How Mark Zuckerberg Stole Your Search Traffic & What To Do About It

Hint: You gave it to him.

It’s a familiar story: businesses finally getting their search optimization stratgy down, putting in SEO the hours, and creating the content that draws links and Google love. They’ve paid the SEO experts. They know their keywords.

And when the traffic comes, they send it off to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn.

All traffic to your site has a price. Every visitor costs you something. Even if you’re not paying for PPC (and many of you are), you are paying in SEO fees, in blood, in sweat and in tears for that organic and direct traffic, more than you know.

Just know that the social networks are plotting to take your traffic if you give them the chance.

High Contrast, High Trust, Addictive

It’s not an accident that Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook chose high-contrast blue logos that show up well on many background colors. In fact, these logos are sometimes the most noticeable thing on a webpage.

This means visitors may see them before they see anything else a site has to offer.

These social brands have high-trust levels. Facebook’s brand will be more recognizable to most of your visitors than your brand. If, as a visitor, I have any trepidation about diving into your website, Facebook offers a nice way out.

Visitors are also drawn to these sites by their dopamine addiction.

Attention Management trainer Maura Thomas explains that every time someone mentions us publicly; every time we get something interesting in our email inbox; every time we get a retweet, we get a squirt of dopamine in our brains.

Eventually, we become addicted to this behavior, and find ourselves checking email and our social networks even when we’ve got plenty to do.

That Twitter logo could look like crack cocaine to your visitors. Do you think such a thing might be distracting from your message?

The Little Numbers That Seal Your Fate

Even if you have a pimped-out Facebook page with custom tab, you are playing a losing game. The reason is that there is a little beacon on Facebook and LinkedIn that will generally insure that a visitor will never return to your site.


The little numbers tell people they can ignore you.

Facebook’s little red numbers on deep blue background are like little dopamine pills, calling your addicted visitors to find out what their friends are up to. LinkedIn offers a bright orange number on a muted background. Same effect. “Give me a hit.”


LinkedIn lets visitors know when they can feed their addiction.

These harmless little chiclets actually scream to visitors that there is news of a loved one, that someone wants to chat, or that someone has purchased a virtual farm animal. So powerful is the call of this image, that I hesitate to include the screen capture here for fear of losing you, my reader.

Twitter doesn’t hold back. All of your most recent tweets are there on display, complete with links to other sites and tantalizing 140 character invitations to click.

Twitter lays juicy links right out in front of us.

Even if you open your Facebook page, Twitter profile or LinkedIn Group in a new window, your wayward visitors will rarely find their way back with the same level of intention. The call of the little numbers is too strong.

This is powerful stuff, but you can make it all work for you, not against you.

Pick The Right Time & Place

If you look at the sites of those brands known for their social success, you will find that they don’t ask you to join them on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn until after you have become a customer. Look at Zappos for example. Dell claims to have sold millions of dollars of computers via Twitter. You don’t see any invitations to join on their home pages or landing pages.

The right time to invite visitors to your social networks is after they have signed up for your mailing list or after they have purchased something. At this point you have a platform with which to continue the conversation – email – that is far more direct than the social networks. Furthermore you own the information. Your contacts aren’t left to the whim of Mark and his cronies.

Place your social media logos on your confirmation, or “thank you” pages, in your confirmation emails, and in your email signatures.

I believe that you should also place them on your Contact page, as often visitors to these pages may want to interact with your business on social networks.

If you are compelled to place them on a landing page or homepage (gasp!) place them at the bottom. Make them small. Hide them.

Finally, you should persuade your competitors to put these logos on their sites, just don’t do anything illegal.

Leverage Their Trust

If you look at this another way, we know that trust is a big factor in your conversion rates. It is a time-honored tradition to “borrow” the brand trust of other businesses. The most common form of this is placing credit card logos near “add to cart” buttons. Vendors often put the logos of their customers on their marketing materials to great effect.

But these logos don’t take the visitor off to the customer’s site, and yours shouldn’t either.

You can do the same with Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social network. Look at the bottom of this page for some in-context social gestures. These allow visitors to share your work without taking them away to Zuckerland.

Consider a Facebook Connect login. One of my clients placed the “Login with Facebook” functionality on his site login form. Few people use the Facebook login, but he saw a significant increase in new leads. The Facebook logo made visitors more comfortable giving this client  their information.

Trust is critical. Don’t be afraid to borrow.

Have The Conversation On Your Site

If social proof is important to your purchase process, have the conversations on your site. Offer your visitors ways to rate and review and comment.

Beware of doing something like putting your Twitter stream on your site, however. The links to interesting articles included in many tweets could twitter away your store-bought traffic.

Know Your Social Media Conversion Rate

The one big exception to all of this is that you rock your social media conversion rate. If you can get your social connections to return to your site and bring a few people with them, then your best strategy may be to send them off to your social landing pages.

