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Social is about Traffic and Conversions, NOT Rankings

John Doherty —  December 1, 2011
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Listen up search marketers. Listen up good. I’ve got something to say.

The goal of social is to drive traffic, conversions, and brand loyalty, NOT rankings.

Many of the most socially shared posts on SEOmoz are focused around social and how social affects rankings. Just look at this graph, showing you the disparity in sharing between the social and non-social posts (with outliers removed that skewed the data unnecessarily):

Posts having to do with social get 63% more tweets and 61% more Facebook activity on average. WOW.

Social is sexy, right? However, because we’re all so stoked about social affecting rankings (and I do think it does and I spoke on it at SMX), different Link and Like networks are sprouting up, offering 50 +1s for $19.99 and such crap.

Enter the man from Bing

Duane Forrester from Bing recently wrote this article about Link and “Like” Farms. He says:

The ideas presented above are meant to be broad. I’m sure there are examples when having a network of the same people liking your content can be beneficial, but broadly speaking, we don’t value those signals as highly as normal, organic social growth. Same can be said for links. Having more links can drive direct traffic to your website, which is fine. Just don’t count on them to always bring value to your ranking efforts as well.

Duane pointed out that this is what a truly viral article looks like when graphed:

See the distinct lack of hubs? Sources are wide and varied.

And this is how a manipulated “viral” article looks:

See all the hubs?

What qualifies as manipulative?

Non-ethical SEO is seeking to manipulate rankings by shortcuts. Hacking and buying links are shortcuts to an end, dangerous shortcuts. Throw spamming in here too. I hate that spamming works, but it does at least in the short term. Link and like networks CAN be manipulative, which is why Bing (and I presume Google) are taking action.

Buying social mentions is manipulative, no matter how you spin it. But what about joining somewhere that gives you more social mentions?

Traffic

Triberr

I was a member of Triberr for a while, which was built by my friend Dan Cristo. The way Triberr works is:

Every time you publish a new post, everyone in your tribe will tweet it to their followers. And you do the same for everyone in your tribe.

I had a few people (10-12) who got my RSS feed into their Triberr account and tweet it out. These shares are probably discounted, even though they are not meant to be manipulative in the first place.

The goal of Triberr is to drive traffic to your site. That’s what I care about. If I had an ecommerce site, I’d care about revenue, but at this point I care about eyeballs on the page (and RSS signups, which I’m working on getting more of).

Here’s a screenshot of my Triberr Analytics:

It’s important to note that the traffic to my post about the SERP Analysis tool was naturally 3x what Triberr drove (191 natural vs 64 through Triberr). So Triberr is just a tool to drive traffic, but a traffic driver nonetheless. And, it got different visitors on my site, so it increased my viewership. I just did not expect these tweets, as they come from the same people time and time again, to influence my rankings.

It is important to note that Triberr is invite-only and you are encouraged NOT to share everything published by all of the people you are in a “tribe” with. Dan says it better than I could:

Triberr is modeled after real life. It is invite only, and it really only works with bloggers who join up with related bloggers. We aimed to build a system that automated things bloggers did in real life. If you always tweet my posts, every time, then why not automate it? If done right, your Triberr network should look quite similar to your network before Triberr. That is the whole concept behind tribes.

Social signals take into considering WHO is sharing your stuff. Even Kout can tell who are the broadcasters who share anything and everything under the sun. This is a factor in the search engines determining  spam networks. Spammy, paid networks aren’t going to have authorities on the payrole. They care too much about their reputation to share crap content for a few bucks.

*NOTE* Triberr actually just recently disallowed automatic sharing of updates from people in your tribes, so I plan rejoin it, as my problem with it was that I did not feel like I earned those social mentions. Now, it can be a more useful content curation tool!

Conversions

The next part we should care about is conversions. Avinash’s Mozcon talk instilled in me the power of measuring conversions, and we can do this on our social traffic as well! Rand wrote a great post about the KPIs of Social recently, but I want to go a step further and give you a custom GA report that I also gave away at SMX.

This report, which you can download here, will give you the eCommerce statistics (assuming you have eCommerce set up) for your social referrers (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+). I hope you find it helpful!

Finally, branding

Have you considered the power of social for branding? The company I know who does this best is Zappos. I recently ordered some shoes from them and received this email that same day:

Branded and all

We then proceeded through a number of tweets back and forth. Long story short (I wrote the whole story here), I got my shoes the next day, for free, and I got upgraded to VIP status on Zappos so I get free overnight shipping anytime.

