How to Get Way More Referral Traffic From Social Media

Want to get more referral traffic from social media? Like a lot more? We'll show you four proven ways to do it in this blog post.

Pam Neely
Pam Neely

May 03, 2018 11 min read


Why does your company do social media marketing?

Don’t just say “because we have to.”

You need a better reason.

That’s especially true now that social media is really no longer free. And it’s even more true because social media marketing takes so much time.

As we’ve seen recently, automating social media work is getting more complicated. It’s not impossible it – it’s just more work. We’re all being pushed toward a higher quality of content and genuine engagement with our audiences.

Because of those new demands, it makes sense to re-assess what we really want from our social media work. To ask why we’re doing social in the first place.

Is it for audience engagement? Actual sales? Website traffic?

According to research from Social Media Examiner, “increased exposure” is the number one benefit of social media for marketers. But “increased traffic” comes very close behind. It even beats out lead generation – and sales!

Benefits of social media marketing

For this particular post, we’re going to focus on the increased traffic – “referral traffic” as it’s usually called. Because while engagement is great and exposure is fun, when you get down to the money part of marketing (the ROI), it’s usually website traffic that generates results. Conversions from website traffic are the ultimate driver of an awful lot of the social media work we do.

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And yet, referral traffic has been changing recently. For several years, Facebook was the king of referral traffic. It drove more visitors to websites than even Google. But that shifted last summer, and now Google is firmly in the lead again.

How search outpaced social for referral traffic last year

The change happened mostly because Facebook stopped sending as much referral traffic. In other words, Google won – eventually – just by staying steady.

That’s clearly a win for search marketers, but social media marketers were given an opportunity, too. When you break out referral traffic from different social media platforms, you see that referrals from one lucky platform (Pinterest!) went up noticeably as Facebook’s referrals went down. 

Pinterest, Google, & Instagram big winners as Facebook share of visits falls 8% in 2017

There are other opportunities, too. And plenty of ways to make the most of them. But these are the five best ways to increase your referral traffic from social media.

1. Put the time in.

Social media might still be “free” in some ways, but even the free parts require some time investment. It might not be a massive time investment, but it isn’t a negligible one either. Social Media Examiner also asked marketers about how long they’d been doing social media marketing, and about how many hours a week they put into it.

Ends up, how long they’ve been doing social media marketing matters.

67% of marketers who have been doing it a year or less “agree” or “strongly agree” they’ve gotten more traffic as a result of their social media work.

There is a distinct bump up for marketers who have been doing social media for more than 5 years. Nearly 90% of them say the channel has gotten them more traffic.

That’s not a major difference, but it does suggest that experience helps. It might be good news to those of you in the early years of building a social media audience, too. It appears the results get better the longer you’ve been at it.

Of course, for contrast, it takes several years for SEO results to show up, too. The same goes for content marketing. So really, social media marketing is actually about average in this respect.

How social media traffic increases when you increase your time spent on social media marketing

How much traffic your site gets from social media isn’t just a factor of how many years you’ve been doing it. How many hours you spend every week on your social media marketing matters, too.

60% of marketers who do 1-5 hours of social media per week say they get more traffic. But generally it takes more time than that to get results. Marketers who have to put in 31-35 hours before 50% of them “strongly agree” social has gotten them more traffic. If you count those that just “agree”, it’s nearly 90%.

So what does it all mean? Well, time does make a difference in results. While there may be outlier marketers who can get results from just a couple of hours of work, most people have to put the time in. There are no shortcuts for the general population of marketers.

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Don’t think that’s good enough? Want to try to be among the elite – who can put in just a few hours and get loads of traffic? Keep reading, because the next tip might be able to get you big results for very little time.

2. Use video.

Video is getting more attention every day. Every digital marketer is either already doing some video marketing, or knows they really ought to be.

Video also works especially well on social media. Videos get dramatically more engagement and shares than most images, and certainly most text-based posts. Video works especially well for referral traffic because some of that attention and engagement translates into people clicking through to your site.

Videos also don’t have to be long or expensive for them to work. And you can use them to promote other content. Andy Crestodina has a nice post about how he uses videos to promote his blog posts – his text-based, long-form blog posts. All it takes is a one-minute video (and there’s actually research that shows even shorter videos would work, too).

