Social Networking is about MORE than just connecting with others online. As Internet Builder Consulting has said for years (NAHB IBS 2006, 2007 and Bob Schultz Training 2007, 2008 & 2009) an important key to online marketing is link weight and referral traffic. A recent study we found posted on ReadWriteWeb.com showed the importance of Social Media Marketing with Facebook listed as the # 1 source of referral traffic online.
Recently the wife of a client who is now in charge of his marketing demanded all of the Social Networking accounts and Social Media Marketing be turned off and because she believed it was “worthless” even after the value of referral links was explained. Just because someone does not understand or appreciate something does not mean it is worthless – read the article below and decide for yourself on Social Media Marketing!
Top Referrers of Traffic
For the purposes of this analysis, referrers have been segmented into different categories in order to more easily compare traffic. For example, there is no use in comparing Google to Flickr since they are not categorically related. If we’re making a determination which search engine to focus on, Flickr would not be in the mix – and if we’re looking for a photo hosting site, Google would not be in the mix. The four main referral categories that drive virtually all traffic are: Search Engines, Media, Social Bookmarks and Social Networks.
Social Network Referrers
Perhaps the one result that was the most surprising is the Social Networking category. Although Twitter seem to be the talk of the town, Facebook is the 900 pound gorilla when it comes to actually driving website traffic, sending nearly 7 in 10 visitors from the Social Network category. LinkedIn comes in a distant yet still respectable third place.
There is one giant unknown in this area, however. Many Twitter users access the service through applications instead of via Twitter’s website. These applications do not report http-referrer data to Web servers, which makes it impossible to tell where the clicks originate. The same can be said about traffic driven by mobile apps (including Facebook).
All of the other players in the Social Networking category cumulatively amount to less than 3% of inbound website traffic.
Social Bookmark Referrers
Social bookmarking sites are also extremely sought after sources of traffic, with the highest profile member of the group being Digg. Interestingly, this is another case where a smaller source seems to receive a disproportionate amount of attention, since StumbleUpon drives nearly double the traffic to websites.
Another surprising standout in the Social Bookmark category is YCombinator’s Hacker News site, which drives 12% of the traffic in this category. Reddit and Del.icio.us drive 5% and 2%, respectively. Interestingly, SlashDot (the grandaddy of them all) drives close to 0% of traffic to the sites Woopra measures – although webmasters still call the rush of traffic that can take down a website a “Slashdotting”.
In the Search Engine space, perhaps the only surprise is the absolute dominance of Google when it comes to actually driving traffic to websites. For example, Experian’s Hitwise published a press release setting Google’s share of the search market at 72% in May 2010. However, Woopra is seeing 92% of search visitors originating from Google.
This begs the question: Where does the discrepancy lie?
- Is the Hitwise data set more representative of the whole?
- Are there more searches taking place on other search engines that don’t result in click-throughs to websites?
- StatCounter’s Global Stats seem to closely mirror Woopra’s data.
Regardless of the reason, what we do know is that focusing attention on optimizing for Google search is absolutely the right thing to do. (Here’s the official Google SEO starter guide.)
The media referrer category is reserved for sites that focus on various forms of multimedia, including images, video and audio. These sites are often overlooked as a source of traffic because they are destination sites; however, media sites can also drive large volumes of traffic.
As an example, world-famous HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff posts travel photos on Flickr, and includes a simple link back to his site in the description of each image he posts.
This technique generated nearly 13,000 pageviews on StuckInCustoms.com in April alone.
What’s more notable is that Flickr is not the dominant referrer in the Media category. YouTube drives 900% more traffic to websites than Flickr. This is accomplished the same way, via links in the description of the video.
Amazingly, 99% of referrer traffic in the Media category comes from only four providers: YouTube, Flickr, Last.FM and Vimeo.
The only question we are trying to answer with this analysis is where it makes sense to focus resources and attention in order to drive traffic. So here’s what we know:
- Search engine optimization specifically targeting Google’s index is key. Working hard to satisfy other search providers probably won’t pay off as much as spending the time elsewhere – like Facebook and Twitter promotion.
- If multimedia isn’t part of a site’s strategy to drive traffic, it should be. Adding photos to Flickr and videos to YouTube will not only pay off in terms of adding content for your brand, but will also drive eyeballs to your site.
- Sites that are not seeing traffic from Facebook, Twitter, or both, are missing out on a major traffic-generation source. Additionally, if the balance is not in Facebook’s favor, you are likely under-utilizing this channel.
- Don’t waste time promoting your site on any Social Media network other than Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Your time is better spent elsewhere (like YouTube or Flickr for example).
- By all means, submit articles to Digg in the hopes of making it to the homepage, but more importantly make sure articles work their way into StumbleUpon, which can bring a larger, more sustained and less server-crash-creating stream of traffic.
- For those looking to more accurately track Twitter click-throughs, some service providers such as Bit.ly enable tracking of short links. The bad news is that the tracking is not aggregated into existing Web analytics provider data.
- This analysis doesn’t take into consideration back-links (which Web authors should pursue whenever possible) because on the aggregate they do not drive global traffic. However, links from related or high-traffic sites can not only dramatically increase site traffic, they can positively impact search result listings.
Robert ‘Dot Com’ Jackson
Internet Builder Consulting – Building BETTER websites and Online Marketing since 1995
Social Marketing Experts and Social Networking Builders for business