Impact of Social Media on Website Traffic

Gerard Tollefsen - April 18, 2011

As companies evolve in their ability to analyze web traffic, it is becoming increasingly important to branch out to as many areas as possible to reach customers.  Understanding how different sources of traffic interact with your website is equally significant in where you allocate your time and resources.  Simply looking at bottom line traffic volume from various sources of traffic in Google Analytics (GA) is not enough.  Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always paint the most accurate picture either.  Just because someone visited your site from an organic search, doesn’t rule out that they were influenced to visit your site from another channel.

A perfect example of this scenario lies in how social media impacts direct web traffic.  In a recent study conducted by ForeSee, it was concluded that “Less than 1% of website visits, on average, come directly from a social media URL. This finding suggests that the direct impact of social media is minimal, but also that the true value of social media cannot be quantified only by examining the traffic coming directly from a social media URL.”  In simple terms, if you have a presence in social media, you probably do not see much traffic in your GA data related to social media traffic sources.  Does this mean you should abandon your efforts to build your social media presence?  Absolutely not, considering that 18% of website visitors acknowledge being influenced by social media to visit the site, according to the ForeSee report findings.  That is a significant gap in the numbers, but does not indicate any sort of disconnect with visitors.  In fact, it is closely in line with how people use social media – they are there for social interaction but can still be influenced by companies with solid social media marketing strategies.  When it is time for those visitors to find a company, their previous exposure to your company in social media influences their decision to visit your site.  They may do a search on Google to find you, and in the raw GA data Google organic gets credit for the site visit, but it was your social media presence that truly drove that visitor to your site.

Where it gets real interesting is how visitors influenced by social media interact with a website.  According to the ForeSee report, visitors to websites influenced by social media are more loyal and satisfied customers, and they spend more than visitors who were not influenced by social media.  When you factor this knowledge into the 1% statistic mentioned in the research, 1% becomes a more meaningful number.

The value of website visitors varies between sources of traffic.  Establishing a presence across all aspects of the web provides companies the ability to reach out to all types of visitors.  It is important to understand the symbiotic relationship between the different sources of traffic to your website.  Keep that in mind the next time you are reviewing traffic sources and matching that up to your external web presence.  Overall visits from your social media channels are most likely lower than other sources of traffic, but can be greater in terms of value to your bottom line.

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