Facebook sends a remarkable amount of traffic, but there’s a lot of confusion around both just how much and (perhaps more importantly for our work) how we can optimize our work to take advantage of it. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand clears up some of the statistical noise and offers 10 tips for optimizing your Facebook traffic.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about Facebook. Facebook has been growing massively. It sends out a tremendous amount of traffic, and as a result, more and more of us in the field of web marketing as a whole, and because it’s so interesting as a correlated factor with things that tend to perform well in Google, are interested in the traffic that Facebook can drive and in potentially growing that.
So I’m going to start out with a few stats. I think it is actually very important that marketers like us understand how statistics work, especially as they’re represented. I hear from folks all the time like, “Oh, my boss emailed me the new Shareaholic report, and it says that 25% of all traffic comes from Facebook, and we only get 10% of our traffic from Facebook. So we must be doing Facebook badly.” That’s not actually the case.
Then I’m going to talk a little about some rough estimates, just for theoretical fun purposes, around traffic that Facebook might send versus Google, and then I actually have a bunch of tips for Facebook optimization. None of this is going to be dramatically brand new, but I’ve tried to distill down and aggregate some of the best ones, throw out some of the ones that no longer apply as Facebook has been maturing and getting more sophisticated and those kinds of things. All right, let’s start with these stats.
So let’s say your boss does send you this Shareaholic report, and Facebook sends 24% of all referral traffic. Wow. Shareaholic is on 300,000 websites. That’s a pretty big group. Like how can we ignore that data? It’s not that you should ignore it, but you should also be aware of why is Shareaholic installed and who uses it.
So these 300,000 sites are almost certainly massively over-representative across the several hundred million websites that exist on the Internet of those that receive and are optimizing for social media traffic. I think this is an excellent stat, and if you are a social media heavy site and you are getting less than say 20%, less than 15% of your traffic from social, well, you probably have some work to do there and some opportunity to gain there.
I also like this one from Define Media Group. Define of course is a Marshall Simmonds’ company, and they measure across major publishers. So one of the things that you might hear is Buzzfeed, for example, last year put out their big article about how they get 70% plus of their traffic from social, and they don’t even care about search, and search is dead. No one does SEO anymore and blah, blah, blah. It turns out actually, I think Buzzfeed does a tremendous amount of caring about SEO despite what they say, but they don’t want to be perceived as doing that. Define said across all of their 87 major publishers — so these are big news sorts of publishers and entertainment content publishers and that kind of stuff — social sent about 16% of all traffic, search 41%, and direct 43%. That’s a very big difference from the social sharing site. So again, you’re seeing that granularity and disparity as we look across different segments of the web world.
Worldwide by the way, according to StatCounter, whose stats I like very much because they’re across such a wide range of distributed websites, many hundreds of thousands, I think even millions of websites in the U.S. and abroad, so that’s really nice and they share their global statistics at gs.statcounter.com, which is one of my favorite resources for this type of stuff. According to them, worldwide Facebook, in January of 2015, driving around 80% of all social referrals in the U.S. Interestingly enough, people like Pinterest and Twitter and LinkedIn and Google+ have more of a share than they do in the rest of the world, and so Facebook is responsible for only about 68% of all social referrals in the U.S. as a conglomerate.
It is the case for anyone measuring Facebook traffic, the average pages per visit tends to be around one. Now, you compare that to Google, where it’s around 2, 2.2, or 2.5, you compare that to Direct and Direct is usually closer to the 3, 4, or 5 visits per session. So Facebook’s traffic is kind of at the low end of the performance and engagement scale. It tends to be the case that when you’re in that Facebook feed, you’re just trying to consume content, and you might see something, but you’re unlikely to browse around the rest of the website from which it came, and that’s just fine. Although, interestingly enough, Facebook does perform better, slightly better than Twitter does by this metric. So Twitter’s traffic is even more ephemeral.
I tried to do some rough statistics and think about like, okay Rand, I really need a comparison between how much traffic does Google send and how much traffic does Facebook send. This is something that people ask about all the time. There are no terrific sources of data out there, so we sort of have to back into it. I think you can do that by saying, “Well, we know that Google’s getting around 6 billion searches a day currently, and we know that those send on average . . . well, we don’t know for sure. We know that years ago an average Google search resulted in 2.1 or 2.2 clicks.” I think that was 2009, so this was many years ago. So it could have gone down, or it could have gone up from there. I’m going to say between 1.5 and 3 visits on average, somewhere in there.
