impact than any other source of traffic. So besides a quick influx of visitors who don’t stick around or even read the full page, what is the benefit?

Investment v Return
I recently saw a headline “Social Media Matures,” which made me laugh. (Sorry, but it did) Sure it’s maturing; it’s in its terrible two’s. Social networks have a long way to go before they provide substantial return for the promises being made. Currently, while still in its infancy, social media is the domain of technophiles and marketers, all of which have an agenda. Among themselves, they accuse each other of developing linkbait and articles solely designed to make the front page of Digg, yet they themselves seem to be the main consumers of their own products. See Gord Hotchkiss’ clarification on this subject, research seems to indicate that the average web user does not rely on social networks for news or research more than once a month.

Building traffic to a site has always been a longer, invested approach. Marketing has always taken more than a single channel to build a good brand, customer base, site links, content, and a business. Online marketing is no different. As a point of clarification, this article is directly related to using the social bookmark sites as a method of building links and traffic, not to sites that are using social media to create engagement for their own user base. That is a different matter entirely.

Your Feedback
I will be continuing this research, as any client I have receives this type of traffic analysis. If you have any questions about the methodology, which I realize is very basic in this article, I would be very happy to answer. I would be very happy to expand my basis of evaluation.

If you have client stats (or yours) that you would like to offer as an example, I would be very happy to evaluate those as part of this activity. I would like to analyze an ecommerce site that has been the subject of any social media attention, in order to see results across a variety of website types. I would be more than willing to give someone credit for allowing me to evaluate their sites as part of a larger base of data.

If you think I’m way off base, then send your log files (I’ll be discreet), and we’ll see.

Related Posts:
Three Downsides to Social Media
Coca-Cola watches the World Pass By, Decides to Join
Overlooked Indicators

About Matt Bailey
Matt is the owner and founder of SiteLogic and has over 15 years in the internet marketing industry. He focuses on consulting and training to help companies take control of their websites and marketing strategies. You can find out more by reading his book: Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day

23 Comments for this entry

Joe Dolson
January 24th, 2007 on 8:53 am

Nice post, Matt.

I think you’ve pretty much called it – Social Media is good for driving traffic, but not much else. It is kind of fun to go in and vote for your favorites, etc., and the communal bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us and ma.gnol.ia offer a great way to share resources…

But the marketing aspect seems pretty limited. When 99% of that traffic is non-converting and/or just making rude comments, you’re really just running up your bandwidth for no great purpose.

Rick H
January 24th, 2007 on 5:28 pm

Great reading, and, as far as I can tell, spot on. I have been following (researching) this line of thinking for a while. I finally got tired of digg, for the reasons you mentioned, and un-dugg my rss reader yesterday. The resulting digg-free day was a welcome change. Keep up the good work, your insites have helped me out.

Lee Odden
January 25th, 2007 on 4:25 am

This is a much needed analysis Matt, thanks. What would be even more interesting is what the numbers would reveal from a range of data across 3-6 months of this kind of activity.

Matt Bailey
January 25th, 2007 on 8:02 am

I knew I would have to explain this sooner or later, so here it is.

I do not think social media is worthless.

What I am advocating:
1. As a responsible marketer, I have to be honest with my clients when presenting marketing options to them. I cannot contend that social media should play a large part in the marketing mix when it obviously does not provide the same levels of engagement as search or traditional link traffic.
2. Social Media is not for everyone, all the time. For SEO’s marketing their abilities to create links and to those companies targeting early adopters, it is a perfect vehicle to reach those markets. You cannot claim that what works in marketing to early adopters will work just as well for other online business models.
3. Sheer numbers of links over a few weeks are not proof of success. For traditional businesses, leads and sales are the goal. The bottom line is the bottom line.

Sure, there are success stories, there are with every market segment and marketing style. What I found interesting is that some of those success stories end with the site being banned from Digg by the very same users that made it a success. Unfortunately, that’s too short term for myself or for my clients.

Ultimately, I am railing against those who advocate social media marketing for everyone, all the time. It is not responsible, nor is it accurate.

Big thanks to those that have left positive comments – I appreciate your feedback and I will continue to make analysis as the data becomes available. For those that think I am way off base, I’m willing to change my opinions. If you are willing to submit your log files after a social media storm, I’ll be more than happy to compare the rates of engagement and conversion with the others.