If you have data that shows your social media networks are generating revenue for you, then build those social networks. If you aren’t sending email to your house list frequently, you may be better off building a social network. There is no sense in building a list if you don’t have anything valuable to send them.

The Best Traffic Flows From Social Networks

It is conventional wisdom to advertise your social media account “everywhere.” Clearly this isn’t always the truth.

If you are investing in SEO and online advertising, you will probably find that it is cheaper to advertise your Facebook page on Facebook. Conversion rates are higher on Facebook when you keep the visitor on Facebook.

Then, I invite you to find ways to get traffic from social media to your site. Create some content and share it with your friends, followers and connections. When they come, give them some good reasons to stay, to subscribe or to buy. Then, and only then, ask them to share.

This is the way these social networks are designed: to make advertisers happy. Stop sending hard-won visitors to social media oblivion and start focusing on getting more visitors from these social networks. I promise Mark won’t mind.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • Martin Duguay

    Very hot article!

  • knk

    Do you have any data to back up the claim that social media sites are stealing traffic away, and not driving it back (like a feedback loop)? Even if this is true, do you really think the answer is to try to hide your accounts?

  • Brian Massey


    Everyone is different. I’ve done experiments with my site ( I get about a 2.5% conversion rate from social media traffic and you’ll find a big Facebook invitation on my site, though lower on the page than my email signup. (

    I don’t think that a Facebook “Like” is anywhere near as helpful as having someone buy something on your site regardless of how good the feedback loop is.

    I don’t sell anything on my site. If I did, the Facebook links would come right off.

    Keep people on your site until they buy or provide contact info. If want to collect those uncommitted visitors and add them to your social graph, you might consider an exit popover to invite them to your social properties.

    – Brian

  • Cleofe Betancourt

    Presenting the social media aspects of your website once the purchase is complete is an interesting idea! I can definitely appreciate that you want to limit any distractions your potential customers might experience while looking to buy, and presenting your FB, Twitter, LinkedIn links after the fact should lead to an increase in “likes” and “followers” with zero stress (since the sale is complete).

    Good post!

  • Brian Massey


    Yes, and the quality of the social gesture is higher. On a confirmation page, your prospect shares “I just [did something you can do]” as opposed to “I like [the company or product].”

    I think the former carries more social proof.

    Thanks for the comment.


  • Chris Giovagnoni

    I agree with what you’re saying and the logic that got you there. And I think your solution is worth considering. It definitely goes against the conventional wisdom so it feels uncomfortable.

    I’d say for organizations like the Coast Guard, in your image above, and many non-profits whose product is a “commitment” (e.g., sponsor a child in poverty) the best “salespeople” are the ones found on the organizations’ social sites.

    If the ADD lure of the “little red numbers” prevents a “sale” it could be for the best, since that “customer” may end up struggling with the long-term commitment he or she makes.

  • O.A.

    Awesome post…. although it may seem a little extreme, there is definitely a valid point towards working hard to get people to come to your site only to push them to another. I like your ideas about where and when to make references to social outlets.

  • Rick Vidallon

    If Rupert Murdoch had any sense he would fire any news person who muttered the word Face book or Twitter.

    Yes, I admit it. I am a news junky. I watch CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC and so on. No matter which show (yes I said show, only NBC Nightly News qualifies as a newscast) I am watching, the talent will mention Twitter or Face book without fail. You can set your watch by this, and even more so on local news channels.

    Neither of these social time sucking applications would have grown as fast in popularity if print and cable would have remained silent.

    Yet every day I hear the newscasters repeating the mantra; “Visit our Face book page or follow us on Twitter. Tweet us at twitter/ bonehead-does-not-know-any-better.”
    The Weakening of Websites

    Every time newscasters say Face book or Twitter, they are unwittingly weakening the search engine rankings of their primary news website because they are lessening the clicks and visits to their news website. I would suggest that instead of slowly killing their websites they might as well shut them down.

    Free Advertising for Social Media

    More importantly, newscasters are providing FREE advertising to these social time sucking Internet competitors. If you monetized the mentioning of Twitter and Face book across television networks and cable channels, it would amount to billions of dollars in lost advertising revenue each year.

    If you doubt that large websites advertise on television, then consider the millions of ad dollars spent by Yellow Pages, Bing (Microsofts’ Internet search engine), Service Magic, Angie’s List, Constant Contact and many others.
    Take a Stand and Stop the Madness

    I can completely understand when a news story must mention Face book as it pertains to an actual news story. However, if I were a major stock holder in any of these networks, I would be screaming for casual mentioning of social sites to stop. Could you imagine the national buzz it would create if a major media outlet took the lead and announced they would no longer mention Face book or Twitter? I honestly might follow that particular newscast for taking a stand for common sense.

