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If links are currency, who’s your sugar daddy?
It’s been Google, of course. Google and the other search engines make you famous by sending your website all that traffic—the folks who donate to your nonprofit, or who comment on your blog. That’s why there’s an army of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) mercenaries out there charging to help you get popular with the search engines.
But the recent eruptions of Facebook and Twitter have brought a different kind of traffic, from link sharing. There’s lots of it. Hitwise even reports that for certain kinds of websites (those with entertainment and, increasingly, sports content), Facebook has eclipsed Google as a traffic driver. What does that mean for nonprofit campaigns? And more broadly, how should we be thinking of the value of links?
Inspired by a fantastic discussion of search vs. social linking in Fred Wilson’s post, The Power of Passed Links, I got wondering what this means for nonprofit campaigns. In particular, I wondered how this newfound linking might affect person-to-person fundraising campaigns like our Giving Challenges. So much has changed in the last year that it makes sense for all of us to think about what we’re counting and what counts.
Demographics: Kids these days don’t find ‘em like we used to
First, Facebook and Twitter have both grown exponentially. And there’s some evidence that younger folks rely on their friends for finding links more than search engines.
Microsoft and MTV did a study in 2007 (Circuits of Cool) that found that among the thousands of 14-24 yos they surveyed, 88% of the links they followed were sent to them by friends. They’re not clicking on ads or even using search results as much as older demos.
Other studies have shown that folks coming from shared links were anywhere from 2 to 4 times more likely to convert. (Conversion is SEO talk for visitors doing what you want them to do—buy or donate or read). So links from friends are higher quality, and thus potentially more valuable.
Dollars shifting from media to content
That has some interesting implications. Are you better off putting your energies into advertising for a campaign, or creating funny, memorable content that your users will want to spread? Or should you encourage users do that themselves?
As marketers compete for the attention and interest of their audience, the best way to do this is through content that’s delivered to them via their social graph. This already happens if the content’s good. There just isn’t enough of it. —Ben Straley
Importance of niche blogs and forums
Whatever you decide, content popularity typically starts small, with specialized audiences.
We see a HUGE amount of activity driven initially by vertically-oriented blogs and community forums before it goes “mass social” by making its way up to Facebook for example. In calculating true value of shared links, it’s important to factor in the niche sites and communities in your vertical. The numbers might be relatively small but their significance huge. —Ben Straley
One other thing to keep in mind here is the effect on Google search of links that appear on blogs or Twitter. While it may take Google a while to find that content, those links eventually help search position. So outreach to specialists helps search discovery, too.
How people share links
The most popular mode of sharing we see is email (25% of visits from passed links come from links shared through email), followed by blogs (18% of visits from passed links come from links shared through blogs), video sharing sites (14% of visits from passed links come from links shared through video sharing sites like YouTube), and forums/message boards (11% of visits from passed links come from links shared through forums and message boards). Social networks account for around 9% of the traffic from shared links. I pulled these stats from our Meteor Tracker data which does not yet contain a representative sample of sites of varying sizes across all verticals. It isn’t yet representative of the Web as a whole. —Ben Straley
Even so, if I were building another person-to-person campaign today I’d try to this into account in the tools I’d build.
- Everything should have a URL easily reached by the public
- That URL would be prominent—so that anybody could grab it to email it, post it, stream it behind cropdusting airplanes, etc.
- Make emailing that URL as drop-dead simple as possible—but with some personalization to encourage the recipient to actually open the email
- Consider using Facebook Connect or Twitter OAuth login et. al. to let folks use their accounts on these services to spread the word to friends
There are more ways to spread links now than ever before. The good news is that the popularity of Facebook and Twitter has made link sharing mainstream. Campaigns can now spend more time offering links and less time explaining what that is. But there are also so many more choices of exactly how to share with friends—beyond email, there are Facebook Connect, Friend Connect, Twitter OAuth, etc. How do you decide where to best spend your marketing and development energies? As with so much else on the web, analytics are key. Let the numbers be your guide.
But enough about campaigns. As a person, how do you find the good stuff online? Or, as an organization, what are you seeing from traffic reports—is email more successful than search?