Teaching, Promoting, Cheering UX and SEO Since 2002

Is Social Media Traffic Just a Quick Marketing Sugar High?

Everybody has their take on being “Slashdotted” or experiencing the “Digg Effect”. Most website owners would give their right pinky for the kind of traffic that grinds servers to a dead halt. If the end result of all that attention gets you what you want, all is well. Question is, is everyone getting what they really, really want?

Matt Bailey, search marketing analyst, usability and accessibility guy and expert on a bulldozer (long story), thought to crunch some numbers, including mine after this weekend’s events here to have a look underneath the social media hood.

He starts the discussion of his findings in Social Media – Under the Microscope

Social Media provides a “sugar-high” approach to building links, much less an online business. It provides a lot of traffic, very fast. However the vast majority of that traffic is not engaged, rarely stays for more than a few seconds and can sometimes be rude. If page views are the goal for a site, social media will provide a lot of one-off page views, but rarely more than that. Comparatively, good external links provide traffic that will view multiple pages – typically many more than social media traffic.

His data confirmed my experience.

Despite the higher rates of conversion and engagement by visitors who are referred by external site links, social media site links consistently yielded the lowest rates of engagement and no conversions.”

He hopes to gather more data. There’s much to explore. If you are a website marketer, what can you promise your clients that will pay off for them in the long run?

Counter point – Social Media Traffic Isn’t Useless by Rand Fishkin.

More perspective – Techmeme vs. Digg – Knowing Your Audience & Client by Liana Evans


Not All Traffic Is Created Equal by Scott Karp

Beyond Google: Social Media Engines First, Other Search Engines Second by Danny Sullivan

The Digging Debate: Is Social Media Worthless? by Tamar Weinberg

Social Media Too Sweet For Websites by David A. Utter


  1. January 24, 2007    

    They’re the ADHD sufferers of the Web.

    They might be useful for branding but not much else on most sites.

  2. January 24, 2007    

    I’ve been on the homepage of Digg four times now. I agree that they’re rude, rarely stay long and don’t often engage. But, here’s the trend. After each digg effect, my long-term traffic increases. Also, those diggers do tend to come back and often digg you again.

  3. January 24, 2007    

    I’d never suggest orchestrating a multi-day multi-post series of digg bait articles that appealed to the digg crowd nope not at all. Because you know younger folk today there really savvy and would never fall for something like a MacWorld/iPhone Extravaganza over on Engadget or Gizmodo nope never fall for something like that …

  4. January 24, 2007    

    Michael of the Graywolf clan, I would take
    one post by you
    , and the long-term inbound traffic I STILL get from it, over the Digg Effect anyday :) They may not have been converted (conversions), but I’m sure they enjoyed the ride.

  5. January 24, 2007    

    An interesting thing since our blog was shunned by digg. More unique visitors, more page views and many, many more inquiries.

    Hitting the digg home page 7 times in about 2 months was good for awareness, but nothing really special.

    As Andy points out, and is not reported in Matt’s post, there is a cumulative effect from getting traffic from social news sites. The problem is, a lot of that traffic for most sites is crap.

    I believe it’s all a smorgasboard of tactics to pick from and when there’s an over reliance on any one tactic, that’s when your risk goes way up.

  6. January 24, 2007    

    So one of the lessons is that the fruit takes longer to ripen and while you wait, there’s lots of rotten stuff to pick through. :)

    Or in a saner way of looking at it, while conversions and quality inbound links *may not be* an immediate reward, there may be some later down the road.

    Get out your shields, protect thy ego, go forth to conquer, but take a nap first, until the dust settles and there’s a decent prize to haul back home.

    Sheesh, I must be tired….:):)

  7. iamlost's Gravatar iamlost
    January 24, 2007    

    When I read about each ‘new’ SEO ‘turbocharger’ I run my:
    * trust filter: what is this person’s past record?
    * info-mercial filter: is the process/product something that person/company sells?
    * facts filter: how many separate facts with what proofs are provided?
    * hype filter: how many claims without attached foundation are made?

    It is interesting that many who proclaim the benefits of deliberate social media linkbaiting
    * sell it as a service.
    * are really marketing themselves.

    It is interesting that some drawbacks are generally conceded:
    * will temporarily stress server load and consume bandwidth.
    * will not directly increase conversion (may actually decrease conversions in the short term due to slowed/blocked access).
    * subsequent social media comments are often boorishly uncomplimentary.

    It is interesting that claimed advantages are limited:
    * branding opportunity – average volume: tens of thousands; average pages viewed: one; average time on site: one minute.
    * new backlinks – number: average of one per hundred visitors; quality: average is low due to poor anchor text, fuzzy context, low unqualified traffic generation.
    * increased SERP – presuming this is true bait links remain easily algorithmically identified and may be discounted enmasse for potential SERP crash. The more social media is played the sooner such a correction.

    My conclusions:
    * it is appropriate for branding some niches.
    * it is selling links, once removed.
    * it will, sooner rather than later, be treated like link farming by the SEs.
    * generally the ROI is minimal to non-existant, except for the firms selling the service.
    * it can be a lot of fun.

  8. January 25, 2007    

    Many articles on the power of the Internet are not based on research data and, probably, a greater part of the surfing population is misled.

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