From the earlier article that I wrote, Social Media Under the Microscope, a lot of conversation was spawned as a result of the data findings. Many questions seemed to have been answered, as many people responded by confirming the same data on their sites. However, there were some new questions created from the data.

The most fascinating questions revolved around defining the difference between different social media technologies, such as blogs, forums, online news sites, and social networking and bookmarking sites. Using the same data, but looking at it in different ways provided some very amazing trends. So, with new & improved charts (complete with fresh new colors) and additional tools to dig into the data, (thanks to ClickTracks) I began the process of analyzing different forms of engagement based on visitor referral sources.

Defining Social Media
Because of the strong differences in engagement and context, I have had to divide the general term of social media in order to properly label and view the visitors from these sources. Because these groups view content in very diametrically opposed methods, they must be separated and defined. I added Web 2.0 customer review sites, since they are social media-based websites.

  • Social Media: Blogs, Forums
  • Social News: Digg, Reddit, Delicious,
  • Social Networks: (FaceBook, YouTube)

Define: Engagement
One of the best ways of analyzing visitors is not to get distracted by the big numbers. When building comparisons from referrers, one has to look at the goals of the site. Especially for content producers, making the site “sticky” has to be defined. What makes a successful visit, even if there is no conversion? Any site manager should have to answer that question, as a good customer experience is what makes people come back, even if they do not purchase or become a lead on the first visit. Chances are they won’t. So how do you know if you are taking care of your visitors? This is where engagement metrics are so important.

First, define engagement. Define a successful visit to your website.

Define: Audience
Second, define your audience. This may sound impossible at first, but consider where your audience comes from: search engine queries, website links, direct access or bookmarks. Now, what are those people looking for? Search queries are not that hard to aggregate. I suggest creating “buckets” of keyword concepts. Rather than isolating a specific term and counting visitors, widen the scope and create a catch-all phrase that will capture as many of the related terms to a particular concept as possible.

For example, a site that sells lighting may want to filter the search queries for the phrase ‘ceiling fans’. Rather than waste time trying to capture every single variation of the term, use the single word ‘fans’. This will help you to view the search trends in that vertical rather than getting sidetracked on tracking the specific phrase. Depending on the size of the site, there can be hundreds of related terms within the segment. The more segments you create, the more data you have to compare. Comparison also takes on a new aspect when comparing similar terms within the vertical, rather than comparing all of the terms in one list.

High Audience Engagement
Based on engagement factors, the group that was the most engaged, and with a very respectable conversion rate, were the visitors from news sites. These visitors tended to stay the longest, read more pages, and had the highest conversion rates.

Good Audience Engagement
Blogs & Forums
The second most engaged group was a mix of blogs and forums. Typically, the blog referrals stayed longer and read more, but the forums were not far off.

Search Traffic
Closely related but less engaged were the searchers. The conversion rates were lower than the blog referrers, but there was also differentiation among the conversion rates based on search terms as well. Based on what people are searching for, they view a site very differently, which leads to understanding the context of the search and the searcher’s expectations.

Low Audience Engagement
The lowest engaged group is the social media group. Consistently, the referrals from those types of social news sites all follow a trend of low engagement and rare conversions.

The “Long Tail” of Referrers
Most web marketers have heard of the Keyword Long Tail effect. See Keyword Long Tail for more info. When new bloggers and opinion leaders find your website and it resonates with them, they tend to link to it more often, thereby sending more people over the long term than in one specific instance.

Context and Competition
Here are the keys to developing this effect for your website. Context and Competition for Attention.
Context and Competition for Visitors
The principle of context is simple, we each practice it every day.  The context of the links in  blogs and forums is very high. Conversely, the competition for the reader’s attention is very low. When a blogger links to another site it is usually supported by surrounding information that is relevant, powerful and the next best thing to a word-of-mouth referral. There are very few other links competing for attention, and when a link is provided in a clear context, there is no competition.

The next level in context and competition is search referrals. Searchers have queried a topic and they are evaluating the result page to find the most relevant choice to click. The context is usually fairly good, depending upon the searcher’s terms, and in an ideal world, all of the choices are relevant; however, they are all competing for the searcher’s attention. The more results on the page, the more scrolling, and the more results pages viewed, the more the competition for the searcher’s attention increases and the less chance that your site will be clicked.

Finally, social media. The competition for the reader’s attention is huge. Contextually, those links in the reader’s feed have little to nothing in common. This is the place for distraction, something different, and discovery of news not otherwise found. Most users are not looking for anything in particular, politics excluded, so it is all about what catches their eye. The competition for their attention is very high, and the context is very low for specific subjects, so it logically stands that their engagement rates for any site will be very low.

The biggest take-away for me was the impact of a good link from an online news source. The visitors and the weight of the authority provide a significant benefit. Truly, a show of quality over quantity. Online Public Relations and reaching out to online news outlets is still one of the most viable methods of creating awareness and traffic for a website.

The second take-away is the recognition that a long term strategy that focuses on your target audience will be the most viable and profitable. Chasing after short-term repetition from social news sites as a means of marketing a website will lead to detached visitors who see no consistent context to your site or your goals as a business.

The tried and true focus of building a business by a long-term focus on your target market is borne out in the data. Building a relevant site that connects with visitor needs is the most beneficial and valuable. A strategy that engages visitors by the contextual relevance will build sales and leads and long-term reputation at the same time.

Related Posts:
Social Media – Under the Microscope
The 3 C’s Of Marketing: Content, Context, Community
The Difference Between the WHAT and the WHY