To give you an idea of how much content fills a minute of video, consider that a professional speaker or podcaster talks at a rate of about 150 words per minute. So all you need to promote a blog post (or a webinar, or an event, or a sale, or whatever else you’d like to promote) is a 150-word script.

That’s not too hard, right?

You may not even have to appear on camera. Animoto and a few of other video creation tools give you access to thousands of video clips, plus the ability to add text effects. Video tools like Animatron’s Wave even let you create multiple video formats, so you can have a perfectly-sized video for each social media platform.

Not sure how you’d actually use videos in your business? See Rebekkah Radice’s social media videos for examples of how to make highly effective videos that are simple to make and are almost exclusively text and stock video or images.

Videos like this:

Word to the wise: You may need to create special links for your social media videos in order to track how the traffic they generate performs once it gets to your website. A simple, free way to do this is with the Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder. It’s fairly straightforward to use, and it will let your tracking data show up in all your Google Analytics reports, including the reports you manage in Whatagraph. 

3. Get better at Facebook.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Just because Facebook is sending less traffic to “third-party” sites doesn’t mean that it’s a negligible source of traffic. Facebook is still the #1 social media platform to drive traffic from, and it’s probably going to stay that way for a while.

Facebook’s share of social media referral traffic is so big, in fact, that if you increase your referral traffic from this site by even 20%, and you’ll probably be getting more traffic than if you doubled your Twitter traffic. (Sorry, Twitter. We still love you.)

The question is, how?

We’re going to assume you’re already following best practices. You…

  • Post about 1-2 times per day
  • Include some content from your audience (also known as user generated content).
  • Ask questions to encourage responses.
  • Share images and videos, and keep the text-based parts of your posts short.
  • Use your feed to entertain and teach, rather than to sell and promote.

After you’ve got those basics down, the next best way is to test. Facebook ads make this really easy, especially now that they have a specific set-up for testing ad creative. So use those ads as split-tests to see which things tend to get your audience to click through.

For instance:

  • Does a call to action to “Click here” make a difference?
  • Does text that mentions your website increase click-throughs?
  • Do photos of your staff work better than photos of your products?
  • Do particular types of photos seem to get more clicks? (Like photos of real people at your company, versus stock photos?)
  • Do videos get more clicks? Which type of videos?

4. Curate third-party content.

I know – this post is about driving traffic to your website, not somebody else’s website, right?

But to get traffic to your site, people are going to have to see your posts in the first place. Unless you want to spend money to get those views, you’ll need to have an audience of people to see your posts.

Makes sense, right? No audience, no views. No views, no clicks.

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To build up an audience, you have to be useful and entertaining. But unless you’ve got a floor full of creatives dreaming up awesome content ideas, that can be really hard to do.

So post other people’s content. Really. It will make your social media feeds seem more authoritative, as it positions them as a hub of knowledge about a given topic. Curated content also makes your accounts look more trustworthy.

And there is also one wee trick that can turn some of that third-party content into a way to get traffic to your site.

You just add an overlay. An overlay that appears on the content page you’ve shared. An overlay that lets people click back to your site, to a specific page you want to send clicks to.

With an overlay, every link you share – whether it’s your content or not – gives people the opportunity to click back to your site.

You get all the benefits of curated content, plus a big chunk of the referral traffic, too.

A few tools let you add an overlay to any link you share on social media. So you can share other people’s content… and promote your own content at the same time: 

A few tools let you add an overlay to any link you share on social media.

Both Rite.ly and Snip.ly offer this functionality, but there are several other tools that do the same thing. It might be worth a test to see if you can get these tools to work for you. Other referral software can also be used to help you attract valuable traffic. 

Closing thoughts

Those are just a few ways to get more social media traffic to come through to your website. We hope that at least one of these tactics works for you. There’s plenty of traffic to be had on the social media sites, and you deserve to bring some of it back to your marketing home base.

Recommended next: 5 things that make people click in content

Published on May 03, 2018


Pam Neely

Pam is a devoted freelance content writer and THE expert in the SAAS industry.

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