Before I actually go into the different types of metrics you can set up to prove social medias value, I want to state the obvious. You should not only have analytics on every page of your site, but also make sure you add it to all your viral marketing campaigns in order to track the progress and overall success of the piece to evaluate how it relates to the rest of your website, your business and ultimately your bottom line.
I love social media because it can positively affect almost all aspects of your business both directly and indirectly. Directly, it generates increased brand awareness, traffic, leads, sales, subscribers, and more followers on social media sites. Indirectly, it effects search rankings as a successful campaign attracts backlinks and mentions in content which leads to higher search engine rankings. Social Media is so popular because it truly is that powerful, one campaign can affect your entire business.
Below is a list of metrics I use to track and prove ROI when analyzing my own sites or sites of my clients.
Inside the traffic umbrella there are multiple metrics equally important when analyzing success. Page Views to the campaign, for one. Pretty obvious, but it all starts with how much traffic the specific page generates throughout the “Viral” life span as well as each month afterward.
Equally as obvious is the correlation between total visits and unique visits. This enables you to see what kind of new reach you gained as a result of the campaign.
This is by far one of the most important to track and watch. Knowing which social sites send you the most traffic and which blogs and news hubs are picking you up is very valuable. This helps you manage the entire conversation, the influence these sites have in your niche and which of the sites sending you traffic is sending visitors that are engaging in your content. Understanding the referring sites that send you the best traffic will help you in your future campaigns.
Not all campaigns generate direct sales/leads from the initial burst in traffic and referrals, but if your content does, make sure you are tracking where they came from. I have seen some sites which generally receive more leads from StumbleUpon, whereas other sites got leads from Digg, Twitter or a mention on Mashable. Also, know that despite what critics say, it is possible to get direct sales, leads etc… from social media and viral campaigns. The more you understand this, the easier it is to improve your next viral campaign. When companies start out in viral marketing, a lot of it can be shoot first and aim later, but as you better understand your conversions you can become a “Black Ops” sniper that has the target in the cross hairs before you ever pull the trigger.
Social Media can build upon small success to lead up to a reach of massive proportions. You may not get leads after your first influx in traffic, you may not sell crates full of product, but you can build a large audience and it is essential that you are tracking this. Set up outgoing click tracking with your analytics product to track RSS Subscribers, Twitter Followers, Facebook Fans and so forth – this will allow you to tie referral data to those clicks.
Seeing the referrals that are generating those outbound clicks is essential, as it helps you understand again which funnel of traffic does best on your site. Sphinn might only bring you a couple hundred unique visitors, but out of those you might get 100 new Twitter followers. Digg might send you 50,000 visits and generate nothing when it comes to new RSS or Facebook Fans. Again, the more you know about the hordes of traffic flooding to your site, the better feel you can get as to which communities might help you build your influence. I have had the most experience setting up outgoing link traffic with Google Analytics, Omniture and BLVD Status, it might be possible with other providers.
Tip: with BLVD Status, you can set up tracking on social buttons, like TweetMeme’s “Retweet” button or the “Digg This,” “Stumble This” buttons which will allow you to track down which referrals help you spread the word more than others.
Loyalty/Avg Time on site
You might know your bounce rate and average time on site for any specific date range, but are you narrowing down and looking at which social traffic tends to bring visitors that spend more time on your site? Do you know that visitors from Twitter are spending 43% more time on your site than Digg referrals, and Facebook visitors are spending more time than StumbleUpon? Understanding which referrers from social sites create more page views per visit and longer time on sites is invaluable.
Branded keywords and type-in traffic
A big part of viral success is brand awareness, and a good way to track overall brand reach is to watch for surges in branded keyword traffic, either around your company as a whole, or if a specific product or aspect of the business was featured in the viral campaign. You should also watch whether the direct type-in traffic goes up during and after the viral campaign. If there is an increase in those typing in your brand or direct URL and coming to your site that is true word of mouth. (We noticed this with the launch of Social Media for Firefox a few years back, with huge surges in people typing in www.97thfloor.com or search things like “97th Floor,” “97th Floor Plugin,” “Social Media for Firefox,” “Chris Bennett Firefox” there were literally hundreds of keyword phrases that brought tens of thousands of visitors all centered around the brand or the plugin.)
Url shorteners with analytics tied to them is a great way to not only better track viral success throughout social sites like Twitter and other places your normal analytics can’t reach, but it is also a good way to track your influence and what kind of traffic your profile generates when you Tweet out a link.
This is where the indirect portion of social media success comes in. It is common for a social media campaign to generate thousands of links, I have seen articles and graphics generate hundreds and often 1,000-2,000 links or so, and I have seen really good campaigns and pieces generate over 30,000 links alone. That kind of natural link growth is certain to help your search rankings increase. First, watch your backlink count to that specific url you were pushing from either Google Webmaster Tools or Yahoo Site Explorer or SEOMoz’s tools. Pay attention for the big news, blog and hubs that pick your story up. These high profile links are going to help boost your rankings, but – you also want to participate on those sites and help the success go further. Stumble those pages, Tweet the articles mentioning you and help those 3rd party mentions get traction, this will throw lighter fluid on an already burning flame.
Because of the viral success and the links that your url will incur, you will gain search rankings. This is specifically where the indirect results of social media come into play. Due to the word of mouth and links, your page ranks higher and for more unique terms – you may not have received direct sales from the initial burst in traffic or referrals, but you will more likely than not experience sales and leads due to the new rankings you are enjoying. Thus, social media has an indirect effect on lead gen and ROI.
Segment your analytics to see all the keyword phrases that drive traffic to a specific viral piece and notice the amount of traffic they bring in. Track them all the way to the conversion to understand what kind of impact they have on your bottom line. Segmenting only the words that point to the specific url you are tracking can be hard in most platforms, it can take a lot of tagging and extra work. Because of this, we created a feature in BLVD Status which lets you “filter by url” and see every word pointing to a specific page, as well as their rankings. We’ve seen social media campaigns get traffic from and rank for over 6,000 unique phrases which generated over 17,000 visits in one months’ time. This was two months after the viral traffic and word of mouth died down:
Social media and viral marketing is exciting and worthwhile, since you can experience positive ROI on your time and effort in many different ways, it can dramatically increase your bottom line whether through direct or indirect results. You just need to make sure you are tracking it from start to finish.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.