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Each type of traffic has its own unique characteristics. Some distribution brings in more traffic, other types of traffic provides more backlinks, yet another traffic source will bring in more brand awareness. This test is an examination of the conversion rates by traffic source.

Traffic does Not Convert the Same: SEO vs PPC vs Press Releases vs Social Bookmarking

I have long suspected that not all traffic converts the same. While I had rough statistics to back it up (and very detailed statistics in some cases), I had never run a formal test to include ‘Social Bookmarking’ traffic to determine conversion rates and percentage of traffic.

Over the past 3 months, I’ve been running traffic statistics on myFree Keyword Research eBook offer to determine the difference in conversion rates by traffic source.

My original assumptions were:

  • Press Release traffic would be the lowest conversion among all sources. My reasoning was that many people who read press releases are journalists looking for stories (and bloggers count as journalists for this purpose). They would be looking at news, a few would download the eBook, but more would just link or reference the press release in their writings without ever having looked at the book.
     
  • Social Bookmarking traffic (i.e. delicious, technorati, digg, etc) will be the second lowest conversion rate among all traffic. My reasoning for this was that many of these visitors are just looking at the latest news and aren’t in the mindset to be converted. These individuals are often browsers, and clicking on social links are more akin to browsing than searching to find the answer to a progblem. They are also more sophisticated that the ‘average’ internet user – thus they will be immune to many offers.
     
  • SEO traffic (free search engine traffic) would convert somewhere in the middle. Often, a page ranks for something other than the most converting keywords. Thus, ranking for broad keywords would provide traffic that is looking for something other than what a page offers, and thus these visitors will not convert. However, SEO traffic must be broken down into two groups to really test the effectiveness of the traffic:
    • Search engine traffic for direct keywords
    • Search engine traffic for broad keywords.
       
  • PPC traffic would be the highest converting traffic. Being able to test keywords by conversion and make those adjustments would lead to the highest conversion rate among the entire group.

What is not taken into account is profits by total traffic. In other words, if Social Bookmarking provided 10x the traffic as SEO, but converted at 3x less, it would bring in more total conversions. I didn’t want to test the quantity of the traffic and conversions, just the quality.

I also wasn’t tracking RSS feeds differently than  other traffic sources. It would be interesting to be able to add RSS feed conversions into this test – maybe next time.

The Methodology Was:

On the day the eBook was released:

  • Write a blog post about it which pings the major blog sites.
  • ‘Seed’ the tagging engines with enough information to bring in some visitors (this worked better than anticipated).
  • Send a Press Release through all the major PR services, including a few donations to make sure the press release was picked up by Yahoo news and a few other large news aggregators.
  • Send PPC traffic to the page from Yahoo Search Marking, Google AdWords, and MSN adCenter (adCenter traffic was included at a later date as the ‘self serve’ environment was not operational when I launched the test)..
  • Drop a few links from other sites to the page so that it would gain some rankings for very specific keywords (I also did a few 301s from pages which were ranking for specific keywords already).

Important Note: The keywords involved are things like ‘AdWords keyword research’, ‘PPC Keywords’, etc. They are mostly ‘jargon’ terms that would suggest a more sophisticated audience that is doing some internet marketing.

The first 2 months of results:

  Month 1: October  
  Percentage of All Traffic Conversion Percentage
Press Releases 22 0.89%
Social Bookmarking Sites 26 0.91%
SEO – Direct Keywords 11 2.93%
SEO – Broad Keywords 8 1.47%
PPC 29 6.42%
Unknown (or Direct) 4 2.41%
  Month 2: November  
  Percentage of All Traffic Conversion Percentage
Press Releases 9 1.12%
Social Bookmarking Sites 11 1.14%
SEO – Direct Keywords 13 2.29%
SEO – Broad Keywords 12 1.51%
PPC 47 6.53%
Unknown (or Direct) 8 2.32%

In December, I decided to do a bit of split testing on the PPC conversions, which also meant I upped my PPC budget (hence why PPC is such a large percentage of traffic). It had been a while since I’d written a ‘One Page Wonder’ site, and didn’t want to take the time to put one together. So, I wrote a simple informational message and removed the right hand navigation from the page. I then tested the original landing page against the new landing page.