Marcus
January 25th, 2007 on 10:58 pm

Great research, but I think there may be an element missing….

As you point out, external links work the best because they include context. However, this immediately leads me to 2 thoughts:

1.) The writers of the sites that included the external links weren’t made aware of the links via telepathy… Some of them surely were made aware of the content via Digg, del.icio.us, et. al. and found the content compelling enough to write about it. So Digg and del.icio.us serve a purpose of feeding editors good content ideas.

2.) You don’t say what types of sites provided the external links, but I’m guessing since they’re not search engines, many of them are likely other forms of social media (read: blogs). Yet you created a category called social media, which I’m assuming is made up of Digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us et. al.

Common definitions of social media usually include blogs, don’t they?

Let me know if I’m reading this wrong – if blog postings were included as your “social media,” the results are particularly depressing. But if they’re not included, I’d suggest a more appropriate label than “social media.”

Matt Bailey
January 25th, 2007 on 11:20 pm

Marcus, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. The information you are asking about will be the subject of an upcoming article. To answer your question, here’s part of what I found;

When I analyzed link traffic, it included blogs, “static” site links, and social bookmarking sites. I separated out the specific social communities of Digg, Stumbleupon, and Del.icio.us, as they provided the most link traffic and they were the subject of the study. However, when I compared blog links to standard website links, there was a difference. I am expanding my analysis to account for these trends and confirm my analysis.

You are correct, however, that there is another layer to this analysis – comparing blog link traffic to traditional website link traffic.  Traditionally, link traffic reads more, stays longer and converts at a higher rate than search traffic. The saving grace of search traffic is volume of visitors.  My initial impression is that the social media affect will carry over to the blogs, but that would be subject to the type of blog, the market that blog targets and the context of the link.

Caribbean Guy
January 27th, 2007 on 4:25 pm

Very interesting article. I’ve never seen hard numbers like this before, but your data is consistent with my own intuition.

One statistic you don’t show, which would also be interesting, is the percent of visitors who visit the site for very short periods (e.g. under 30 seconds). While this data would be similar to the average “Time on Site” that you report, I suspect it would provide an even clearer indication of the amount of low quality traffic coming from various sources (since it can’t distorted by the occasional outlier).

Patrick Kilhoffer
February 6th, 2007 on 12:58 am

For B2B products and services, the social sites seem to be of very little or no value at all. It seems like they are mostly used by lower age and lower income individuals. I could see them being useful for Pepsi, snacks, that sort of thing. For the amount of effort it takes to get qualified adults to your site, you are probably better off sending them a letter.

On the other hand, if you are doing the work yourself and you have no budget, it’s hard to go too far wrong. I can’t see paying someone to do it though.

mediablogger
August 29th, 2007 on 6:51 am

I guess your view is a bit to negative and generalized. Whereas you probably are right related to ecommerce and conversions one may need to contemplate that social media is social and not hard selling and that social news is related to information. So if someone spends one minute at an information source this one has got the information. If this is the target of the resource, the supplier of the information could be satisfied with the results.

Matt Bailey
August 29th, 2007 on 8:54 am

Interesting comment. One one hand you say that my view is negative and generalized, but then on the other you remove ecommerce and business websites from the equation in order to make your point. I would think you are being too restrictive in only wanting to view social news sites inside of a bubble.

However, the article supports social media. Blogs, forums, review sites, and CGM are all fantastic ways of marketing a website, no matter what type of site it is. The poster child of Social Media has become Digg, which is restrictive and incorrect.

Blogs, Forums, review sites, etc. are social media and some of the best sources of engaged traffic. The article is meant to be a counterpoint to the advice of “just get on Digg” and other social news sites.

Considering the context of the visitor, I’ll agree. The social news visitor that spent less than 20 seconds on the page probably did get what they wanted. You have to ask yourself if you got what you wanted.

social media
June 6th, 2009 on 3:54 am

Great informative post with exact figures and charts.
Social media main purpose is not just to drive traffic to the website. But to engage well in conversations. In some ways, companies had actually started taking social media to become their marketing and to create brand awareness. Companies had also use social media as a communicating channel to learn from their customers (to get their feedback, problems after using the company product), employees (to know exactly what is going on in the company) and etc.
I strongly believe that social media will be the upcoming trend for all individuals and companies to participate in it.