And then a few days later I arrived at my desk to find this:

A free copy of Tony Hsieh's book! THAT'S how you use social!

I’m a customer for life. This is how you use social.

Conclusion

Social is for driving traffic, conversions, and branding. It’s not for increasing your rankings. That’s a nice side-benefit (when it happens), but that is not what we should focus on. Zappos did all 3. Traffic to their site from me, conversions since I’ll buy more, and they are branded as “awesome” in my mind.

We should not look to manipulate rankings. As someone recently tweeted (I can’t remember whom), “Don’t seek to learn tricks of the trade. Learn the trade.” Produce such phenomenal content that you get a lot of social mentions on your own. Work to build your Twitter following, create some cool resources, and EARN your social mentions. Don’t cheat.

Here are 3 actions to take:

  1. If you’re an ecommerce site, respond to your social mentions (note: this assumes you’re doing mention-worthy things).
  2. Encourage people to share your content (articles, blog posts, whatever) with their real friends. Encourage that personal touch, and I bet you will have more repeated viewers than the one-off viewers.
  3. Use non-manipulative tools like Triberr to help spread your content. If you curate these tools well, they can be quite useful.
Oh, and if you’re having a bad day, here’s a cute kitten to brighten it:

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

10 responses to Social is about Traffic and Conversions, NOT Rankings

  1. Interesting point of view as it relates to social traffic not relating to rankings. In my opinion, if the social traffic is relevant, based on the content being shared by an appropriate audience, via social platforms frequently visited by this group, then natural syndication on relevant blogs coupled with social mentions, from a demographic primarily active within a specific vertical, could surely affect page authority and potentially influence rankings in a positive way. I agree with you in part in that I don’t believe that social initiatives on their own should be conducted with the sole intention of increasing rankings, but I continue to see well planned social efforts influence long term internet marketing goals, when used in conjunction with other important strategies. On another note, I also think that the manual sharing on Triberr is of greater value to members, allowing more natural distribution of relevant content.

    • Hey Sharlene –

      Thanks for the comment! I’m definitely not saying that social does not affect rankings, nor that it can’t be very useful for linkbuilding and other purposes that lead to great SEO. But the point of social is not rankings. I think we have to stop thinking of social this way, and instead rethink what the purpose of social is.

      And I agree, the manual sharing via Triberr is the way to go and adds a lot of value. I’ve rejoined the site because of this!

  2. Oh and… Love the cute kitten pic!

  3. I like that you bring out the expectations of Social Media, and I agree it has nothing to do with getting rankings in the SERP.

    A few months back I wrote an article on using social media with radio commercial to push out our clients message. there were many obstacles that we overcame due to time constraints.

    Our objective for using social was to reach out to other people besides the current followers , which they didn’t have much.

    To make a long story short, our message reached some big players in the discount industry and our message became viral.

    SEO was a secondary objective, funny thing is this project was like a “fire drill”. It was reactive, social came into play later in the planning of the marketing, which was a no no, should have been a priority.

    anyways, if you’d like to read my work on that project go to
    http://jon.pwnapp.com/2011/07/content-marketing-case-study/

    cheers!

  4. Ahhh… This is great stuff. You articulated this argument very well that Like farms are just warm fuzzy feelings. If you’re a small business in Atlanta, GA and you have 200 out of 300 Likes from China, what good does that do for you?

    I would much rather have 100 local fans that I can communicate with rather than a bunch of fluff who will never interact with me again. They sure won’t drive traffic to my sites.

    Also, you sort of make me rethink my stance on Triberr. Perhaps I was too hard on them. Maybe it was because I was in one of the super tribes. Needless to say, I’d like to give it a second shot to see if it will drive any decent traffic to my site.

    Great post as usual.

  5. Great article, I know how frustrating it can be to try to convince people that buying “likes” and trying to cheat the system in other ways never works out in the long run. While it can be tempting, what good does it do to have fake likes? Seems to defeat the whole purpose of social networking. My philosophy is – as long as you stick to being white hat, you’ll do well in the long run no matter what Google throws at you. I also love your insight that social is not about rankings. While rankings certainly always help, they are not the end all. Sometimes we get caught up in our rank rather than what we’re actually accomplishing.
    Thanks for the article.

  6. Interesting. I searched Triberr on Google and it is showing a “This site may harm your computer” page. And yet Google’s own diagnostics page says it has never found malicious content on the site in the last 90 days.

    • Yeah, they had some vulnerability issues today (which Dino emailed around about). They’ve been fixed, but it will take a couple of days for Google to reindex and see that there are no more vulnerabilities. Hang tight and it will be back.