Researching traffic behaviors on 21 sites and their endeavors into social media.

Mark  Ryan

April 12, 2010

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There is a lot of talk about Social Media and the new opportunities that it brings to organizations. Large untapped communities, unprecedented demographic data that can be used for better targeting, loyal communities spending more time online than any other marketing channel in history, and the list goes on and on. Unless you’re a game developer or a trendy charity, it can be extremely difficult to harness the power of these communities. Honest relevant content becomes significantly more critical and it needs to be updated as often as the community wants it.

I was at eMetrics Toronto last week, and I had the opportunity to talk with web analysts about their Social Media campaigns. As an analyst passionate about conversion opportunities, it only makes sense that I look at Social Media as an opportunity to get more leads, revenue, customers, cross-sell opportunities, etc. I heard about a lot of innovative campaigns and organizations that were very successful creating large communities on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. But little talk centered on ROI. I believe that for most sites to achieve ROI they must attract social traffic from a social media site (i.e. MySpace) to their own site for conversion. For example, if I am selling trendy shoelaces, I would start/moderate a community around tennis shoes as well as target advertise on other shoe communities such as facebook.com/adidas/or myspace.com/nike/. But ultimately, my ROI comes when the social community navigates to my ecommerce site and buys shoe laces.

This got me curious about some of the behavioral data around traffic from social networking sites. I started to study traffic on 21 different sites. I created a focus group of 21 sites across a wide variety of industries comprising everything from brokerages to tattoo parlors to national banks to local yoga studios to international network equipment manufacturers, encompassing both B2B and B2C sites, Fortune 500 sites as well as small organizations. I looked at the traffic sources for these sites and segmented traffic from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (and various tweets), Delicious, LinkedIn, and Yelp. I then compared basic data points such as repeat traffic, time on site, and page views per session to see if there are trends in the general quality of social media traffic.

Repeat Visits 

Traffic

Below are some general trends that I found:

1. Traffic from Social Media sites typically accounts for less than 1% of all site traffic. I found this in both my research group as well as casual conversations with many web analysts at eMetrics.

2. While the average page views per session was 12.8, Social traffic only averaged 3.8 page views per session. Social traffic viewed 70% less pages in a visit than average visitors.

3. Social traffic spent 17.2% less time on site than average visitors.

4. The bounce rate of Social traffic was 9.9% higher than average visitors.

5. Visitors from Social sites were 7.7% less likely to return.

Considering the amount of time it takes to maintain a social media campaign, these numbers looked a little grim. But remember, I picked these sites at random.

As I looked through the 304 traffic sources on 21 sites accounting for approximately 27 million visits, I found some successful components. Check out site #3

Site
Referrer
PPV
TOS
Bounce Rate
Returns
Site #3 ALL TRAFFIC 2.19 69.00 58.14% 12.62%
Site #3 ALL SOCIAL 2.56 150.04 65.15% 19.14%

The visitors from social media sites to Site #3 are viewing more pages per session, staying twice as long as other traffic and are approximately 50% more likely to return. I was impressed and curious. What was Site #3 doing differently? This B2B company with a small B2C offering wasn’t selling products that are popular in social communities such as games, retail items, or charitable contributions. Looking at the Social Campaigns for Site #3, it was obvious why they have such great Social Traffic – they are taking Social Networking seriously. While Extractable comes across many companies that have some of the lower members of the marketing teams maintaining the Social Communities, Site #3 had LinkedIn contributions from the CEO an average of 4 times per month. The company blog has 7 different contributors on a regular basis. Their Facebook community gets to see relevant industry research several times a week. Site #3 is clearly making Social Media a priority and is seeing the benefits of it. Site #3 is not a large organization with a lot of resources to throw around; they are a small company with good focus.

For each of the sites researched, conversion came in different formats. Some companies are selling products on their own site (like Site #3), some were selling products on distributor sites, some were doing lead generation, and so on. Therefore it was difficult to produce a straight comparison of ROI between the sites. But it is obvious from the data above that conversion rates on traffic from Social Sites was either lower than average or non-existent. Determining the costs of Social Campaigns is challenging as the majority of resources are usually internal content writers. Generating an ROI analysis for Social Marketing is as easy SEO ROI reports. The analytics applications allow analysts to generate conversion reports isolated to traffic that originated from Social Media sites. From there, an organization needs to calculate the amount of time and people spending time on content for Social campaigns. The following is an example from one of the sites.

Traffic Source
Visits
Visitors
Leads Generated
Conv Rate
Ave Lead Value
Total Value
Search 709,121 347,469 9,382 2.7% $49 $459,701.87
Referral 503,476 176,217 5,991 3.4% $49 $293,576.80
Social 24,819 19,111 363 1.9% $49 $17,792.16
eMail 49,638 36,732 514 1.4% $49 $25,198.47