Facebook has 890 million daily active users, and we don’t know the statistics again perfectly there. But again, several years ago, I want to say maybe 4 years ago, 2011, they had a stat that around 2 external clicks per day per Facebook user. So let’s say it’s probably gone up maybe 2 to 4, somewhere between there. So given that, Google is in the 9 to 18 billion referrals per day stage and Facebook 1.8 to 3.6 billion.
So if you think Facebook has grown just absolutely huge, it could be as big as a third of the smallest growth maybe that Google has experienced in terms of referral traffic. I think that’s possible. I think the numbers are probably closer to the 9 and 3.6 than they are to the 18 and 1.8. That would be my guess. I think Facebook is somewhere between 15% and 30% of the traffic that Google’s driving. So pretty massive. Definitely bigger than any of the secondary search engines. Probably driving more traffic than YouTube, driving more traffic than Yahoo!, driving more traffic than Bing. Probably driving more traffic than all three of those combined even. That’s quite impressive, just not as impressive as the enormous amounts of traffic that Google does set.
Still, one of the reasons that we care about Facebook even if we don’t love the traffic that Facebook sends us because we don’t feel that it performs well, Facebook’s likes and shares are very indicative of the kinds of content that tend to perform well in search. So if we can nail that, if we understand what kind of content gets spread socially on the web and engages people on the social web, we tend to also perform well in the kind of content we create for search engines.
So some tips. First off, make sure that the Facebook audience and whoever your . . . well, that pen is going to work beautifully for someone never. Let’s see if I can make it from here. You guys can’t see this, but we’ll just pretend I make it. Oh yeah, nailed it. Oh, it almost went in. It like bounced off the shelf and then almost went in.
All right. First off, make sure that your Facebook audience usage matches your content goals and targets. If you’re saying, “Hey, we’re trying to convert people to a B2B software product in an industry that really targets technical folks on the engineering side,” Facebook might be really, really tough. If, on the other hand, you are selling posters of adorable cats and dogs, woo, that’s a Facebook audience right there. You should nail that. So I think you do have to have that concept. You can’t just disassociate those two. If you’re working for a patent attorney, trying to get likes and shares is going to be really hard for their content versus maybe trying to get some tweets or some shares on LinkedIn or those kinds of things.
Second, learn what does work in your topics in Facebook. There’s a great tool for this. It’s called BuzzSumo. You can plug in keywords and see the pieces of content that over the past six months or a year have performed the best across social networks, and you can actually filter directly by Facebook to see what’s done best on Facebook in my niche, with my topics, around my subjects. That’s a great way to get at what might work in the future, what doesn’t work, what will resonate, and what won’t.
Number 3, you should set up your analytics to be able to track future visits from an initial social referral. There’s a great blog post from Chris Mikulin. Chris basically shows us how in Google Analytics you can set up a custom system to track referrals that come from social and then what that traffic does after it’s come to you from social and left, oftentimes coming back through search, very, very common.
Number 4, headlines often matter more than content in earning that first initial click. I’m not going to say they matter more than content overall, but headlines are huge on Facebook right now, and that’s why you see things like the listicles and click bait all of those types of problems and issues. Facebook says they’re working to update that. But for right now there’s a ton of sharing going on that’s merely around the text of that 5 to 15 word headline, and those tend to be extremely important in determining virality and ability to make their way across Facebook.
Number 5, it is still the case — this has been true for many years now across all the social media platforms — that visuals tend to outperform non-visual content. When you have great visuals, the spread and share of those tends to be greater.
Number 6, timing still matters a little bit, but actually, interestingly not as much as it used to. I think a lot of folks in the social media sphere have been looking at this and saying, “Gosh, you know what? We’re running the correlations and we’re trying these experiments, and what we’re seeing actually is that it seems like Facebook has gotten much smarter about timing.” So they’re not saying, “Oh, you posted in the middle of the night and you didn’t get very many likes, so we’re not going to show your post to as many people.” They’re now saying, “Well, as a percentage of the engagement on average that’s received by this group in these geographies, in these time zones, at these particular times, how did you do?” I think that relativism has made their algorithm much more intelligent, and as a result we’re seeing that posting at a certain time of the day, when more people are on Facebook or less are, isn’t quite as powerful as it used to be. That said, if you want to try some timing experiments, watch your Facebook Insights page, and figure those things out. There’s still some optimization opportunity to be gleaned there.
