Second thoughts about Facebook marketing: A disturbing trend?

October 11 2012

In December of 2010 we documented that social media—Facebook and LinkedIn—were bringing much better visitors to our and two clients’ websites. (read the story)  Google Analytics showed they stayed much longer and bounced much less than the average visitor, which is what you want for website traffic.

Well, the Internet is an ever changing, dynamic marketplace. Is there a negative trend unfolding today for Facebook referrals to websites?  Does that mean to abandon Facebook marketing?

More Facebook market research

We also posted an October 2011 blog focusing on the impact of Facebook ads with two client case studies.  Again, very positive results, including strong social media Reach and Impressions, as well as clicks to the client websites.  And in May we gave a presentation at the 2012 Entrepreneurs Growth Conference on Facebook For Business detailing uses and data to date.

While we still think many of the positives in the second blog are true, some ROI data we’ve gathered since then shows a downward trend in the value of Facebook referrals.

Case study:  1 year of Facebook posting & advertising

Starting in September 2011, we’ve been posting frequently for an upscale remodeling contractor on their Facebook page. The majority of the posts are PR in nature, meaning they give mostly free information, ideas and insights.

We believe weekly posts on the Facebook page have value in building relationships over time with the people who have chosen to Like and follow the client’s communications.  Part of the proof is the Facebook data on Talking About and Viral Reach, in September 2012 for example:   (click to enlarge chart)

Not huge numbers, but this signifies some active engagement and interest… and JUST ONE SALE generated from this effort could mean a project ranging from $30,000 to $500,000!  So, maybe it’s worth taking a chance on Facebook?!

Also, during the past year we’ve launched several Facebook ads, starting with 4 in September 2011; we now have 10 running (from a high of 14) as Pay Per Click.  See the actual ads below; total clicks for each ad are indicated with the blue number on each ad.  (Click on the image to view a larger PDF version.)

Primarily because of the ads, we’ve seen the client’s Facebook Reach grow to more than 35,000 in some weeks and total Impressions for a year hit 6,000,000+, with a total of 1,500+ clicks to the website.  Which is great.

So, what has happened to referrals (links) to the client’s website as a result of this dual activity on Facebook?  Facebook has been by far the best referring site to the client’s website—almost 4 times as great as the next referring site. What’s not to like about that?

Below is one years’ data on growth of referrals to the client website from Facebook: a 3-4x increase in referral Visits and New Visits since Sept. 2011:

But how do the visitors behave when they get to the site?  Recently most Visits from Facebook are not what we’d call a ‘quality’ visit—i.e. ones showing that visitors have much interest in the site or could become a customer.

As you can see above, in December 2011, average Pages Per Visit reached a peak of 9 and Length Of Stay hit a peak of 10 minutes.  Great.  But, since then the trend has been to shorter and shorter visits, reaching a low this September of 16 seconds (!) and only 1.23 pages average per visit.  Not good.

What’s going on here? What are we doing about it?

We’re not really sure. If you have any ideas, let us know.  We vaguely remember seeing a post on a social media site about bots (automatic web robots) doing the clicking. Could that have something to do with it?  Plus, as time goes on, we think people make judgments more and more quickly about a page they land on, scanning pages faster, including by mobile devices… and then ‘bounce’ away.

What we’ve done for this client so far is to shut off some of the ads, which were the big drivers of traffic from Facebook—much more than from actual Facebook page posts with links to the website. We’ve also cut back on Facebook page posts because we’re still looking for clear evidence in our monthly customer lead reports that these are producing phone calls or emails to the client’s office.  Of course the whole point is to generate business.

We’re confident that Facebook can play a role in a multi-faceted marketing plan. It has improved website traffic stats from 50% to 120% from month-to-month over the previous year, which probably helps with SEO.

But clearly it’s not a Silver Bullet. But what is?  Facebook is only one of many possible tactics in the marketing toolkit, in this case perhaps not the best, particularly for sales. Our monthly lead generation reports say referrals and a strong website with SEO are the best for this upscale contractor.

Latest Forrester Research report provides more insights

It’s serendipitous that this Forester Research report should come out as our blog does.  The headline is “Report Shows Social Media Is No Sales Driver.”  It touts especially email marketing as a sales driver, but does not totally discount the value of social media. “Researchers still haven’t figured out how to put a dollar value on social media, but it’s still an incredibly important way to engage with customers,” says the lead researcher at Forrester.