The following post is a guest post. SEO Scoop endeavors to showcase and highlight guest bloggers, in the hopes of giving up and coming bloggers and SEOs a chance to shine. Please take some time to appreciate their efforts by visiting their sites, or by networking with them.
SEO Scoop does not necessarily agree with or condone any tactics mentioned by guest posters.
By: James Duthie
Pop quiz If you could choose between 1,000 social media visitors and 1,000 search engine visitors for your blog or business, which would you choose? It's a no-brainer right? Everybody knows that search engine traffic is of a far higher quality! Aaron Wall, Matt McGee & Matt Bailey are just a few industry experts to openly question the value of social media traffic. After all... while it has the potential to attract huge numbers of new visitors, engagement and conversion are traditionally poor. Matt Bailey's research in particular helped to put some numbers and substance behind the assumption that social media generates lower quality traffic. But aside from Matt's research, I haven't seen a lot of other tangible examples with real data to verify the belief the search engine traffic is king. So I decided to put the traffic quality assumption to the test myself, and find out how social media traffic compares to organic search traffic.
In order to do so, I put two blogs up against each other. One blog generates most of its readers via search engines, and the other generates most of its traffic via social media:
The methodology behind the test isn't perfect, as neither site generates all of its traffic from the single source. However, as the figures reveal below, the proportion is significant enough to allow meaningful comparisons:
- Marketing Easy 81% of traffic driven via search engines
- Online Marketing Banter 80% of traffic driven via social media
In order to evaluate traffic quality, 4 key user engagement metrics were compared for each site:
- Returning visitors
- Average page views
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
Proportion of returning visitors:
The returning visitor rate is an indicator of reader loyalty. Social media is notorious for attracting drive-by visitors who read a single article and never return. If this assumption is true, the proportion of returning visitors should be lower for Online Marketing Banter. Let's see if that holds true:
- Marketing Easy Returning Visitor Rate 19%
- Online Marketing Banter Returning Visitor Rate 15%
Of course, attributing reader loyalty solely to the traffic source would be a foolish assumption to make. There are a range of other variables that influence reader loyalty, most notably:
- The quality of content
- The relationships the author has established with their audience
- The age of the blog. Marketing Easy is has been around a lot longer than Online Marketing Banter, and has had more time to establish loyal readers.
Nevertheless, Marketing Easy takes out Round 1.
Average page views:
Social media consumers have a reputation for being a fickle and unengaged bunch, rarely exploring the sites they visit. If this assumption is correct, the average number of page views for Marketing Easy should be higher.
- Marketing Easy Average Page Views 2.99
- Online Marketing Banter Average Page Views 1.3
Now we're cooking with gas! Marketing Easy readers visit over twice as many pages as Banter readers, indicating they're far more engaged with the site. The fact that the average Banter reader views just over 1 page per visit provides substance to the belief that social media visitors rarely click beyond the initial article.
Marketing Easy takes out Round 2 as well.
Time on site:
Time on site is another metric used to measure reader engagement. Page views have been criticised as an accurate gauge of user engagement following the emergence of Ajax, which allows pages to be updated without requiring visitors to view a secondary page. And while this technology is rarely used within blogs, measuring the average time on site will provide a more holistic view of reader engagement.
- Marketing Easy Average Time on Site 1m 48s (1.8 mins)
- Online Marketing Banter Average Time on Site 1m 18s (1.3 mins)
Strike another blow to social media. Marketing Easy's readers spend 30 seconds longer on the site than Banter's readers. The consistency between this metric and average page views provides persuasive evidence that search engine users are far more engaged than social media consumers.
Marketing Easy makes it 3-0.
Bounce rate is the final metric to be reviewed, and typically provides insight into site relevance. Bounce rate measures the proportion of visitors that left the site after viewing just one page. A high bounce rate indicates that the user didn't find what they were looking for. Or in the context of this research, it's another metric to test the theory that social media consumers are more prone to the one page visit.
- Marketing Easy Bounce Rate 83%
- Online Marketing Banter Bounce Rate 84%
This is an interesting finding. Marketing Easy's bounce rate is just 1% lower than Banter's (don't be fooled by the scale of the graph). The parity in bounce rate is somewhat difficult to understand, especially given the clear superiority of Marketing Easy in page views. My best guess at explaining this finding is that people searching for SEO (Marketing Easy is an SEO blog) are probably interested in SEO consultancy services, which aren't advertised directly on Marketing Easy.
The narrow advantage in bounce rate allows Marketing Easy to take Round 4.
A clean sweep of loyalty and engagement metrics certainly provides evidence to support the theory that search engines generate superior quality traffic. In 3 of the 4 metrics, the search engine supported blog generated a clear lead over the social media supported blog. And while other factors undoubtedly influence each engagement metric, the fact that Marketing Easy led all 4 categories removes some of the doubt relating to external influences.
So what are the implications of the research for site owners? Should social media initiatives be abandoned pronto? Obviously not. Social media has its place as a genuine traffic generating tactic. But people using social media should be aware of its limitations. If you're looking to sell products or ads, social media may not be the best promotional tactic due to lower engagement levels. However, if you're looking to generate a lot of traffic quickly, social media may be perfect.
Of course, at the end of the day there's no need to choose between search engines and social media. Each have their pros and cons. Good marketers will recognize this and will utilize both to reap the most out of each medium.
James Duthie is an Australian digital marketing expert. He writes on all things social media, blogging, SEO & digital marketing at his blog - Online Marketing Banter. Subscribe to hear more of his ramblings here.
A special thanks must go out to Lucio Ribeiro of Marketing Easy for his generosity in supplying his site data for this research. Without him the analysis would not have been possible.