Number 7, the really big driver of Facebook spread and of the ability to be seen by more and more people, have a post seen by more and more people on Facebook, appears to be — at least from all the social media experts, and I would validate this myself from my experiences there — the percentage of the audience that’s seeing the post, interacting with that post — and by interacting I mean they like, they comment, they share, they click on the link, or even, I’m fairly certain that Facebook is also using a dwell time metric, meaning that if they’re looking at that post for a considerable amount of time, even if they’re not clicking Like or Share or Comment or clicking, if they’re observing it, if that’s staying active on their Facebook feed in the visual portion of the panel, that seems to be a metric that Facebook is also using. I would be fairly sure it is. I think they’re pretty smart about that kind of stuff. Because this is a big driver, what you’re trying to do is grow engagement. You want more people to interact more heavily with your content. I think that’s one of the reasons that unfortunately things like click bait work so well and great headlines do too.
Number 8, brand page reach is limited. We know this. There have been many sort of Facebook algorithmic updates that talk about what’s the organic reach if you post, but you don’t pay at all, those kinds of things. However, the flip side of this is that in order for Facebook to not be overwhelmed by content, because the amount of content that’s posted there is simply enormous, they’ve reduced some of those things. But that means a little bit more room for individual people. So individual accounts, like your Facebook account, my Facebook account, not my public page, but my personal Facebook account, your personal Facebook account, those have a little bit more opportunity to get reach versus brands, which for a while were more dominating than they are. Now it’s pretty small.
Number 9, if your traffic from Facebook has good ROI — and this is one of those big reasons why you need to be measuring the second order effects and when that traffic comes back and those kinds of things — go ahead and pay to amplify. This is just like Google. If you see that a key word is performing well and you can turn on AdWords and you can get more of those visitors and they’re going to convert, hey, the same thing is true on Facebook, and Facebook’s traffic, generally speaking, is much cheaper on a per-click basis than Google’s is. It’s also much less targeted. It tends not to perform as well, but much less expensive. So I would urge you to pay to amplify. When you see sites that are performing gangbusters — Buzzfeed being a very fair example of that — they’re paying a lot of money to drive all that traffic to their site and to amplify their organic reach. They’re getting organic and paid reach.
And the last one, number 10, Facebook is really hard to game anymore — it didn’t used to be this case — with direct signals. It used to be the case that if you posted something on Facebook, you could have a bunch of your friends like, “Hey, everyone go check their Facebook feed now. Make sure you’re subscribed to me. If you don’t see it in your feed, go over to my specific feed, click it, Like it, Share it, comment it.” Then we can sort of amplify its organic reach, because Facebook cares a ton about those first 5 or 10 minutes and what the engagement is like there. That doesn’t work very well anymore. Facebook is very, very careful, I think, nowadays to look at: Who did we organically show this to in the news feed? How many of them interacted and engaged with it? What’s their history of interacting and engaging with stuff on this particular site? Are they somehow connected? Is there gaming going on here? Have they consistently liked everything that’s come from this site in the first five minutes of it being published? All those kinds of things that you would expect them to eventually get to, they’ve really gotten to, and so gaming it is much more hard.
But gaming people is not much harder, because unfortunately our software has not been considerably upgraded in the last few hundred years of evolution. So as a result, gaming human psychology is really how to, I don’t want to say manipulate, but certainly to get much more reach on Facebook. If you can find the angles that people care about, that they’re vocal about, that they get engaged, excited, angry, passionate, of any emotional variety about those things, that’s how you tend to trigger a lot of activity on Facebook. This is a little different than how it works on other social networks, certainly LinkedIn, parts of Twitter, Instagram different. Facebook very much this kind of controversy, passion, excitement, tribalism tends to rule the day on this platform. I think that’s part of why you see some of these click bait and headline heavy sites performing so well. But if you want to find ways to make Facebook work for you, you might want to marry the things that are on brand, on topic, helpful to you, actually will earn you good visits, but do take into account some of that human psychology that exists on Facebook.
All right everyone, what I would love, and I don’t always ask for this, but I would love if you have great tips or things that you’ve seen work really well on Facebook, please share them in the comments below. I would love to read through them. I’m guessing there are some folks in the Moz community who have extensive, wonderful experience here. We’d love to hear from you.
All right everyone, take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.