Website traffic from social media is overrated

It doesn’t matter how many people visit your website, this author contends. What matters is what they do when they get there.

Do you sell advertising on your website? No? Then why are you so excited about your website traffic?

The most overrated social media metric is traffic from social outposts.

This blog post is symptomatic of this problem, although there have been hundreds (thousands?) like it.

Here’s the highlight: “With only 1 percent of Facebook’s user count, Pinterest sends 13 percent of the traffic Facebook does.”

Pinterest spawned a new way to consume and search for information, and it may be the poster child for the coming image-centric social Web that will make written blogs look quaintly Amish by 2014. But to make the case that Pinterest should be a big part of your marketing arsenal because it proportionally sends more traffic to your website than Facebook or Twitter is ridiculous.

Don’t forget, you are in the behavior business, not the eyeballs business.

Social media metrics that matter

When you determine the value of your social media efforts—and certainly when you calculate your return on investment—you must focus on behavior, not aggregation. Almost always, numbers that count steadily upward (number of fans, number of visitors, etc.) are inferior to ratios and percentages that measure behavior.

Knowing Pinterest sends a ton of traffic to your site should create questions in your company, not answer them.

  • Do visitors from Pinterest engage in desirable, profitable behaviors at a ratio equal to or better than those from Twitter or Facebook?
  • Do they buy? Disproportionately so? Do they have a higher average order?
  • Do they fill out lead forms? Disproportionately so? Do they have better conversion rates?
  • Do they look at high-value Web pages like product lists, pricing, and customer testimonials? Disproportionately so?
  • Do they subscribe to email updates? Disproportionately so? Do they have better open and click-through rates?
  • Do they ever return to the site? Disproportionately so?

These are data points you can easily determine with Web analytics and goal funnels, but they’re different for every company. All of these are vastly more important than the number of website visitors from Pinterest.

Is Pinterest more like Google than Facebook?

My hypothesis is visitors from Pinterest behave more like search-referred visitors than they do visitors from Facebook and Twitter. This is because Pinterest, like Google, is about discovery. The people who click links on Facebook and Twitter are often already familiar with the company in question.

I don’t know this for sure. Even though I’m moderately active on Pinterest, I don’t see a ton of traffic from it—I almost always pin other people’s stuff rather than my own. I also use Pinterest as the curation hub for our daily One Social Thing email update.

I don’t get enough Pinterest traffic to test the theory, but I’d love to see someone with access to more data tackle it.

Perhaps Pinterest isn’t the new Facebook, but the new Google. Is Pinterest revolutionizing image search the same way YouTube revolutionized video search and Slideshare revolutionized presentation search?

Maybe that’s the story. I’m not sure. But I definitely know the story is not that Pinterest sends a bunch of traffic to your site. To that I say, “Who cares?”

Jay Baer is a social media strategy consultant, speaker, and co-author of “The NOW Revolution.” He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a social media strategy firm, and he blogs at the Convince & Convert social media strategy blog, where this article originally ran.

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