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.

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