The results are NOT a typo. I was pretty amazed by this conversion difference with such a small change. Usually a change like this can be quite significant. I had assumed that because the audience was a more internet sophisticated audience that it would be a bit more immune to these changes.

  Month 2: December  
  Percentage
of All Traffic
Conversion Percentage
Press Releases 4 1.85%
Social Bookmarking Sites 5 1.95%
SEO – Direct Keywords 13 1.92%
SEO – Broad Keywords 9 0.98%
PPC – Original Landing Page 33 6.35%
PPC – New Test Page 32 19.1%
Unknown (or Direct) 4 1.37%

What the results tell us (please remember, this is based on a single test, it is not across multiple platforms – so these inferences do lack the data integrity of running the same test across 20+ sites or 10+ offers should be noted).

Traffic Sources:

Press Release and Social Bookmarking traffic declined pretty steadily after the initial surge. However, their conversion percentage continues to climb – presumably, this is because those finding the information at such a later date are searching for something more specific. The amount of traffic that did continue to come through these sources amazed me. I was anticipating a larger drop. Yahoo News is by far the leading referral source among the Press Release traffic (I counted Yahoo News in the PR traffic as that’s the only reason I received that referral traffic at all).

I’m a huge fan of PPC traffic, both in quality and testing. I always find it useful when launching something more ‘official’ than just a free eBook to first test pages and offers with PPC traffic and then start to SEO, use press releases, etc (increased traffic) once you know what offer actually works.

I’m not sure why there was such a jump in ‘Unknown or Direct’ traffic in month 2. I could probably investigate it further, but its not worth the invested time for such a small test. What is interesting to note however, is that my highest page views per visit (for the broad sweeping categories above, not by individual referrer) came from direct traffic (as an FYI – my IP is blocked from my various stats program, so it’s not my own page views bringing this number higher) in all 3 months of testing.

Traffic Conversions:

Most of the initial assumptions proved to be fairly accurate. Social Bookmarking traffic did overtake Press Release traffic in terms of conversions in December.

I was surprised that the ‘SEO Direct Keyword’ traffic conversion percentage wasn’t more inline with the PPC traffic. Even for the exact same keywords, the PPC traffic had a higher conversion rate. I’m sure there’s some inferences that can be made about those who click on ads as opposed to natural listings for these results.

As a note, in the PPC traffic the highest conversion percentage came from MSN (which did have a small sample set due to their not being included in the initial test and the volume of traffic they can deliver), the second highest from Yahoo Search Marketing, and the lowest from Google AdWords. However; Google AdWords by far made up the most conversions among PPC traffic.

It is also good to note that why I didn’t break it out above, the conversion percentage from AdWords content match was higher than from AdWords Search (and actually higher than Yahoo Search Marketing). The cost per conversion on AdWords content match was three times lower than AdWords search. I definitely will not make any broad sweeping statements about AdWords content match here, as I’ve seen cases where it can be great and other times where it just doesn’t convert. This is just a note for this particular test.

Testing Analysis:

My mantra at every single conference I speak at is this: Anything is possible – test the results – the numbers will ultimately tell the story. Again, this proved true. The PPC test between the original landing page and the new landing page was significant. While I expected the new landing page to have a few points higher in terms of conversions, I did not expect it to be 300% higher.

PPC is an environment where you have more control than any other traffic environment on the web. Use that control to test ads, landing pages, keywords, etc – everything can be tested. Only by testing can you really know what happens.

Conclusion:

I love testing and putting together traffic numbers. Speculation is great – but in the end, there are only a few metrics that actually matter.

Social Bookmarking and Press Release traffic does not convert as well as other types of traffic. However, they do have an unspoken impact on SEO (gaining links, coverage, and overall exposure) which can be beneficial in the long run. While the traffic did not convert as well as other traffic, I wouldn’t say that it’s worthless traffic. It did convert somewhat, and bestowed branding exposure which is very worthwhile in the long term.

If you are running a purely direct response site, then the effort may not be worthwhile. If you are running a website that relies on repeat visitors, branding, organic traffic, etc – then the benefits of going through the effort of building social awareness is time well spent.

This is the story of just one website and one single test.

Always test your traffic. Test by keywords, traffic sources, country, time of day, etc.

Only testing, measuring, and interpreting results can tell the story of any website and its traffic.

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