Emma
June 24th, 2009 on 11:27 pm

Great reading. Excellent analysis. I completely agree with you, especially your comments. It really depends on what you expect out of social media marketing and what your goals are, as to whether or not it will work for you – the way you intend it to.

New Media Strategies
July 5th, 2009 on 9:26 pm

Hi Matt!
You got a very nice and detailed information here. I also like your insights about marketing, which I agree to be absolutely true.
You said that “Marketing has always taken more than a single channel…” While this is in fact very true, many internet marketers fails to see this. They are much more focused on building up their SEOs rather than building relationships and TRUST with their consumers. SEO alone cannot give you the riches and success you want. As Matt said, it is an “invested approach”, a long process. But with patience you will definitely get there.

copynprofit scam
July 17th, 2009 on 1:56 pm

I agree with you, social media traffic is a joke when it comes to internet marketing and especially affiliate marketing. A blogger might benefit from bursts of untargeted traffic but a marketer Is seriously wasting time over at the social network sites. You need 10k uniques a day to make 50-100 bucks and someday you make no money on 10k unique social browsers. To sell products online you must have target traffic and that is organic traffic only. Nice post Matt.

Anonymous
August 11th, 2009 on 8:12 am

Thats true organic traffic always works best,i believe social media is actually about interaction with people it should not be compared to organic methods.

killey
December 16th, 2009 on 11:00 am

“Social media and SEO are now inextricably linked. You couldn’t separate ’em if you tried.” – Ian Lurie.

Yosef Solomon
December 17th, 2009 on 11:19 pm

It’s seems as though Social Media has definitely evolved over the past couple of years since this article was written. I defintely agree that getting your site on Stumble, Digg, Reddit etc.. are at times only quick means of traffic, but they still establish brand recognition possible subscribers.

killey Normal
December 28th, 2009 on 4:01 am

Hi to all
i think organic traffic will be better than the social media and so all the blogger will be helpful in getting the much and targeted Technics and i will say social media all be coming for large scale companies and small to
thanks to all readers.

Eric Goldstein
December 28th, 2009 on 11:39 am

Hey Matt…

Great info here. I’m with you on
marketing not just being about one
channel.

Too many people get stuck on that
and they put all of their eggs in
on basket.

Thanks for the valuable article:)

bakhard
December 31st, 2009 on 9:32 am

Hi matt
his is the best article I have found so far about getting into Social Media Analytics.

Emilio
February 10th, 2010 on 8:03 am

Hey Matt,

This is some COOL stuff.

Wondering what else do we need to know?

Without Analytics, it’s just “playing business”

Thanks!
~Emilio

Rich
May 14th, 2010 on 4:20 pm

I got dugg once about three years ago, to the tune of around 300 hits. It crashed my WP site (pair.com decided it was too much traffic and unfair to others on the server, so they yanked me during my one brief moment of fame, hehe). No long-term affects, although it’s a lesser site I don’t do a whole lot with either. It certainly was an exciting day, though. :-)

Dino Dogan
January 11th, 2011 on 4:39 pm

Great article. But wait…I got more :-)

When you first start out, as a business, you want to attract traffic at all cost. This is just reality and most biz owners dont care how its done…just bring me analytics and show me that my thousands of dollars did something…anything.

Social Bookmarking brings this traffic in and allows SEO dudes to show…something, because biz owners want to see…something.

Talk about the need for unlearning, ey?

Im not going to call you out on your lack of scientific detachment when you said that your experiment confirmed your suspicion…oh wait..I guess I just did..lol

So, the questions becomes can a site cash in on the traffic site. Im betting if you have google ads on your site (not that Im an advocate for google ads, just the devil :-) If the site DID cash in on the traffic spike the site owner wouldnt mind some spam in the comments section.

This ties in into your observation that the interwebs are the domain of technical and marketing folks. Right on the nose.

Also, I was ROTFLMAO when you said social media is in its terrible twos….that line split me lol

great site, new find.

I’ll be back (read in your best terminator voice)

8 Trackbacks / Pingbacks for this entry

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[...] As a general advocate of all things social media, linkbait and Digg (at least from a marketing perspective), I’m inclined to stand up for the value driven by these tools. I’m also a huge fan of Kim herself, and of Matt Bailey, who also wrote about the issue on his post – Social Media Under the Microscope: [...]

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