What can be learned from analyzing your website traffic sources in Google Analytics? More than 65 marketers share their most valuable insights here.
Marketing | Jul 2
Dann Albright on November 19, 2018 (last modified on November 20, 2018) • 10 minute read
Your website sources report says a lot about not only your own acquisition strategy but also changes in the marketplace that render tools and channels more (or less) effective.
Channels evolve and mature (organic and paid.)
Others fatigue (social media? email?)
We polled dozens of marketing agencies to find out which traffic sources are working for their clients right now, which ones they see growing, and which they see declining over the next 12 months.
Why’d we focus on agencies? Well, it’s simple–they have a much bigger sample to draw their insights from. Not only do they have the experience of their own traffic sources to leverage, but also that of their client portfolio.
According to our research, 60% of agencies say that organic drives the most website traffic for their clients.
Seem obvious? Maybe. But you might not expect the margin by which it dominates the field.
The next most common response was social media at 13%—less than a quarter of organic’s popularity.
Will organic continue to dominate? Or do agencies see other sources making up a larger proportion of traffic in the next 12 months?
Editor’s note: Where do your visitors come from? Are mobile visitors sticking around? Which sites refer the most traffic to your domain? Track and visualize all of that (and more) with this free template.
This was the title fight of the survey. Opinions were split over whether organic social and paid social will grow or decline—even though a third of respondents (31%) said that social media was more likely to decline over the next 12 months.
23% said that paid social as a traffic source would decline for clients over the next 12 months.
There were some interesting arguments on both sides. Let’s take a look.
“Social media is set up to be the next big win on traffic and sales,” says Richard George of Print4Hospitality.
“Recommendation has always been the best source of customers and social media facilitates open and free conversations where people can ask for recommendations and keep tabs on other people’s experience.”
Agency marketer Josh Meah agrees:
“Social will continue to be a growing source of traffic—in most industries—because those campaigns produce ROI and many businesses are just now getting on the bandwagon.”
But what leads to those successful campaigns and high ROI?
“The increasingly sophisticated targeting and reporting functionalities will make targeting specific personas more and more effective,” says Fifth Ring‘s Scott Fraser.
“We believe that in the next 12 months, paid social media will continue to grow for our clients and will outweigh organic and referral traffic.”
Steve Yanor from Sky Alphabet pointed out that one particular platform allows marketers to combine organic and paid social effectively:
“I see Twitter as a growing source of traffic for clients because it remains the one social media platform where you can generate thousands of clicks in a single week,” said Yanor. “By combining popular content tactics with audience development activities, clients see immediate and material gains in inbound traffic from Twitter.”
Sam Rutherford from SEO Fife pointed out that not all social traffic comes from the traditional giants.
“We’re seeing more and more forums starting to rank competitively in Google, probably because Google considers them to be a great source of impartial and genuine information. This is why we’re continuing to encourage our clients to participate on forums.”
Denamico is concerned by some of the changes being made to social media platforms, says Adam Stewart. “Given changes to how posts are being populated and shared on the major players, we expect to see a decline in traffic from social in the next year.”
Stewart isn’t alone.
Alysa Wax from Precision Marketing points out that company pages on Facebook are seeing decreased organic reach.
FullMusculo‘s David de Ponte brought up the decreasing relevance of fan pages.
“As social media sites like Linkedin and Facebook move towards more ‘pay to play’ strategies there is a steady decline as it becomes harder to cut through the paid noise,” says Perry Nalevka of Penguin Strategies.
CrazyCall‘s Jakub Kliszczak predicts that Instagram will follow Facebook and “[change] the algorithms in order to push you to buy the ads.”
Not everyone thought that social would face difficulties in the name of profits, though.
Here’s Jake Fisher from Bridges Strategies:
“For many of our clients, Facebook’s news safeguards, designed to protect against dishonest and manipulative advertising in politics and public life, are making it more difficult for certain industry segments (such as law firms) to advertise.”
Marketers were split about the future of social. Will it shift to a pay-to-play model? Or will increased reliance on social recommendations drive growth?
There’s also another interesting option, as Marko Saric from How to Make My Blog points out. “Dark social traffic (via chat and messenger apps),” Saric says, “will continue to grow for those who create quality content that people want and that answers questions real people have.”
Of course, dark social traffic is difficult or impossible to track. Which further complicates the issue.
Most marketers see the most success with organic strategies—and they don’t think that’s going to change. 48% of agencies say they expect organic traffic to continue to grow for their clients over the next 12 months.
Respondents were almost universally confident in organic growth. (Though it’s interesting to note that many of the comments we received predicting organic growth were from individual marketers, not agencies.)
