SEO Traffic vs. Social Traffic – What’s better for Ecommerce?

For the last 6 months, we were helping a well-known German cosmetics brand to do internet marketing and social commerce. Now it’s time to look at results and to compare different means to drive traffic and sales to the ecommerce site. The main question we were asking ourselves as internet marketing and social media agency are:

  • What results in higher ROI – Social Media or SEO?
  • Why is that?

Internet Marketing-Mix of the client

  • Social Commerce Seite on Magneto: 50%
  • Social Media Strategie* and Social Media Support: 20%
  • SEO – On-page + off-page: 30%

*Social Media Monitoring + Social Media Guidelines + Social Media Workshops


The budget was not as high as we hoped but we found lots of motivation and enthusiasm for social media marketing – which we believe is more important than any budget.

Like in most cases the awareness of how much effort and time you have to put into successful social media for ecommerce was not there at the beginning of the project – hence there was a bit of a learning curve involved.

Results – Ecommerce Traffic Numbers

We’re not a PR agency and believe in hard quantifiable figures in terms of social traffic vs. SEO traffic and corresponding sales, hence the following are numbers from their Google Analytics account.

Traffic to the site

  • Social Media Marketing

    The traffic to the site from the Social Media platforms (here Facebook fan page only) heavily depends on the number and engagement rate of the fans. We created the fanpage, social media content and achieved now to engage 1000 followers or so – there was not noteworthy campaign involved, rather dissemination of targeted social media content. With high engagement rates (and we had +50% higher social engagement rates than at our other social media projects) you’ll get more visitors to the social commerce site – one of the first things we found analyzing Facebook Insights and Google Analytics.

    The share of the social traffic is currently at 19% of the traffic sources with a tendency to rise. The average time on site and pages per visit are on average lower than the search traffic ones. Social visitors are mostly returning so they know the site better and hence stay shorter time.

  • SEO

    The SEO traffic (organic traffic in Google Analytics) on the other side depends on the ranking in the search engine results pages and the degree of the SEO optimisation. As mentioned we also do SEO for the site in a rather competitive market (cosmetics) – so results take a little longer and require a proper budget. We focused on a long tail strategy and achieved good results. Also, we drive an inbound marketing strategy where use the blog on the site to rank for converting long-tail keywords to attract visitors via Social SEO.

    The share of Google traffic on the traffic sources is 13% with high numbers for time on site and pages per visit.

Our results are even better than the general trend. According to Outbrain contributes Social Media only for 10% of the traffic sources, compared to 41% search traffic and a third coming from content sites. Surprising numbers considering the effort lots of companies putting into Social Media Marketing nowadays.

Social Media Traffic – any good?

Another Social Media Study by eMarketer says that Social Media traffic often is not very engaging – resulting in high bounce rates and little pages per visit. Whereas SEO traffic in many cases appears to be “hyper engaging” (more than 5 page views per user), Social Media visitors often seem to be distracted. They follow an interesting sounding link but come back to where they started very soon: socializing online.

Ecommerce Sales – Social Media or SEO?

For us and our client the crucial question. Both activities hold brand-building value though, however think Facebook is the strong force for that (through immediate communication and engagement). The following shows to simplify matters only Google and Facebook.

Conversion Rates

conversion rates google facebook

Average Basket Size

basket sizes google facebook

% of Revenue

revenue share google facebook

It’s easy to see that Google and SEO win over Social Media Marketing.

Especially the conversion rates speak for themselves. It seems that the in-market desire to purchase Google visitors more often leads to buys than the communication and word-of-mouth marketing-driven social media marketing. Caused by much higher traffic from search engines this results in a higher revenue share for SEO-generated traffic on top of that.

Does Social Media impact Ecommerce-Sales?

If you see the metric Average Basket size you’ll see that Social Media can have an impact on ecommerce sales. This especially when social platforms are utilised to drive campaigns, contests, discounts, etc. The high numbers for the average basket size were generated through discounts for social media fans (Facebook).

One major reason why users follow brands on Facebook is giveaways and discounts. This seems to slowly change over time (see also here) since the social media activities of the brands also become more professional and the content provided is targeted and suits their specific customers better.

It’s hard to say when is the right moment to direct the social media fan through a link from Facebook to the ecommerce site. On one hand can the active discussion of the customers with the brand and amongst each drive lots of word of mouth and trust. On the other hand, the main impact of social media marketing especially for medium-sized and smaller online shops needs to be higher sales and better ROI. The shop owners probably need to get used to that the shop becomes less important within the user journey of the customers. Even if there’s access to the site from social it’s only brief and brings in little sales.

We believe that online shops should not get scared off by these numbers since there are enough positive examples of how social media can impact revenue. And in our case for the 5% of the revenue coming from Social is room for improvement over time and with increasing numbers of fans. The Dell social media activities are as usual a good example.

Another way of monetising social media is Facebook store-fronts where users don’t have to leave the social media platform and can directly purchase from there. This kind of Social Commerce shows currently a high growth rate and we need to wait and see if there higher conversions than on the ecommerce sites. Read more about that in our next blog post.

3 thoughts on “SEO Traffic vs. Social Traffic – What’s better for Ecommerce?”

  1. Great article Richard. My experience is that SEO really dominates over social marketing. SEO takes a long time to build up, but the momentum is enormous. Social marketing, on the other hand, gives you that instant gratification of seeing traffic. But as you say in your article, it’s not that engaged or profitable.

  2. Thanks for commenting Fraser!

    I am not giving up hope for social traffic – think as a SEO-marketer. For one good post you get lots of traffic and completely keyword-independent! Less immediately to measure but still has its quality.

    Another benefit might be (which I can’t quantify) that social visitors share you staff more often with their peers in social.

  3. Thanks Richard for this kind of post. Since I am an SEO professional I believe that proper website optimization is the best way forward. Once the site gets optimized then we can participate in social media marketing to look for further traffic sources.


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