    Now that’s free advertising!

  • Brian Massey


    Your point about sites that don’t sell is well-taken. It begs the question: Why have a Web site if Facebook offers everything you need?


  • Brian Massey

    Orbital, I am often accused of being extreme. As a Conversion Scientist, I’m trying to change the culture of businesses. It’s never easy. Your open mind is greatly appreciated… and rather rare.


  • Brian Massey


    In the interest of playing devil’s advocate, I might argue that news outlets are the exception to my rule. Why? Because they have the constant stream of content that they can use to draw people from their social graphs back to their sites (and their advertisers’ ads).

    That’s an important point in my article: If you have what it takes to make social media work for you, then you should ignore me and put social media logos everywhere. Most businesses don’t product content on that scale, however.

    – Brian

  • BFT

    Wow, really? That all sounds pretty good on the surface and I definetly appreciate the time it took to dream up most of it, but it’s really not based on much fact and would hold a little bit more merit if Facebook didn’t have 500 million members. Another thing to consider is, “is facebook really competing with your website?”. If you are launching a Socail Network site this would certainly apply. Regarding the comments about “media mentioneing socail network kings” there was a time I agreed with that I couldn’t believe people actaully mentioned facebook in thier paid t.v. spots, but really, that ship has waaaay sailed. The fact is they do and even if they stopped you couldn’t put that Jeanie back in the bottle. Another thing to consider given facebook “user patterns” if they have intigrated your website into thier “likes, shares, or wall posts” aren’t you actually maintaining a brand presense there after they have left your site.

    We run an ad network in the outdoors (fishing, hunting, outdoors, etc…),which is a way late adopter industry to the web and for many years endemic companies in these markets fought the web, well needless to say many of them are scrambling to have a presence there now and are way late for the party. My piont being either embrass Socail Networks and intigrate them now or wait until your organic search placement falls because you have no presence/links in in those areas (the day will come), until your missing out on a huge chunck of the traffic that “facebook walls” can deliver in the form of members endorsing your site by “likes” and comments, or wait until facebook starts closing the door on the free marketing they are offering.

    My thought for most sites is, not, should you intigrate facebook, its, how much should you and what is the best way to.

  • N.M.

    Managing users across multiple channels is a challenge for any business or organization. Creating fresh and relevant content appropriate to each outlet and keeping users engaged takes real strategy and constant effort. I do wonder how much of this effort is wasted on visitors who will never become customers. We seem to have lost track of the importance of conversion in this whole process.

  • George Michie

    Brian, thanks for one of the most thought provoking pieces I’ve read in some time. I am reminded of the days of yore when AOL managed to convince much of the world that it was the internet, and managed to convince many businesses that they should PAY AOL to put AOL keyword MyBrandName on MY ads!!!

  • PPCSwede

    “If you are compelled to place them on a landing page or homepage (gasp!) place them at the bottom. Make them small. Hide them.”

    I assume you don’t think this applies to you since you yourself have a prominent Facebook widget on the right hand side of your homepage?

    A very simple fix to all of this is to create a Facebook like button that doesn’t direct traffic to Facebook. I would put this on homepage since that’s where it gets most visibility. The idea of putting it on contact us page or confirmation page is a good idea.

  • Brian Massey


    Facebook is an amazing opportunity for many businesses. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a presence on Facebook. I’m saying that you shouldn’t send traffic that has made it to your Web site off to Facebook in the hope that it will come back.

    Build your Facebook network on Facebook. But when they make it to your Web site, sell them something.


  • Brian Massey

    PPCSwede, Yes, I think a like button is a great way to go. You get the social gesture and you don’t lose the traffic.


  • Brian Massey


    One of the problems that social media has given us is that we believe anyone can be a spreader of our messages. This makes us feel that we must engage everyone. Of course, when you engage everyone, you engage no one.

    Relevance is the key. We have to be willing to walk away from certain prospects by creating targeted content.


  • Brian Massey


    Interesting reference to AOL. I’m sure that Facebook is the Internet for many new to it.


  • Susan Silver

    Good points there. This makes a lot of sense to me. I thought it was odd when I made the decision not to put up the typical follow buttons on my blog. Now I see that I’ve learned from the bigger brands. It makes much more sense to start the conversation on the blog and then move to Twitter or other venues where content is shared. You got to win someone over first, and then they will support you on other services andspread your content. But forming that relationship built on trust needs to come first.

  • Brian Massey

    Susan, you make a great point. While it may make you feel good for a “stranger” to your business or your brand to Like you, wouldn’t you rather have a social graph filled with people who’ve used your product or interacted with you in some meaningful way? Social media works best when trust (or satisfation) is in place.

    Thanks for the comment.


  • Brad Dalton

    big tick for that tip. cheers


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