“Getting visitors from paid search is great but most people still click the organic results, so our aim is to increase organic search presence,” says Sean Morrissy from Flowers Across Sydney.
“We’re expecting to see an increase in organic search traffic while seeing a decrease in paid search.”
Michael Pozdnev of I Wanna Be a Blogger agrees: “Users are tired and overwhelmed by useless information from social media. . . . More attention is paid to valuable content marketing. Because it brings long-term results. More time and resources are spent on creating epic content that really helps.”
Dominik Brunner, of the inbound marketing agency BEE Inbound, says this:
“[W]e try to push the organic traffic of our customers to the maximum and try to reduce the paid search traffic to the minimum in order to eliminate unnecessary costs.”
Interesting, one marketer told us that SEO might be on its way out.
“We see a decline in SEO traffic in multiple niches due to the fact that Google wants to answer questions within Google instead of referring them to the original source,” says Raul Tiru of GlobalOwls.
“With voice on the rise, this might intensify.”
Tiru wasn’t the only one to bring up voice search.
“In the next 12 months, more traffic will come from voice search,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers.
“More and more people use voice assistants like Siri or Alexa to search the web. Voice search will bring more and more traffic to your website in the coming months. Because voice search will grow, text search (Text SEO) will decline.”
G2 Crowd‘s Jakub Rudnik also believes in the power of voice search: “Organic traffic through voice search will become a bigger share than ever before, as devices like Amazon’s Echo increase in popularity and people get more comfortable using them.”
Some marketers will be relying more on paid search in the coming year.
“Paid traffic will continue to grow for our clients even though it is a tiny percentage of their total traffic,” says OverGo Studio‘s Rick Kranz.
“We are focusing more on driving paid traffic to mid-bottom of the funnel tools that we build for clients.”
In Orbit Media’s 2018 Annual Blogger Survey, bloggers who paid for traffic were more likely to report strong results than bloggers who focused on organic social, says Andy Crestodina.
“It’s because the digital giants (Google and Facebook) make billions of dollars whenever they throttle back organic CTR and increase the prominence of ads.” Crestodina sees this pattern continuing.
That being said, companies are always looking to save money. And for that reason, agencies and in-house marketers will always be looking for organic ways to decrease their reliance on paid search.
“We focus on quality content for our clients,” says The Kingdom‘s Zaahn Johnson, “engaging content that answers their customers questions—enhancing organic search and therefore removing the reliance on paid search.”
Striking the balance between more effective paid search and a desire to spend less will certainly be a difficult issue for marketers in the coming year.
“Overall we expect to see an increase in traffic generated from online video (and mobile video),” says Isabella Federico from Webizz.
“According to a Google analysis, 81% of video viewing sessions capture people’s attention and generate interactions (share, clicks, engagement with the brand/creator). According to Ipsos, people are three times more likely to pay attention to online video ads versus TV ads.”
McMahon Marketing‘s Kalie Fry thinks that new features are going to improve the value of online video:
“[W]ith the addition of 360°, virtual and augmented reality, it’s only going to get better. Customers will be experiencing content in a whole new way. The fourth wall is coming down in favor of more personalized, authentic customer relationships.”
“We believe that uploaded and SEO optimized videos on Youtube will continue to grow,” says Ben Stanford of Red Cedar Websites. “[E]ach video has links back to our clients website and as views increase, traffic increases.”
While there’s no doubt that email is one of the best places to spend your marketing dollars, several marketers think it’s going to go downhill.
“I would believe that email traffic would be the leading contender in this department due to more organizations focusing on GDPR-compliance as well as database hygiene,” says Drew Cohen of SmartBug Media.
Theresa Keller from Delta Marketing also mentioned GDPR and subscription privacy as an impediment to email marketing. Keller also pointed out that email might be prone to saturation, especially in small markets.
Scott Fraser from Fifth Ring shared an interesting thought about consumers:
“I would expect to see a decline in email traffic as leads become increasingly active in the hunt for information.”
“When I think about . . . ‘what channels do I want to grow over the next 12 months?’ The answer to that question is unique to each client and driven by metrics like customer acquisition costs per channel as well as customer lifetime value per channel,” says Jennifer Lux of LyntonWeb.
“In other words, what are my clients’ most profitable channels and how do we grow those?”
Andrew Ruditser from MAXBURST feels the same way: “For our clients here at MAXBURST, the best traffic source is the one that generates the highest percentage of conversions. It can vary for individual businesses and their needs but most of our clients measure their success based on some sort of a conversion goal.”
Every agency, client, and marketing plan is unique. So we want to hear about the channels you think will succeed or dip in the coming year. What do you think you’ll see?
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